Tag: world sf

The stories I wanted to read

- 20 comments

The stories I wanted to read

I’m ten, and voraciously reading–bespectacled, and a head shorter than everyone in class, good at maths and utterly oblivious to the fact that I’m different from everyone else (only later will I work out that the string of people asking me “where do you come from” are comparing me to a class that’s 99.99% white and Catholic, and where the next most diverse person is the lone Ashkenazi Jewish kid, who probably isn’t having a great time either). I take to Science Fiction and Fantasy [1] like a fish to water: people fleeing this world for another; the wonders of space and faraway history where magic is real–where a farmboy can rise to become king; where ordinary people can stop evil in its track; and where science is a force for good, and the future has everyone equal without questions of creed and race.

There are a few… wrong notes, though. I cannot help but notice that Tolkien’s heroes are basically Europeans; and that the Easterlings–yellow-skinned or swarthy–seem to be mostly fighting on the side of evil. I cannot help but notice that most of the cool things in the future seem to be happening to men; and that, for all the talk about appearances not mattering, most women seem to need to be blonde, and young, and beautiful; the dark-haired, yellow-skinned ones mostly seem to be left by the wayside or to be antagonists.

In the midst of this, Andre Norton’s Year of the Unicorn is a breath of fresh air. Gillan is dark-haired and more clever than pretty; and she waltzes through the book on (it seems to me) nothing more than sheer strength of will, and a stubborn refusal to be left behind, or to take anything at face value. When she does get left behind, she fights tooth and claw to find her husband; and make a place for herself in a world that doesn’t want her.

I love Gillan; and I reread the book over and over. It’s not, after all, so hard to see why.

There’s a lot of books in my reading that feature China, or some representation of the Far East–I read them all like I read invented worlds, because the China they depict is so out of touch with my family stories (I won’t say my family stories are all positive! Vietnam has… a complicated relationship with China)–surely they have to be about some kind of fictional China/Far East that doesn’t exist. They speak of martial arts and inscrutable, passive people awaiting to be saved; of some fount of mystical wisdom that awaits the traveller. I think fake!China must be some kind of faraway land invented by writers, because it cannot possibly be the real thing.

I’m in my twenties, and I still love maths, and work to make a living out of it. I discover the American Library in Paris, and discover Le Guin; and it’s like a revelation: SF doesn’t have to be about equations and maths. The SF that speaks to me is about people in the future, about their interactions with technology and with each other; but I’m less interested in whether the technology is feasible. I design feasible technology for a living; and books that strongly focus on this as an element remind me too much of my day job.

As I’m checking out all the Le Guin books ever written from the library, I read The Word for World is Forest. Many, many years later, someone tells me that it’s an allegory of the Vietnam War. I blink, because I know all about the Vietnam War; because it’s shaped my entire childhood; and this isn’t the image that I have. My Vietnam War involves pain and heartache and displacement, and massive family upheavals–not this odd (though good) story about colonists savagely exploiting an alien species, and the natives rising up against them. I realise, then, that there are always several sides to a story; and that not all stories are given the same precedence.

I start writing. I have a master’s degree in science, and general knowledge of physics and electronics; and yet I still do not feel confident that I can write science fiction. I have this image–propagated through books and discussions on forums–that true science fiction is rigorous scientific extrapolation (whether that science is mathematics or anthropology), and I feel I don’t have the credentials for any of this. It will take me many, many years to understand that this set of expectations is stifling and silencing me; and that I’m my own worst enemy, telling myself not to write because I’m not good enough. That I’m far from being the only one in this position or with this experience–that definitions of “proper SF” can end up being a cage for writers and readers alike, an excuse to dismiss everything that doesn’t seem to conform.

I still read books. Most have silent women, or women who use their looks as a weapon. There are no female friendships. There are no mothers, no families. People drink coffee and speak English, and most of them are blond and pale-skinned. When someone who does look or sound familiar appears; when someone seems like they’re going to respect their ancestors and value their families–they’re the aliens. They’re the funny guys with odd customs colonists meet, the ones they try to commerce with or understand or (in the worst cases) subjugate. They’re the invaders that have to be fought back for the sake of civilisation.

