I suppose this is going to sound a little obvious, but more stories from a greater variety of voices makes for a stronger body of literature–one that isn’t homogenized. In particular, I’m reminded of a recent TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie, in which she spoke on “the danger of a single story”–the way that, when we only have one story about a people or a place, we reduce them to almost nothingness. She also talked about not seeing anyone like herself in stories for a very long time, and the danger of a body of literature where everyone looks and speaks the same.
So, the value of non-Anglo, non-Western storytelling in SF is, I think, in a lot of ways the same as the value of non-Anglo, non-Western storytelling in any genre: it offers entirely new insights and ideas, new ways of making meaning, and fleshes out that single story that Western literature might have about a given people or place. More fully fleshed, fully realized literature is always a good thing; including and supporting narratives from outside the traditional Western paradigm of SF seems to be a great way of filling out our potential “single story” of, say, how the future might look.
That Adichie talk was great. Here’s the link for people who haven’t seen it.
I was happy to see Stefan mention the Strugatsky brothers. Monday Begins on Saturday was a book that I read repeatedly as a teen. I am sure much of it flew right over my head, but I adored that book. (I also love Rochita’s work and was happy when I got to publish her in Fantasy.) I’d be curious to hear what other writers outside the “Western narrative” (I’m still not sure how we’re defining it) people particularly love, but I’m also sure Karen doesn’t want this to devolve into a reading list…
I haven’t updated my critical-nomenclature files for a couple of decades, but if I understand the way that “narrative” is used in phrases such as “the western narrative” (note the definite article), then any text labeled or identifiable as SF is already inside the “western narrative” space to some degree. And like Siobhan, I wonder about the nature of the divide implied by labeling one side of it “western.” Would a genuinely, thoroughly non-“western” vision produce something recognizable to an American or Brit (or a German or Italian) as SF? And if it did, would that signal some kind of imaginative convergence (e.g., a curiosity about what the future might bring, or the recognition that constructing imaginary future worlds can be a way of talking about the present, or a taste for entertainments with a big dose of speculative thinking about technologies and social change, and so on) with the cultural needs that the “west” satisfies with SF? Once it’s “SF,” it’s already in discussion with matters that matter to “the west”–I suppose it has either annexed our “narrative” or been colonized or co-opted by “the west,” depending on the flavor of one’s cultural politics.
I’ve been around long enough to see several attempts to broaden the Anglophone SF world by introducing non-Anglophone SF. They generally peter out, perhaps because, as Ellen suggests, it’s hard (and expensive) to get good translations. Or maybe it’s because SF even from cultures as close to the Anglo-American as those of Poland or Russia (Cold-War politics notwithstanding) seems just the slightest bit wonky to sensibilities formed by commercial Anglophone SF. That was certainly my experience–I never could warm to (or in even finish) the Lem and Strugatsky material that Stefan mentions. Of course, in the case of the Lem, we were seeing translations of translations, so maybe the S/N ratio was just too high.
My suspicion is that translation requires a translator who is at least as good a writer as the original–that’s certainly the case for poetry, and then what happens is not a reproduction of the original psycholinguistic experience but the creation of a new one inspired by the original. Think Ezra Pound. Prose might be a bit more forgiving, but only a little.
E. Lily Yu
Like Dr. Carroll, and along similar lines, I’m going to challenge the premise of the question. There seems to be an underlying assumption in the question as well as several of the answers that SF means Anglophone SF, or SF from the Global North, and that we are trying to explain why SF in other languages or from other countries should be allowed to enter “our” SF. When we stop thinking of ourselves as being at the geographic center of the world, this framing of the question becomes problematic. Readers of Science Fiction World, one of the largest science fiction magazines in the world, are not asking themselves how Chinese-language science fiction can contribute to science fiction—because it clearly does already, and they know that. Just because my Mandarin is atrocious and I am unable to read most of the stories in the magazine does not mean that it is not part of “the literature of the imaginary”; it only means that I myself am unable to read and benefit from this part of literature. My own loss, my own impoverishment. I have no right to fence it out of my definition of “science fiction,” though.
Perhaps more directed questions might be, How would US readers and writers of science fiction benefit from a greater flow of stories from outside our languages and our borders? Or, how can we deliberately include and account for the richness of the stories out there, in different countries and in different tongues, that we ourselves are unable to read?
Something else perplexes me, on a personal level—as a second-generation American, am I inside or outside of the Western narrative?