What the non-English-speaking world is doing with science fiction

SFSignal polled a number of leading, non-English-language science fiction writers, asking them what Anglo readers were missing out on; the answers are tantalizing and fascinating. Here's Hebrew writer Lavie Tidhar:
But to answer the question properly - what are we missing out on - my own regret is that I don't get to read French steampunk!

I know there's a lot of it - I did a panel on steampunk a few years ago in Nantes and it was horrible, being surrounded by steampunk writers telling me about their (very cool sounding) books and I can't read any of them! I'd also love to see some of the Chinese SF novels, and at least get a glimpse into the Arabic SF that's being published. I'd love to read some of the Cuban stuff... stop me when you've had enough. Israel has some very interesting home-grown YA fantasy at the moment. To be honest, the way I get to read non-Anglophone writers is mostly in the crime genre, which seems to be a lot more open to translating in the field - so the Cuban or Japanese or French writers I do read are crime writers - check out Detectives Beyond Borders, which is a great introduction. But I think things are changing in science fiction and fantasy a little, too. Certainly, since I started the World SF Blog I've been amazed by how much was out there - in English - translations from Korean and Spanish, writers who occasionally sell an English story but work predominantly in other languages, and a huge amount of articles, blog posts, online communities, a great deal of discussion, from people around the world who are simply passionate about the genre and want others to know about it, too. The problem with the old model of World SF was that it was Anglophone-led, but now it's not! The Internet's been a major catalyst in that regard. A few years ago, three German fans started InterNova, which was meant to be a magazine of international SF. They only managed to do one issue, and it was plagued with distribution problems, but the remarkable thing about it was that the initiative came from the outside, and the contributors, editors, proof-readers, translators - everyone involved - was likewise from the non-English world. And that was quite remarkable to me, this idea that you can do this, you don't need one of the old English writers or editors to do it for you. You can do it yourself. We're seeing more and more of this now, and the Internet's been great in allowing people from all around the world to communicate with each other, talk to each other, exchange ideas - there's a real cross-polination taking place, and it's very exciting and rewarding to be able to do that.

MIND MELD: Guide to International SF/F (Part I ) (via Beyond the Beyond


  1. Comment form a french SF reader : the grass is always greener on the other side… (and the steampunk a tad more brassy and shining ;)

    I’m currently reading – and reviewing on my blog, in french – mostly english (CC released) SF novels… and I’m still amazed of the quality and quantity of novels that aren’t published there and that I would have never discovered if not in the original language…

  2. There is a large market for SF and Fantasy in Poland with many good authors such as Jacek Dukaj, Andrzej Sapkowski and many, many more. I know it is also true for Russia and Ukraine.
    In Poland we have two magazines devoted to this kind of literature with one printing only stories by Polish authors and another with about 50% of Poles to English/US writers.
    I will allow a shameless self plug by pointing to this article on my blog.
    Check also these links:
    A very nice wikipedia entry
    Jacek Dukaj’s website. This guy is a genious, pure and simple.

  3. The day Americans will stop thinking they are the center of the universe and that everything is invented in the USA, they’ll be able to see the richness of the world.

    I have been reading science fiction both translated and in my own language for decades.

    Joules Verne, one of fathers of Science Fiction, was French and dind’t certainly write in English. Stanislaw Lem is another great Science Fiction author and he was Polish and wrote in his language as well.

    There are countless others.

  4. Jerzy Rzymowski points out something I’ve noticed before, that Anglophone science fiction only goes one way. Since it has been so dominant for so long, it influences sci-fi in other languages, but the influence does not reciprocate because of a dearth of translations.

    I’ve always liked reading science fiction that is outside of the anglophone perspective, but there is so little of it. Sometimes the only thing that can be found is an Anglophone writing about it, like the amazing Ian McDonald.

  5. Me and a friend are writing a book (in brazilian portuguese) and right now we’re stuck into deciding wether or not we should be writing it in english so more people could read it. It’s a tough decision and has a lot of implicit socio-political problems.

  6. There are some influences from other languages to english in sci-fi. Ghost in the Shell, a japanese animation, was the base of Matrix.

  7. It’s not just sci-fi. The “anglo” literary world is very self-referential, with very few translations appearing outside the small circle of specialized Oxbridge bookshops. Excluding Oxbridge and London, I’d argue that less than 5% of the books available in any UK mainstream shop are translations of foreign writers, and they are mostly just “classics” (e.g. “Don Quixote”). It’s a shame, really.