And I think “what civilisation?” I wonder how people like me fare, in the future. Or in the re-imagined past of fantasy. Probably not well.

I publish my first stories. I go to cons. I meet other people, offline and online, and start having my first long discussions about genre. I start thinking about what SFF really is. I meet other POCs, other women; learn about feminism; read a lot of essays. I learn that I am not alone; that others have had those same experiences; that others struggled or are struggling, trying to reconcile their love of SFF with that feeling that those universes have passed them by.

And then it hits me: if I want to have a place in those futures, in those reimagined pasts, I’m going to have to be like Gillan. I’m going to have to forge ahead, in the footsteps of those that came before. I will write my own stuff. My universes do not have to be white, or scientific, or sterile and lonely. And, if I don’t write my own experiences, my own cultures–then who is going to write them for me?

I wish I could say it goes without a hitch from there on. That I don’t have the odd conversation (“you write wonderful aliens!” in reference to my future diaspora Vietnamese people); the shouts from various corners telling me I don’t write proper SFF. The nagging doubt that perhaps–just perhaps–they’re right, that there’s no place for me at this table. It’s nonsense, of course. It should be. But thirty years of conditioning are hard to break through; and pushing through boundaries sometimes feel like pushing through tar.

That’s me and SFF, I guess? I feel kind of embarrassed sharing this, but I think it needs to be said–I’m not writing because of politics, or because I want to preach (well, sometimes I do want to write about specific themes that speak to me. But who doesn’t?). At heart, I’m writing my stories: the stories I wanted to read as a child, the adventures in space where I don’t have to feel excluded; the fantasies where you can be small and dark-haired and Asian and still be a hero. At heart, I’m sharing my side of the story, and the things that matter to me–war and exile and devastation, relationships between mother and child and extended families and how these evolve and change in the future. I love SFF. I want to see it thrive and grow and change; and include more and more people from all walks of life. And some of those changes will be uncomfortable. And some of those new stories by new writers won’t be for me or won’t speak to me, and that’s quite fine, because they will speak to someone else.

I hope that things will continue to change. I hope that the taste for this kind of stories grows; that there will be a wider appetite for them as people discover them. I want a future where it’s ok to write the kind of stories I wanted as a child; and where people read them and enjoy them and it becomes a new, significant chunk of the field (and it’s already happening, to some extent, for which I am very grateful). I want the field to reach outwards, step after step after step; until the table is large enough to include all of us on the margins, and we all learn to appreciate and love each other’s experiences and conceptions of the future–for, if SFF isn’t about openness of mind and change, then what is?

[1]It will be many years before I am aware of science fiction as a genre and consciously seek it out; but even before that it makes up the bulk of my reading.

Redressing the translation imbalance

- 13 comments

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).

Misc. plugs

- 0 comments

Fundraiser for Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, this promises to feature people forgotten from “official” histories. Writers will include Ken Liu, Amal El-Mohtar, Nnedi Okorafor, Nisi Shawl… and me. Please donate to make it possible! [1]

-Zen Cho on Malaysian SFF in English. Lots of fascinating-looking writers in there.

-Carl V. Anderson reviews On A Red Station, Drifting. I just go “wow”. Also appears he’ll spearhead a discussion of “Immersion” next Sunday over at his blog.

<hr>

[1] Incidentally, I find it amusing that the theme of “forgotten history” or “rewritten history” drives this anthology, as much as it drove my latest Clarkesworld story.

Misc. self-promotion items

- 2 comments

The Locus Recommended Reading List for 2012 is out: many, many familiar names on that list (very happy to see Lavie Tidhar, Vandana Singh, and anthologies like AfroSF, Robots: The Recent AIThe Future is Japanese and Breaking the Bow on the list of recommended materials). I’m also on it for my two Clarkesworld stories “Scattered Along the River of Heaven” and “Immersion”, and for my novella On a Red Station, Drifting (which is mentioned by both Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois).

