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Let’s Stop Overlooking SFF in Translation

You’ve seen the list of the finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards, and it’s a good selection, this year. What excited me the most about it? The fact that for the third year in a row, a work of speculative fiction in translation (SFT) has made it into the finals round—this year it’s the vast, complex, brilliant end to the Three-Body trilogy, Death’s End by Cixin Liu, masterfully translated by Ken Liu and published by Tor.

But…nothing else in translation made it onto the list. Now, you may say “yeah, but how many novels and stories translated into English did we even get in 2016, and how many of that presumably small number are any good?”

My answer: as someone who closely follows SFT, I can safely say that the numbers are impressive and the quality is top-notch. Last year (as far as I can tell), twenty-nine novels, eight collections of stories, six excerpts from novels, and thirty-three short stories were translated and published in English for the first time. They came from Cuba and China, Russia and Argentina, Iraq and Israel, and everywhere in between. Some have been short- or long-listed for major awards; many received glowing reviews in online and print publications.

Some of my favorite works of SFT from 2016 were stories about gentleman zombies, physics-defying spaceships, giant space amoeba, and an unexpected and thoughtful take on time travel. I encourage you to read the books and stories on this list, and then continue to look for SF in translation—you’ll even find that many of the shorter works are available for free online. These stories are beautiful and terrifying, brilliant and diverse in style and content, and they deserve greater recognition; so, let’s give it to them…

The following list (modeled after the Hugo Award categories) includes some of my favorite works of SFT from 2016. For a complete list, head on over to the Speculative Fiction in Translation website.


Best Novel

  • The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette (Melville House): a sardonic take on authoritarianism which explores how individuals try to adjust to life in an increasingly dystopic world.
  • Iraq + 100, edited by Hassan Blasim, multiple translators (Comma Press): many of these stories imagine a Baghdad and Iraq that has been altered (by Chinese-manufactured domes, alien invasion, etc.) but remains recognizable because of its public spaces and the beloved Tigris. These writers explore the timeless quality of tradition and the weight of history, which reaches into and shapes the futur
  • Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated by Jessica Powell (Mandel-Vilar Press): When a gentleman zombie uses the resources at his disposal at the pharmaceutical research company where he works in order to find a “cure” to bring himself back to life, things get…interesting. Shortlisted for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award and one of my favorites of the year.
  • Mr. Turtle by Yusaku Kitano, translated by Tyran Grillo (Kurodahan Press): A cyborg turtle living among humans vaguely remembers fighting a war on Jupiter, and only after he finds a job does the story of his life start to come into focus.
  • Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles, translated by Lawrence Schimel (Aqueduct Press): Part linguistics report, part memoir, Monteverde is a story about the clash of cultures and the bonds of language, and you’ll want to read it all in one sitting.
  • The Doomed City by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, translated by Andrew Bromfield (Chicago Review Press): People plucked from various points in the 20th century have been placed in the City (from which there seems no escape) to participate in an Experiment, the goal of which remains unknown. Philosophical, dark, and mysterious, The Doomed City is yet another great Strugatsky creation.
  • Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky (New Directions): Polar bears from three different generations tell their stories of life under Communism/Capitalism and their participation in the circus and entertainment industry. It is a book about diaspora, exile, identity, and memory, and is beautifully written and translated.
  • Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated by David Frye (Restless Books): It’s not easy doctoring the galaxy’s largest alien creatures, but that’s just what Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo does. In the process, he negotiates peace between an alien race and a human colony. Witty, ironic, and creative, SEG is a highly enjoyable read from Cuba’s best known contemporary spec fic writer.


Best Novella

  • The Snow of Jinyang by Zhang Ran, translated by Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan (Clarkesworld Magazine, June): an alternate history, featuring some bizarrely anachronistic technologies.


Best Novelette

  • Terpsichore” by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverria, translated by Lawrence Schimel (Strange Horizons, October): This is the story of how one woman journeys by special ship through various realities, meeting her alternate selves in the process.
  • The Calculations of Artificials” by Chi Hui, translated by John Chu (Clarkesworld Magazine, October): In the world of this story, most “people” are actually constructs, built to look and act like “real” people, in order to convince the few surviving humans that their world hasn’t really changed. One man is tasked with making things run smoothly, but he soon questions the wisdom of this job.
  • Alone, On the Wind” by Karla Schmidt, translated by Lara Harmon (Clarkesworld Magazine, August): A science fantasy story by German cross-genre author Karla Schmidt about the meeting between two very different peoples, the Deathbirds of the Dancing Stones and the desert tribes of the Yellow World.


Best Short Story

  • The First Tree In the Forest” by Jean-Luc André d’Asciano, translated by Edward Gauvin (Blind Spot Magazine, July): a terrifying story about war, animal ghosts, and the vanishing of the human race.
  • The Bleeding Hands of Castaways” by Erick J. Mota, translated by Esther Allen (Words Without Borders, May): A brief, bittersweet tale about a bar built on an old mining asteroid and an abiding love.

Rachel S. Cordasco earned a Ph.D in Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010, and taught courses in American and British literature, and Composition. She has also worked at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. A Book Riot and SF Signal contributor, Rachel recently launched a site devoted to speculative fiction in translation. You can follow her @Rcordas and on facebook at Bookishly Witty and Speculative Fiction in Translation.

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Rachel Cordasco


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