Gary K. Wolfe
I enthusiastically support what Fabio is after, but at the same time I’m a little uncomfortable with the notion of “Western narrative,” which suggests a simple geographical divide, rather than a far more complex set of multicultural dialogues. Are Native American Coyote stories part of a “Western narrative”? Are the Mexican stories included in Small Beer’s fascinating Three Messages and a Warning anthology, or for that matter is Brazilian SF, which I still know about mostly through Elizabeth Ginway’s accounts of it? I tend to agree with Siobhan that much of what we’re referring to here is a set of largely Anglo-American narrative traditions that tend to get reinforced by the Anglo-American publishing industry, including the SF and fantasy industry. And in the latter case, that sometimes simply seems to mean non-English language fiction, even if it’s from Germany or France or Spain, which certainly would seem to be part of any reasonable part of a Western narrative tradition.
So if we’re mostly talking about translated SF and fantasy, we come back to the simple problem of how to make it cost-effective for American or British publishers, given the initial cost of rights, royalties, and translator fees. Very rarely will you get a Perfume or Name of the Rose, and that’s even more rare in SF & fantasy. There have been a lot of attempts to address this for decades; back in the 1960s Damon Knight tried promoting French SF in the U.S., sometimes translating it himself, but few of those authors gained any real traction. More recently, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards has been trying to promote awareness of translated fiction, and calling attention to a lot of good work.
I know none of this really has much to do with the question of what different viewpoints might bring to the “master narrative” of Western SF (if there is one), but they are some of the problems involved in getting that dialogue going.
I find myself thinking of Japanese anime and manga, which have quite a high degree of market penetration, compared to a lot of other translated works. So far as I can tell, those got traction in the U.S. through unlicensed fan effort: Japanese-speaking Americans who spread their translated versions through networks of friends and conventions, until there was enough interest over here that it became profitable for companies to put out official versions. Now you have manga sections in chain bookstores, and Neil Gaiman writing the English script for Mononoke Hime.
Technically, that earlier stage is a flagrant violation of copyright. Fan-subbed shows and movies are being copied without permission, and manga “scanlations” are posted online. (Not to mention that sometimes the quality of translation is abysmal.) But they can create a market where one didn’t exist before.
I don’t have anything like stats or a comprehensive body of evidence to back this up, but I feel like East Asian imaginations are having a clear, if limited, influence on Anglophone SF and fantasy (using those terms because I agree with what Siobhan and others have said about the problems with a western/non-western binary). Avatar: The Last Airbender is a hybrid creature; I just read a friend’s post arguing that it’s a very Asian-American show, more than Asian or American alone. I feel like I’ve been seeing more of that kind of thing lately, where East Asian influence is concerned.
The Western/non-Western binary problem is making it hard for me to comment. I’m writing Caribbean SF, Anglophone Commonwealth. How should my work be categorised?