The February issue of Locus also contains Rich Horton’s review of that selfsame novella:

I recently saw two very strong novellas that might be easy to miss. Aliette de Bodard’s On a Red Station, Drifting, is another in her Xuya alternate history, in which the Chinese and Mexica (i.e. Axtecs) have become great space-based powers. Several recent stories have been set in a colonized galaxy and on space stations, some controlled by the Dai Viet. This one is set on a remote station, Prosper, controlled by an obscure branch of a powerful family, and run by a Mind, who is also one of the family’s ancestors. To this station comes Linh, a cousin, fleeing an uprising against the Emperor. Linh has spoken out against the Emperor for his failure to confront the rebels, and so is potentially a traitor, and is also racked with guilt for leaving her previous post under threat. Quyen is the leader of Prosper, but is not confident in her abilities, and also worried that the station’s Mind seems to be decaying. All this seems to portend disaster, amid small betrayals and slights between everyone involved. The authentically (to my eyes) non-Western background powerfully shapes an original and ambitious tale.

Which is pretty, er, nice with a side of awesome? Speaking of which, if you don’t feel like ordering the hardback of the novella, can I point out that you can get an exclusive ebook copy by donating $100 or more to the World SF Travel Fund?

Either way, we’re 60% funded and could use some help meeting our goals, in order to send awesome writers Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Csilla Kleinheincz to World Fantasy 2013. Go check us out; and spread the word!

Europa SF

- 4 comments

Via Cristian Tamas, a rather cool-looking initiative: Europa SF is an English-language portal dedicated to all (non-Anglo) European SF. They have reports on conventions, articles on Dutch, Estonian, Lithuanian SF, and much much more!

Let me cheat a bit and quote from their official presentation:

Europa SF is conceived as an English-language portal of news and information from and for the European fandom, a generic site: http://scifiportal.eu (on demand will be created specific subdomains for each country/fandom involved − bg.scifiportal.eu, hr.scifiportal.eu, ro.scifiportal.eu, de.scifiportal.eu etc − and each country will manage its own subdomain).

Our central idea is to have a permanent, real-time mirroring of all European SF&F products, events and activities. We hope that all European countries with a SF&F community will become involved in this pan-European project.

Europa SF is dedicated to posting news, links and original materials related to science fiction, fantasy, horror, comics, films and TV series from all over Europe. Here are the columns we suggest and their titles:

1. Editorial – a monthly, 2-4,000-character general article on European SF

2. On the spot – short articles (1,000-1,500 characters) about important national or European events (festivals, conventions, book fairs, conferences etc.)

3. News – short news (400-700 characters) on major/minor European or world events

4. Events – a calendar, just the name and the date of the event

5. Reports – 2,000-character articles about (on-going) national or European events

If our correspondents indicate there is an interest in interviews, panels, essays, films, TV series etc. we will introduce new sections to cover them.

Any suggestions and recommendations are most welcome. We need at least one English-speaking person from each European SF community who is willing to help us with this project.

BTW, if anyone is reading this from France and would like to give them a hand with the project, they could use some help…

Linky linky

- 0 comments

-Jim C. Hines blogs on sexual harrassment here, here and here

-Broad Universe publishes stats on diversity in genre

-The World SF blog Tuesday fiction is “City of Silence” by Ma Boyong (translated by Ken Liu): part 1, part 2. Incidentally, the blog is also looking for fiction they could showcase–preferably set outside the US/UK, or by authors from outside the US/UK (note that this overlaps with, but is not *quite* the same thing as fiction by US/UK PoCs). No payment, unfortunately–everyone’s a volunteer and the website runs on a shoestring, but you’d be contributing to a worthy cause; and they take reprints and stories that have been hard-pressed to find a home elsewhere.

