Mainstream Translation Awards

Awards for translating mainstream literature have existed for some time. The Best Translated Book Award is run through the blog Three Percent (named because that’s apparently the proportion of books published in the USA that are translated). Their long list was published last week.

Also in the frame are the Translation Prizes awarded by the Times Literary Supplement in the UK. Their winners were also announced last week. They include a book by Tove Jansson, though not, sadly, one about Moomins.

Although these awards are not specifically for science fiction of fantasy, they do sometimes include books with fantastic themes, and we will keep and eye on them for likely candidates for our awards. If anyone has any specific information about the books listed, please let us know.

A Specialist Vocabulary?

At the Haikasoru blog Nick Mamatas talks about the difficulties of translating science fiction, a form of fiction known for its specialist vocabulary. Nick quotes Fred Pohl as follows:

Translating a science-fiction story is almost like translating a poem: you don’t so much put it into another language as you recreate it from scratch.

Nick agrees, and says he has to work closely with Haikasoru’s translators to help them understand the science fiction terms:

Luckily I have a great pool of translators to chose from thanks to the rise of manga and video games. However, at the risk of comparing myself to the immortal Judith Merril, I still must do a fair amount of heavy lifting in the editorial stage. Translating Japanese SF certainly seems to me to still take two: an excellent translator of Japanese and someone well-versed in science fictional concepts.

Meanwhile, at the World SF blog, Lavie Tidhar takes aim at the idea that English is somehow the “language of science fiction”.

Given how much invention of language takes place in both science fiction and fantasy (think of Tolkien, for example), perhaps a knowledge of multiple actual languages is an asset for budding writers.

Another Russian Author Due in 2010

Last week we noted that Gollancz will be issuing a translation of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 in 2010. But Glukhovsky is not the only Russian SF&F author due to be made available to English-language readers. In February 2010 Tor is issuing Shadow Prowler, the first book in a fantasy trilogy called the Chronicles of Siala. The author is Alexey Pehov and you can read more about him on his English-language web site. A UK paperback will be available from Simon & Schuster in April.

Pehov’s works are being translated by Andrew Bromfield, who was also the translator for Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series.

SF&F at Words Without Borders

Words Without Borders, which bills itself as “The Online Magazine for International Literature” has devoted December 2009 to science fiction and fantasy. They have a range of translated works available, starting with a contribution from Stanisław Lem and moving on through role-playing in Japan and a vision of Poland conquered by Elves to a 14th Century epic fantasy from Pakistan. You can read it all here.

The Size of the Field

Just how many science fiction and fantasy books are published in English translation each year? That’s a question we kept getting asked when we first launched these awards. Well, the University of Rochester keeps track of all translated literature in the USA. Their blog is called Three Percent, because that’s roughly the proportion of books published in the USA each year that are translated. According to their data, there were 283 works of translated fiction (including collections and anthologies) and 65 works of translated poetry published in the USA in 2009.

Whether this list is a good guide to the size of our field is another matter. The list appears to be missing many of the science fiction and fantasy works published in 2009. It doesn’t cover books published in other countries such as the UK and Canada. And it doesn’t cover graphic novels, where a huge amount of translated work is published. But it does give a good idea of just how little fiction is translated into English. That’s something we hope to help change.

Forthcoming in Translation

With 2010 almost upon us we are starting to get news of works that are likely to be eligible for the first year’s awards. One possibility is Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky which is due out in the UK from Gollancz in February. See World SF News for more details. It isn’t clear whether this is the first English language publication, but it is the first from a major English language publisher.

You may also have seen the announcement that Pyr will be producing a US edition of Pierre Pevel’s novel, The Cardinal’s Blades. This isn’t a first English language publication, because the book was published by Gollancz in the UK this year. However, the award rules do allow the jury to look back up to two years if they are short of potential candidates, provided that works in question have not been considered by a previous jury. As 2010 will be our first year, the jury effectively has three years to look at if it wishes to do so.

On the subject of eligibility, it has been brought to our attention that some authors (for example Zoran Živković) self-publish English language editions of their work in order to have something to send to English language publishers. These publications tend to be very short print runs, and it is not our intention that they should disqualify a work from consideration should it later be picked up later by a major publisher.

Talking About Translation

Here are a few articles we have noticed online recently that address issues of translation.

The Guardian has a heartwarming story about successful marketing of translated Estonian fiction.

Charles Tan interviews Vandana Singh about writing in English and Hindi, and discovers than an Indian publisher, Zubaan Books, now has an online store.

Via the Croatian SF web site we discover that author Zoran Krušvar is blogging in English. The site also links to an interview with Aleksandar Žiljak where he talks about the Croatian SF scene.

Prof. Sagar Mal Gupta reports on the Eleventh Annual National Conference on Science Fiction in Indian Literature, which included discussion of the difficulty of translating science fiction.

Eligibility Clarification

One of the questions that came up following the launch announcement is where books would have to be published in order to be eligible. We hadn’t mentioned it because we thought it was obvious that it should not matter. However, some people were worried that we’d only look at works published in the US, or in English-speaking countries. We have updated the award rules to make it clear that this is not so.

Works will be eligible for the awards no matter where in the world they are published. However, we do need to know about a work in order to consider it. We’ll be relying on you, the book-reading public, to let us know about potential candidates. The award rules do allow for a jury to consider a book up to two years after its normal eligibility period if, for some reason, the juries for those previous years did not know about the work, or were unable to obtain copies.