Moar Translations Please: A Rough Idea For SFF Magazines

 

Lost in Translation by Alfonso on Flickr

In the introduction to the SFWA European Hall of Fame anthology, editor James Morrow told the story of how this book came to be. It involved meeting up with a translator friend and discovering that translating fiction from one language to another involved more than just translating the words or even the concepts behind the words accurately, it also required the keen eye of an editor who could further shape and prod the prose so that it conveyed the original meaning and read well in the translated language. This is part of why works in translation don’t often make it into genre magazines. This process is time-intensive and, I imagine, expensive in magazine monetary metrics. However, it’s more important now than ever for Anglophone readers to read speculative fiction from outside the English speaking world, as this piece by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz proves.

How to address this dilemma? Some are doing so by offering their own translation services, free of charge, to authors. I love this, but also feel that the burden shouldn’t all be on them. I have an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a while that I offer freely to anyone who wants to take it up and even improve upon. I do hope this is a workable idea, because I want to see more SFF from around the world on a regular basis.

From what I understand, students who are studying for a Bachelor or Masters degree in translation must do a certain amount of real world translation in order to get said degree[1]. Thus an internship that involves real translation work is a useful one to have, even if just for a few credits. This is what SFF magazine editors should do.

Obviously you wouldn’t have just any student as an intern for this. They’d have to be familiar with the genre and have a sensibility similar to the editor’s, or someone who can learn said sensibilities. I recognize that this is an important criterion; I don’t think it’s an impossible one.

There are two models I’ve worked out, one where interns work for one semester and another where they work fr two. In the one semester model, once you know which language(s) your intern(s) can translate, you have them read Best Of compilations and award-winning works from authors in that language going back two to four years or so. This might require a bit of research and reaching out on their part. They provide a short synopsis/overview of each one, and the editor picks a few that sound like they would work for their magazine. The interns then provide a first draft translation. If the story looks like it will work for that editor, they reach out to the author with an offer to publish, translated. If the author accepts, then the editor, translator, and author work together to fine tune the translation.

This will probably result in one or two translated stories in a 6 month period. Not a lot, but more than we see in most magazines. And if four magazines decide to do this, then that’s maybe 16 stories a year.

The two semester model starts out almost the same except the intern also spends the first semester reading every issue of the magazine put out in the last year and maybe reading the slushpile for a month or two. If, at the end of the first semester, the editor feels the intern understands what they look for in stories then the second semester can be about finding new stories to translate. You create a limited submission period for the language the intern can translate and solicit stories. The intern then reads slush, picks out the stories they think will work, and again provides the editor with a first draft translation for consideration. If it looks like it will work, the intern and editor work together on it with an eye toward final acceptance.

Again, this may only result in a couple of stories in that period. I think that’s fine and could be well worth the effort.

The interns get translation experience for school credit that’s directly applicable in the real world, magazines get to widen their horizons, and readers get to read awesome stories that they might not have, otherwise. Win!

I’m sure there are probably some flaws in this idea. Please do help me work them out in the comments. If even part of this seems workable to the editors out there, please give it a try.

Footnotes

  1. If I’m wrong about this or fuzzy on the details, please do correct in the comments.[]

Comments

  1. says

    Great post. That is a very interesting idea and seems very workable. It’s actually something I sort of see in French universities regarding translation degrees, where students need to find untranslated material and then learn by doing. It never goes beyond the university walls however, as it is just an exercise, but tying this into professional publishing would be a small step to take I believe, and it could give the student an experience that could be much more valued on a résumé as s/he would have had links with professional world – it’s difficult for a beginning translator to find work, as s/he has got to prove him/herself.

    A few of us writers and translators will be talking about translation during Worldcon on next Friday, if any would like to come – and we will be sure to mention your idea:

    Translation-Wish, Translation-Obstacles
    Capital Suite 6 (Level 3), 8pm – 9pm
    Tags: Literature, World SF, Non-Anglophone
    Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Gili Bar-Hillel, Fabio Fernandes, Nene Ormes, Lionel Davoust,Johanna Vainikainen-Uusitalo
    Many of us have read work in our own languages that we would love to propose to Anglophone publishers. But how to fund a rough translation of such work? The Interstitial Arts Foundation is looking to create a new initiative to bring translators together with national and international funders to create a way to make something happen!

Trackbacks

  1. […] This article by K. Tempest Bradford really needs to get as much exposure as it can. It outlines a very viable strategy (to my eyes) so as to get more translations in English language. It basically involves students in translation who need work experience to get their degrees. They would read foreign market anthologies and magazines and produce a digest for editors who would partner with their university. Those editors could then choose what they like and then think of publishing a full-blown translation of the story, made by the student. What Tempest’s article does not mention is how to vouch for the quality of the translation if the editor does not speak the source language ; but I can say, having tutored comparable works in the Angers university, that such endeavors are always done under the supervision of university professors and professional translators. They are checking the translation, asking for rewrites on part of the student; and the final quality of the work dictates if they get their degree or not. So this aspect is covered as well. […]