Linky linky

- 0 comments

-Charles Tan on Awareness and Bias
-Strange Horizons interviews Sergei Lukyanenko (via the joint efforts of Nicholas Seeley, Shari Perkins, and Natalia Antonova). Awesome stuff about Russian SF, Russian tropes, and Russia vs. the US.
-Jeremy L.C. Jones interviews me for Clarkesworld. Best interview title *ever*.
-Jacob of Drying Ink interviews me
-Over at The Night Bazaar, I blog on “Playing to Your Strengths, Playing to Your Weaknesses” (with many thanks to Courtney Schafer for the invitation!).

Linky linky

- 0 comments

-The World SF blog has relaunched as a brand-new website, and merged operations with The Portal to provide short fiction reviews. I signed up as article writer, and I hope to do a series on Franco-Belgian comics, much like I did for Yoko Tsuno. Will keep you posted as I write :) They’re running fiction on Tuesdays, the most recent being “Dancing Together Under Polarised Skies” by Milena Benini (do note that the fiction has been professionally translated–the poor vocabulary and grammar are deliberate). Also, couple of interviews, one with Sayuri Ueda (author of The Cage of Zeus published by Haikasoru), and one with Hannu Rajaniemi (who needs no presentation–if you feel you need one, read the awesome Quantum Thief).
-Over at Kaaron Warren’s blog, I speak of Master of the House of Darts–using history as inspiration, and how to let your characters have at each other (which should always be your top priority :) )
-Stomping On Yeti selects his pick of books for October–and I’m more than a little flabberghasted to find out that Master of the House of Darts ties with David Anthony Durham’s The Sacred Band for release of the month. Er, wow?

In other news, finished a short story (which ended up being called “Breath of the Nine Dragons”), about a Japanese-funded project in the Me Kong delta–which probably has the dubious honour of mangling both the Vietnamese and the Japanese culture in the same 7000 words…
And got my UPS package (a self-printed cookbook from Lulu, which has already started falling apart. As you might guess, I wouldn’t advise using Lulu for hardcovers, or maybe I’ve been very unlucky in my particular copy…)
Next up: novella revisions, and some desultory research into the history of Paris for a novel project.

Publishing and non-Anglo countries

- 6 comments

And a thematic news roundup of publishing in non-Western-Anglo countries:

-Charles Tan on “How Publishing Favours the West”. All very true, sadly, and once again a case of the US (and associated UK/Canada/Aus/NZ, who benefit by virtue of language and cultural proximity, even if they’re not the same) oozing into the local markets, feeding tremendous demand but not adapt local prices to said demand (said it before, will say it again: $8.00 does NOT buy you the same thing abroad. In Vietnam, it’s one-fifth of the average monthly salary). And how Amazon and Apple are pretty much doing the same with ebooks. [1]

-K.S. Augustin on her experience with Kindle publishing in a non-Amazon country. It’s horrendous, in case you had doubts: Amazon encourages local publishers to use Kindle, but won’t even grant them access to the software for formatting books and checking out what they look like (I think preventing the publisher from checking out a preview of their own Kindle book has got to be a new low…)

-And apparently, the hot topic of the Frankfurt Book Fair is publishers parcelling out digital English rights in non-Western-Anglophone countries and selling them one by one, presumably to local publishers. That’s right: if all goes according to plan, and you want an English-language ebook in France/Spain/Vietnam, you’ll have to wait for a French/Spanish/Vietnamese editor to buy the English-language rights in France/Spain/Vietnam (yes, I know. Who in their right mind is going to pay more than a pittance for this, especially for books that aren’t bestsellers). Ain’t that awesome.

This is a particular flavour of insane (and I still think ebooks should be sold by language, not territory. Yeah, sure, authors and publishers are going to be losing out a bit, but it’s a fairer deal, and it doesn’t leave us in non-Anglo countries feeling like second-class citizens).

