Thursday 10 May 2012

Guest post: International SF - A Modest Proposal

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately regarding difference in SFF – after all, that’s what happen when you start a project called WE SEE A DIFFERENT FRONTIER (if you still don’t know what’s that about, please check here and here). Being part of a global Science Fiction and Fantasy community, you come to expect a great conversation to ensue between people from all over the world – but that doesn't always happen (aside from social networks like Twitter). In fact, although there is SFF of good quality (and quantity) all over the world, most of this material is never read beyond the borders of their home countries, and there seems to be little interest in having them translated to other languages. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards crew is doing a great job of raising awareness in the English-speaking world about that, but it’s a big, hard job and their role is not to publish translations.

In countries like Brazil, we do a lot of translations – mostly from English, but also from French, Spanish, German and Italian. As a result, there is more International SFF in our bookstores’ shelves than Brazilian fiction. Can we say the same thing of an American or French bookstore? Of course not.

A few days ago, Lavie Tidhar posted on Twitter a comment on his experience regarding Non-Western SF panels in conventions. Quoting him:

“non-anglophone panel==how can i (english person) get my stuff published in your country.”

In Brazil’s case, this is easier than you could think – there’s LOTS of publishing houses looking forward to translate American and British SFF, for example (Fantasy is trending HUGELY in Brazil since Harry Potter, Twilight and, now, for an older audience, with Game of Thrones – SF, alas, not so much). But I wonder – would a Latin American writer find the same easy environment in which to get translated out there? The answer, unfortunately, must be no again.

That’s why I, in a sort of rant, wrote a week ago the manifesto below (or a mini-manifesto, since it’s small and a kind of a draft – I still want to elaborate it further, but the Locus Roundtable and The Cogsmith Roundtable (thanks to Karen Burnham and to Djibril al-Ayad, respectively, for organizing them) prompted me to join in the discussion with a modest proposal, namely:

How to End International SF in Six Steps – A Mini-Manifesto
Fabio Fernandes

1. Accept and embrace diversity. All kinds of. Why? Because it’s there. It was ever there. Here, there, everywhere. It’s all around us. And you are part of it.

2. If your native language is English, please do yourself a huge favor to learn at least one other language. It’s not as hard as you’d think. It’s not Matrix-easy, but that’s the beauty of it: you only really learn it by practicing it. And one of the best ways of practicing it is with native speakers. And that’s when you can learn more about other cultures.

3. Speaking of cultures: no culture is superior or inferior to any other. But you already knew that, didn’t you? You only assume that, if you are, for example, a First World citizen, it’s only your duty to humanity to be kind and to help every which way you can the poor citizens of the Third World. Doctors Without Borders is an excellent way to do so. I highly recommend it. You can even help your own poor, because there is hunger in the First World as well (but you already know that). But, in fiction, don’t take anything for granted. Of course conditions may vary (and they will), but people’s needs and emotions are the same wherever you go.

4. One of the reasons why International SF has the “international” in it is not just because it is from all over the world, but because it is so rare to see it in shelves of Anglo-American bookstores. Well, that should have ceased to be a problem for quite a while now, cause, see, we have thing called the webz. And the webz can be good. But, if the native English speaker must learn another language, the non-native English speaker (who, in most cases, can speak English to save her life, but that’s just it) should walk the extra mile and learn to write (or to translate) her stories to English. English is not going away. (Although it will probably change and mutate in the next decades and becomes something very, very different by the end of the century, but we probably won’t be here, so let’s focus on the present, shall we?)

5. Writing in English really won’t matter much if non-Anglo speakers don’t do a little more to participate in the global conversation. For example, did you know that ANY SFF NOVEL, REGARDLESS OF THE LANGUAGE IT’S WRITTEN IN, can be nominated for the Hugo Awards? Will it really make a difference? Not in the first few years; not even in the first decade. But eventually it will generate a buzz. A teeny, tiny, persistent buzz. Something that will make people want to learn that language or to have that novel translated so they can read it. And then something may happen. (Before anyone says I’m a Hugo-lover, let me clarify: Yes, I am. But I’m open to conversation about Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, Ditmar, Aurora, and whatever awards you may happen to remember.)

6. Maybe we should just stop calling it International SF and just call it SF.

Fabio Fernandes is an SF writer, and he will be guest editing a special edition of The Future Fire magazine dedicated to colonialism in science fiction. TFF put up a Peerbackers project to raise enough funds to make this a professional rate-paying anthology for authors and artists from outside of the mainstream.

1 comment:

The Radicchio Diaries said...

An interesting post with some valuable suggestions. I wish I could feel more positive about these things happening anytime soon. As far back as 1997, the European Commission White Paper on Education recommended that all EU citizens become fluent in at least 3 languages.

15 years on, students in Estonia do graduate from high school with a minimum of 3: Estonian, Finnish & (ullatus, ullatus) English, while some also learn Swedish & German. This is pretty much the norm in the Northern tier of the EU. Further south, it's pretty much, mother-tongue & maybe English. Are you starting to see a pattern here? Whilst in the UK & Ireland, it's - wait for it - English.

I agree with you that life is definitely more interesting and rewarding for the poly-lingual. But for this to become a reality, educational policies must change. Enough money and time for 2nd language learning must be allocated from primary school level onward if this dream is to be realized - and not only fot English.