  8. “Ghost in the Shell, a japanese animation, was the base of Matrix.”

    Which in turn was based on Neuromancer and other cyberpunk.

  9. 3.14 Chan;
    Actually, if The Matrix was influenced by any anime, 1985 anime classic Megazone 23 would have been the primary influence.
    The protagonists discover that they do not live in early 80’s Tokyo but are the remnants of humanity in a computer controlled reality aboard an ark spaceship in the far future. Government agents take every measure to keep the secret.
    The Matrix similarities are pretty clear, so I’ve always wondered about whether the Wachowski Brothers were secret fanboys, then they made Speed Racer…

  10. All the more reason for me to brush up on my Spanish. I brought an sf novel home from Mexico, which looks like a Heinlein YA — I’d really like to read it. (I hope it’s still in storage somewhere!)

    Lem: My enjoyment of his work has really seemed to depend on the translation. We really could use fresh versions of SOLARIS and THE INVINCIBLE. From the French and the German, respectively, if memory serves.

    I still think there are readable novels buried somewhere in each of those, ’cause I found THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS and THE STAR DIARIES very readable.

  11. P.S. to my previous (claims to be a writer…):

    The novel I brought home from Mexico was not a Spanish translation of a Heinlein YA; it was a novel in Spanish by a writer I’ve never heard of, and judging by the space station and moonbase in the illustrations, I imagine it would *read* something like SPACE CADET.

  12. Tomaq @11, I’ve had the same experience as you with Lem. I love The Cyberiad, translated by the brilliant Michael Kandel, but was unable to get more than a few pages into Solaris, which (you got it right) was translated into English by way of a French translation.

  13. Mathieu Gaborit is a french writer who recently did ‘Confession of an opium-smoker-automaton’. Very enjoyable.

    This writer who comes from the roleplaying game community also created a note-worthy Steampunk rpg : ‘Ecrymes’ in … 1994 ! (the story of a victorian world covered by a mysterious matter : ‘l’écryme’ fled by people who created island castles connected by long gates and zeppelins.

    Pics of the manual and screen here: http://cleriche.9online.fr/ecry-acc.htm

    Now tell us more of these english steampunk ‘creators’ :D


  14. There is very interesting trend in Russian SF/F There is a huge amateur writer community site called “samizdat”(yes, the same word – samizdat which brought down Soviet Union) – zhurnal.lib.ru
    Probably most of all russian speaking SF/F readers are reading samizdat. It’s especially attractive because it’s free for all. Publishers are skimming the top of samizdat regularly and printing most notable authors in paper. Nearly all new SF/F writers, printed in Russia last years came from samizdat. That creates interesting conflict – authors in print often removing theirs book from free samizdat access, and that causing a lot of resentment among the readers, which consider it dishonest – it was samizdat reader who propel authors to paper publishing, and they feel taken advantage of.

  15. There are an incredible number of both SF and non-SF graphic novels (“strips”) published in Belgium, mostly in Dutch and/or French. A lot of is me-too or copycat stuff, but as has always been the case in Belgium there is a lot of really cool and original work too. Unfortunately, I can only read the ones meant for kids at the moment, but I’m working on that (and it gives me a great excuse to read strips…).

  16. I am presenting a new science fiction writer Romualdas Draksas. His new book „Man.The Awakening“ has just been published. Here is a short presentation of the book.

    Man—the galaxy’s most fearsome creature, constructed as a unique war machine, who rose up and escaped from his creators and ended up a captive on a planet inhibiting most of his powers. But what were to happen if Humans again found themselves beyond the limits of their incarcerating planet’s effects, and they regained all of the awesome abilities their creators had given them? In other words, what would it mean if they started the process that the other races of the galaxy referred to as “the awakening”?
    Just as a single rock can suffice to set a lethal avalanche in motion, so can a lone awakened Human be enough to rattle the entire galaxy.

  17. Hmm…
    Lem? Yep, some good stuff! In Germany, we have and had an enormous amount of authors. Hans Dominik being an early example. His books read like steampunk, even if (or because) they were mostly written before WW II.
    Control panels were often built with marble surfaces, a very fast and powerful car would have a hundred HP, and you could create new elements by application of high temperarure and pressure. (This being the main element of his novel “Atomic weight 500”.)

    In fact, some of his works would be worth translating.

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