Roundtable on Jorge Luis Borges and Others
As part of the current series on SF In (and Out) of Translation, I asked the Roundtable to talk about some of their favorite international sf authors.
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I’ve not read much science fiction not originally written in English, excepting the usual suspects like Lem. If we were to expand this discussion to include other forms of fantastic fiction, I would chime in with Borges, some of whose stories cut close enough to science fiction. The stories in Labyrinths (aka Ficciones) hit my older self with the same impact that I remember my younger self feeling when I started reading science fiction.
Does anyone have any feel what it is that makes writers like Borges and Garcia Marquez huge successes on the international stage while other writers struggle to get translated?
Only guessing, but I think one reason is that their work is, first and foremost, literary. As part of the Latin American literary canon, they are automatically worth translating, whatever genre they’re writing in.
Apologies in advance for the very vague recommendation I’m about to make, but if the tent is big, I must mention translations of folktales and fairy tales written by the prolific Anonymous from sundry lands. If nothing else, they’re a fantastic way to get a sense of the cultural influences you might find in the contemporary works of a particular country/region (including fresh approaches to magic and technology).
It’s tempting to say, simply, excellence, except I have to confess ignorance of those writers who have not been translated.
But it’s not the same thing for Borges and Garcia Marquez — those are two utterly different writers, in many different ways. So I think excellence is as likely an explanation as any.
I am, I don’t doubt, woefully underread in non-English-language SF/Fantasy. I was enchanted by Le Guin’s translation of Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial some years back … I think it deserved mention.
I will say that I just read the first volume of Taiwanese writer Chang Hsi-Kuo’s The City Trilogy (the first book is Five Jade Disks). An odd book. Very pulpy in some ways. Lots of imagination. I don’t think it was well-served by its translator, however. (And I don’t think he (the translator) understood SF at all well — for one thing, he insisted on comparing the work to Tolkien, which didn’t seem even close to me.) I didn’t like the book enough to push on to volume II just yet, though I may sometime soon.
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