When I was younger, I was made more aware of the allegorical and mythopoeic possibilities of science fiction through my reading of writers like Lem and the Strugatsky brothers. Of course, we readers in the west face something of a problem assessing the perspective that “writers from outside the Western narrative” contribute. The non-Western writers who tend to get translated–which is to say, the non-Western writers whom English-speaking publishers are willing to take a risk on in the belief that they will sell–tend to be the writers who appeal most to Western sensibilities.
And who do not necessarily engage heavily with the specifics of the culture they hail from. Many of the Swedish murder-mysteries creeping up the bestseller lists, for example, don’t strike me as requiring a Swedish setting. You could transplant some of those stories to anywhere with dead bodies, sexual violence, dour detectives, and snow.
I guess that’s one of the reasons I really admire the fiction of my CW compatriot Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, who tries to generate her SF stories from specifically Filipino settings and political conflicts. She’s got an absolutely beautiful story about a jungle that doesn’t adhere to “traditional” narrative conventions at all, but which is captivating and rich and memorable. And, last I heard, unsold. She also has some lovely works like “Return to Paraiso” out there, but damn, I want to see that jungle story in print.
Hah, it’s nice to know it’s not just my questions that prompt instant deconstruction!
I think Fabio, being based in Brazil, is acknowledging the huge market dominance of Anglophone sf, and is working to challenge that dominance through many activities, particularly this current translation/internation sf magazine issue. So the question (as I read it) isn’t meant to be exclusive, and I’m hoping that the conversation can be inclusive–expanding our understanding of sf to accommodate lit from lots of countries, not just US/UK/Commonwealth.
I think a lot of people have been making efforts along this line recently, and for a lot of the reasons Cat says. We need different imaginings to give us new perspectives. So you had James and Kathy Morrow’s SFWA European Hall of Fame and few years ago; Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s epic The Weird has a lot of translated stories; Nick Mamatas is putting out an anthology titled The Future is Japanese with stories both in English and translated from Japanese; Cheryl Morgan and others established the SFF Translation Award; Fabio, Charles Tan, and others are involved in the World SF Blog, etc.
It’s a good time to be reading when our tent is getting so much bigger, I’d say.
As an editor, although I’d been very interested in seeing non-English story submissions from around the world while at OMNI and SCIFICTION, it has been traditionally difficult to do so as in the past, there were very few people willing and able to competently translate that material into English for submission. At OMNI I commissioned a Russian story from a US/Russian translator. She gave me about 5 stories to choose from by providing a paragraph summary of each. I chose one. She translated the story. I bought it but utterly hated it. There were two Japanese stories submitted to me already translated into English. I bought both and was very happy with them. The problems I saw over the years from translated material is that the translator must have a gift of language to make the translation “sing” as it did in its original language. Clunky, literal translations do no one any good.
Today, there seems to be more non-English language material being submitted to English language markets and I think this is excellent. The World SF blog and Lavie Tidhar has been instrumental in this change. Just in the past few years I’ve been seeing more stories being published in sf/f/h from writers with a non North America/European background and am encouraged.
Writing as someone who has enjoyed burrowing into Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Weird, and who has been blown away by some of the non-Western contributions to that anthology that I was not already familiar with, I would say non-Western writers in the early to mid-twentieth century seemed less hidebound than Western writers by the notion that the weird or supernatural element of their story had to have a rationale. There’s a stronger sense of “the weird for weird’s sake” in their works–something that becomes more common in Western writing in the 1960s and later.
Mind you, I don’t want to generalize. The non-Western writers in that book are a very select company. And not being able to read the original language their stories were written in, I have no idea if the “looseness” of their themes and plots isn’t due to the translation.
Since the 60’s we’ve been more aware, also, of the limits of our culture.
Being a writer of historical fiction I have found the most inspiration in stories from outside the so-called “western narrative.” My novel Until the Sun Falls was based as much as possible on the Mongol secret history. The Tale of Genji is an excellent lever for prying somebody out of a western mindset. The whole point of historical fiction (for me anyway, I don’t do dresses) is exactly that–to present a perspective not otherwise available to the western reader.