Also, this is all leaving me very puzzled, because I think any media business strategy today has got to be weighed against the cost of the piracy option, whether it’s for ebooks or for movies. We can argue all we want about how morally incorrect piracy is, but the fact remains: it’s available, and it’s relatively easy, and its only drawbacks are non-guaranteed quality, and possible legal prosecution (which means downloading a pirate ebook or movie is not quite free: there’s an equivalent cost, defined as the sales value when a given buyer will prefer a legit option to downloading the pirate copy).

But if you have a model in which you keep feeding demand (as Hollywood does, by exporting movies everywhere and making them the baseline of cinema; as the Big Six publishers do in a lesser measure) but not making stuff available at reasonable prices, or not making stuff available at all, you’re basically encouraging people to turn to piracy (and sure, you can say you’ll stomp on pirates, but let’s face it: stopping all piracy dead in its tracks is far from easy). And you can complain pirates are taking away all your business, but for me you’re bearing a share of responsibility because of the demand, prices and availability policy you set (not all the responsibility, to be sure, but still…).
What I’m seeing of the situation so far sounds like another music industry train wreck waiting to happen. It seems to me that we’re going to need a new legal model and new copyright laws to deal with the digital age; but so far this hasn’t exactly been happening.

An addendum on book and DVD prices: I can’t remember where the stat comes from (it was a scholarly report on piracy in various countries, but I can’t find the link for the life of me), but a DVD in India is sold for an equivalent value of $700, if we bring the price in rupees back to US-cost-of-living dollars. Imagine that you kept seeing ads and trailers for the new Batman movie, that people kept talking about it at work, kept insisting that if you hadn’t seen it, you were really behind the times and totally uncool; but that the act of seeing it cost you $700. No wonder there’s a whole generation in Asia growing up not knowing what a legit DVD or book is… [2][3]

Why, yes, I’m feeling cheerful and optimistic about the future of the ebook market today…

(and I suspect not everyone will agree with me RE copyright laws, piracy and ebooks. Feel free to comment/argue/refute in the comments. This is very much something I would love to hear discussion on).


[1] I know, it’s a complicated problem from a business point of view, especially with the permeability of boundaries: it was fine to set prices in the US for the US; and then to deal almost on a case-by-case basis on export problems, but today the market and the demand have gone global (and there are people taking advantage of this–see arbitrage in financial markets).
[2] There are pirate physical books, too. If you’ve ever gone to Asia (well, at least India and Vietnam. I haven’t tried elsewhere), you’ll find itinerant book peddlers selling bound books basically made of photocopies. It’s a sobering experience when you dwell on why they’re here at all.
[3] And yes, I agree that it’s not legal, and probably not ethical either. But the rise of piracy has all too clearly demonstrated that people do not have a natural moral fiber.

Sky Awards

- 0 comments

A bit late, as those were awarded in Shanghai on August 27th, but only just saw this. The Sky Awards are “fan/judge-voted awards for Chinese science fiction and fantasy literacy. These awards are initiated and administered by the Sky Award Organizing Committee composed of a number of senior SF/F fans, and the Judge Panel consists of writers, editors, critics, and professionals in the SF/F field in China.” (stole the definition from the World SF blog, on which it appears to have quotes, so I’m leaving them…)

Best Novel:
Three Body III: Dead End, Liu Cixin (Chonqing Publishing House)

Best Short Story
“Algorithm of Simhuman”, Chi Hui (Science Fiction World, May 2010)

Best Translated Novel
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman, translated by Hu Yaqian (Sichuan Science and Technology Publishing House)

Best Translated Short Story
“Turing’s Apples”, Stephen Baxter, translated by Cai Yu (Science Fiction World, May 2010)

Special Contribution Award:
Liu Cixin – science fiction writer, author of the Three Body trilogy

Here’s wishing some of those get translated in a language I speak… (speaking of which, Clarkesworld recently published “The Fish of Lijiang”, a Chen Quiufan short story translated by Ken Liu. Well worth a read)

(via Elbakin.net)