Redressing the translation imbalance


Redressing the translation imbalance

I’m not going to do an ultra long post, because if you’re a reader of this blog you already know how I feel about the imbalance between Anglophone authors, who get massively translated into other languages, and non-Anglophone authors, who have a much harder time making it into English print…

However, Benjamin Rosenbaum rightfully reminded me that I could do my part to redress this imbalance , and I would like to make the same offer he does (except in different languages). Cribbing from his blog post:

The offer:

Do you like my stuff? Have you read (or written) a short story in your own (or another) language which you think is a) totally awesome and b) very much of my sensibility? Does it have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting translated into English, and you don’t quite have the chops to get it right yourself? Is it under 7000 words, and previously published in a paying, prestigious, or otherwise gate-kept market in the source market (i.e., not slush)?

How about we collaborate?

If the source language is French, you can pretty much turn it over to me. If it’s Spanish, I can probably read it, but I’m going to need a bunch of help with understanding nuance. (if it’s Vietnamese, I’ll recognise some words but that’s about it :) ) I’m willing to tackle other languages, too; but really, for anything other than French and possibly Spanish, you’ll need to prepare a basic, literal, raw translation into English. It doesn’t have to sing, it can be full of question marks and notes; or it can be almost done — really, your version — and all you need is a hand with English nuance and euphony.

I have to like the story, which means you might send me it and I might say “sorry, I can’t get into this one.”

You handle the rights on your end — contacting the author and making sure they’re cool with the idea. I’ll try and sell the translation in an English market. The original author gets half and we split the other half — or whatever else seems reasonable. Or if you already know a publisher, that’s cool too. (I would waive my cut only for a noncommercial project) Or we blog it, go indie, whatever you like.

Edited to Add: One interesting thing about trying to fight an injustice in a complex oppressive society is that complex oppressive societies are good at pitting groups against one another, so that by allying yourself with one you always have to be careful not to squash another (hello intersectionality!)

Another group that the 3% thing sucks for are professional translators into English, and it’s been pointed out in the comments that it’s not the right symbolic gesture to imply that translation should be done for free. So Ben revised his offer to remove that; I’m doing the same.

I’m not a professional translator; even in French, I’m no more than a dilettante translator, and in any other language, I’m not even that! I’m willing to translate on spec, for a portion of the profits of any eventual sale, because I see this as an opportunity to collaborate rather than a service for which I’m charging a fee. But in solidarity with professional translators, I will expect us to divide up any profits in a way that makes sense given the labor done (my general assumption would be that my cut would be 25% of sales of the translation, maybe 33% for French/Spanish).

I’m not an editor, and this is not a market: I cannot promise a sale. This is an offer of collaboration.

I’m committing to do one of these, in the next 12 months. And I’ll probably continue after that.

A FAIR WARNING HOWEVER: I’m completely underwater for the coming year, so while I’m quite willing to translate for you, I can’t guarantee a fair turn of speed–you’ll have to put up with a bit of… slow answers from me, I’m afraid (novel plus snakelet plus work plus other commitments add up to a busy busy bee on this end).

So What?

Helping translate one story a year is obviously a tiny, symbolic gesture. But I expect it to be fun, and possibly to be useful. Maybe it can help someone break into the Anglophone market.

I’d like to see more authors do this. I’d like to see us in the English speaking world make translation a regular part of our literary practice, the way it is for authors most other places. It’s interesting, it’s invigorating, and it’s only right. You don’t have to be a specialized translator. You could just do one a year. Why not?

Other authors writing in English (especially but not limited to those who speak other languages): are you interested in this issue too? Want to join me? Comment below!

If you are an author or potential collaborator from the non-Anglophone world:

  • Find a story you think we should translate.
  • The story must be under 7000 words and previously published in a significant market.
  • You should specifically think that it is a fit for me because of what I write, rather than just “hey I heard there’s a guy who will translate stuff on spec”.
  • If you didn’t write it yourself, secure the rights: contact the author, see if they agree to us translating it on spec, on whatever terms.
  • Contact me in comments here, on facebook/twitter/email etc., and tell me:
    • about the story in brief
    • where it was previously published
    • why you think I’m specifically the right person to help translate it
    • why you’re the right person to help (if you wrote the story, that’s why)
    • what rights deal you’ve decided on
    • how to contact you.
  • If the story is in French or Spanish, you can just send it to me as is (if it’s in Spanish I will need quite a bit of help from you for nuance, and I might possibly get back to you and ask for a rough translation). Otherwise I will need a rough literal translation into English for starters, and we will be working together closely.

If you’re Anglophone and would like to join in:
Say what languages you can read in, and what lengths, terms, etc., you’d be willing to handle, and how to contact you.
Enjoy the richness of the world beyond the narrow confines of English.
Gentlepersons, start your literary engines.

