Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Japanese SF in Translation - Interview

Nick Mamatas is the editor of the new Haikasoru line of Japanese SF in English translation. Here's what he has to say on the process of selecting which SF novels get the honour to be translated into English:

"Haikasoru’s editor-in-chief Masumi Washington reads Japanese SF (both magazines and books) widely and keeps an eye out for good titles. Then we commission quick translations of chapters and get synopses of, say, eight or ten books, and from there we’ll have some formal or informal discussions and pick three or four. We like to try a mix, so we try to be sure that we have a variety with each month of release."

And on the role of translators and editors?

"[Collaboration between the translator and the editor is] Certainly as integral as the editorial process is in a book published in an original language. A translation though, is a bit different because languages are conceptually different—English has much stricter rules as to what comprises a sentence for example—and tone can be a challenge. Natsuhiko Kyogoku, for example, uses a large number of very short sentences and sentence fragments in his work, creating haiku-like tonal effects over the course of hundreds of pages. In Japan, he even has a hand in the production of his own books, and tries to make sure that every page ends with a complete sentence, so that readers can stop if they wish to. Capturing all that in an utterly different language for readers with very different expectations as to pacing, characterization, the sorts and amount of information a narrator should give, etc. is very tricky. And the translator, unlike the author, cannot simply do wholesale rewrites to make something work. We’re playing a hand that has already been dealt. Then there’s the issue of translator skill; few have the ear of a novelist. That’s when I come in. I’ve managed to find some excellent creative translators, but can also nudge and pull and yank and tug at the work. So far I haven’t had to put in any footnotes to explain this or that untranslatable term or cultural reference, though part of my luck there has been the immense cultural exchange between Japan and the English-speaking world over the past two decades thanks to video games, manga, and anime."

(He endorses glossing and intervening in the text, I see.. I assume that is motivated by the fact that a brainier translation would not sell to no-brainers, and thus limit the market niche.)

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