Any signal boosting much appreciated, thanks in advance!
ETA: corrected the payment terms as I don’t want to suggest translation is invisible work that’s hardly worth the money :( Translators do a vital (and often unrecognised and under-appreciated) job; while I’m quite happy to donate some of my time here, I don’t want people to get the idea no payment is a standard thing (see Edward Gauvin’s comments below, at my original blog post).

“Heaven Under Earth” on the Tiptree Honor list


“Heaven Under Earth” on the Tiptree Honor list

Very pleased to announce that my story “Heaven Under Earth”, published in Electric Velocipede, has made the Tiptree Honor List. The Tiptree is a great award, and the Honor list always makes for great reading, so I’m honoured to get that kind of nod, especially in the company of fine folks such as Ann Leckie, Nicola Griffith, and Alaya Dawn Johnson. And I don’t know N. Sulway, but <i>Rupetta</i> sounds fascinating. Many congrats to everyone!

New recipe: pumpkin soup with coconut milk


New recipe: pumpkin soup with coconut milk

In which I cook a lovely creamy soup, because it’s winter and because I need to test drive my new Braun hand mixer (I’ve had the mixer for a while, just never had a chance to do stuff with it before). And yeah, I know it’s hard to make pictures of a soup look good, especially with no herbs. You’ll just have to take my word for it, but it was truly scrumptious (and got H’s seal of approval!).

Recipe here.

Sale: “The Dust Queen” to Reach for Infinity


Sale: “The Dust Queen” to Reach for Infinity

Pleased to announce I’ve sold “The Dust Queen” to Jonathan Strahan’s upcoming anthology Reach for Infinity. The full table of contents is here; quite pleased to be sharing with Al Reynolds, Hannu Rajaniemi, and Pat Cadigan, among other luminaries of the genre.

Many thanks for this are due to a sharp-eyed team of critters: Mary Robinette Kowal, Daniel Franklin, Max Edwards, and Joe Iriarte; and also to Ken Liu and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, who took a look at my very different first version of this and gave me plenty of ideas for the rewrite.

More info here on the anthology, and a snippet from the story here.

Roundtable: Food in SF


Roundtable: Food in SF

Another of my January project has gone live at a roundtable on The Food of the Future, with Ann Leckie, Elizabeth Bear, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and Fran Wilde. Check it out here.

Thanks to everyone who took part–it was a lot of fun, and especially many many thanks to Fran Wilde for masterminding it and sending me pointed reminders about fixing and submitting it in what has been a rather overwhelming month (well, OK. Lately all months have been overwhelming).

Sale: “The Breath of War” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ science-fantasy special month


Sale: “The Breath of War” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ science-fantasy special month

Very pleased to announce I’ve sold my story “The Breath of War” to Scott H. Andrews at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, for the special science-fantasy month in March. It will be in good company, since contributors include Yoon Ha Lee, Rachel Sobel, and Seth Dickinson, who had  couple amazing pieces in BCS and in Clarkesworld last year.

I’ve always loved reading science-fantasy, so it was really nice to be able to write a story in that sub genre. Involves quite a bunch of pregnancy scenes–because obviously we don’t have enough pregnant women in SF!–spaceships, and a rather peculiar form of rock carving, loosely inspired from Vietnamese jade carving and a legend about carving a dragon… Many thanks to Daniel Franklin for assuring me the thing wasn’t irretrievably broken (and for answering in record time). 

More info here, including a snippet. Sort of set in the Xuya universe, I guess, though I’m damned if there’s a rational scientific explanation for the happenings on the planet Voc (then again, I’m a writer, I suspect I could always make one up).

The cover art I show is the one for the issue of BCS, a piece called “Sojourn” by Philippine artist Ferdinand Dumago Ladera.

On a more personal level, I go back to work on Monday–part time at first and then almost full-time. It’s probably going to be very weird, as I haven’t been into work since mid-July…


Sale: new Xuya story, “The Frost on Jade Buds”, to Solaris Rising 3


It’s been a while since I had that news, actually, but quite pleased to announce that I’ve sold my novelette “The Frost on Jade Buds” to Ian Whates’ Solaris Rising 3. The book should be out by Loncon 3, and hopefully there’ll be some sort of launch event around then.

“The Frost on Jade Buds” is set in the Xuya universe, in an asteroid belt on the edge of the Dai Viet Empire; and it deals with the aftermath of a terrible war, and the fallout from the powerful weapons employed then. Very loosely inspired by the use of Agent Orange and land mines in the Vietnamese/American war, which are still a problem today.

As usual, many thanks on this one to Ken Liu and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, who had fantastic comments to help me straighten out my first draft.

You can read a snippet of the story here.