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thoughts from eastercon 2012 part one

I'm basking in post-Eastercon energy. This journal has been slowly reviving, but I thought it was about time to push it into full resurrection. This was my third con and I don't know if that's what made this con stand out for me as being the best Eastercon I'd been to so far. While I still felt the imbalance, being one of the few brown people in a dominantly white populated con, there was a vibe going on that made me feel like my opinion mattered (or maybe I was being more courageous this con than I was in the last ones I'd gone to).

aliettedb roped me onto the non-anglophone sf panel which she was on.Lavie Tidhar was on it and Nir Yaniv and lord knows I absolutely admire these three writers and their work. It was quite interesting to finally meet a Dutch novelist. Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a young Dutch writer who has published a bunch of novels in the horror genre.  I've never read him, but it was nice meeting him and finding out how Dutch publishing works. Myra Caakan, a german sf writer whose body of work is all in German, was also on the panel, and then there was me. Filipino sf/f writer who has yet to complete her first novel.

The interesting thing and at the same time the frustrating thing about the panel was how it seemed to revolve mainly around translation. I do feel that if we are to have more diversity in the field and if we want SF to live up to itself as being an inclusive genre, it is important that we get to read fictions that are being produced in countries that are not our own. Someone in the audience suggested that mono-language people should learn a second language--which I think is always a good idea, but it still doesn't address the problem of imbalance.

Aliette mentioned a pathetic statistic of 3% of books published in English being books translated from other languages and that 3% includes technical manuals. It's an apalling number and while we may open our mouths and say "it's sad that we aren't getting all that diversity", the reality is that publishing is a commercial thing more than an art thing and translation costs money. I think that publishers also want the sure thing. So if a non-English language novel does really well in its country of origin, an English language publisher would be more inclined to take a bet on it and invest. The non-anglophone writer has a lot of hurdles to overcome before getting to the point where he or she gets published in English.

Being a person who has made the choice to write in English, I thought to mention how the colonial mindset influences our bookbuying habits in The Philippines. Well, not only that, but there is also the fact that the majority of the bookshelves in a bookstore are crammed with books written by writers from the English speaking nations. How can a Filipino writer compete? And is it even worth competing when the few ways to gain recognition as a writer in The Philippines comes from either winning a major literary competition, gaining a reputation as a writer of "literary" things or getting your stuff published abroad (meaning the US or the UK). I guess, this all ties back to how ingrained colonialism is in our culture that we tend to think that since it's been published or made abroad, then it must be really good.

I came away from the panel feeling that we hadn't quite gotten down to the meat of the matter. There was still a lot of ground to cover, but we just didn't have sufficient time. I also had to think it would have been interesting to find out just how different our narratives are and I did wonder if any of my fellow non-anglophones ever felt the pressure to conform to an expected narrative.

The good thing about the panel is that it made us think of things that need to be delved into further. It also made me feel somewhat hopeful about the future of non-anglo writing in the sf and f field. Anyway, there's still lots to write about and think about and among the good pay-offs is me resurrecting my online self and going back to writing as much as I can whenever I can.

** I think it's important to mention here how the tireless advocacy efforts of charlesatan have gone a long way towards bringing our speculative fiction to the attention of readers.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 10th, 2012 09:56 am (UTC)
What about Lavie? It would be nice to see more people who write from a non-western perspective. I found myself wondering though how much of the response that states interest in non-traditional narrative to be truth.

And yes, the translation problem is a false problem.

Apr. 10th, 2012 10:01 am (UTC)
I also find myself thinking of how I don't want to play tour guide as a writer of Filipino sf.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 11th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
Oh rats. I didn't know that Lavie wasn't going to do cons. But he is coming to World Fantasy in 2013, isn't he? Do we know other people who look at story from a non-anglophone perspective? What about that guy who wrote Quantum Thief? (my brain is going, I can't remember his name). Gio Clairval maybe?
Apr. 10th, 2012 12:33 pm (UTC)
Aliette mentioned a pathetic statistic of 3% of books published in English being books translated from other languages and that 3% includes technical manuals...

I was dismayed to discover how much of Portuguese literature has never been translated into English. There are some great period books that I need to read...and I can only get them in Portuguese. And my Portuguese is pretty awful. I mean seriously...100 years later and no one has bothered to translate it?????

So I find it disturbing, too! (I'm just talking about the Portuguese here, but the further implication is 'How many millions of books have English speakers missed out on just because we don't think writers of other languages are worth our time to translate?')

Edited at 2012-04-10 12:37 pm (UTC)
Apr. 11th, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
Well--let's see--our national hero, Jose Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere in Spanish. 150 years after his death, Penguin decides to pick up the book and translate it into English. I think it's the only one that's been translated out of the Philippines. The English language books written by Filipinos and published in America are usually written by Fil-Ams...Filipinos who were raised in America. The home-grown ones have to struggle harder and from what I've heard, Filipino literary greats who've moved to America so they can write and publish there never do. Except for F. Sionil Jose, but he's like one in how many. We have tons of poets, of course, but none of the aforementioned wrote sf and f.

I was reading through bundles of pulp magazines to find out how much fantasy is told in regional languages and there are quite a good number, but even these don't get translated into the national language, much less into English.

But I feel quite cheered by the fact that there are writers who write fantasy in the local languages...no sf though. Not in all my hard searching through the pulp mags.

Comics is a different animal though. And then again, a lot isn't in English. What we have in sf/f is mostly in English and available online or is going to be made available online, but the community of writers writing sf/f isn't that large. Not on a US or UK scale.
Apr. 11th, 2012 03:51 pm (UTC)
Interesting that there's no SF. It's a smaller market than fantasy, I know, and I have no idea how it compares to comics.

I guess it seems odd to me that things aren't more readily translated. At the same time, I do know that translation's a bear, so...
Apr. 11th, 2012 03:57 pm (UTC)
Actually, I think there is sf, but probably told in a way that isn't like how we expect SF to be told. For instance, there are stories of other worlds and baskets that carry people from one world to the next...but they read like fairytales and don't fit in the western definition of sf narrative. No shiny tech. hahaha.
Apr. 11th, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC)
Yes...the 'must be logical' cause-and-effect sort of literature seems a rather Euro-centric thing. (I'm no expert, though).
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 12th, 2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
Charles, someone should declare you a national treasure. My readings involved going through back-issues of Banawag. I didn't think of chasing down comics and now that I think of it: didn't Darna and Captain Barbel have their origins in comic land?

I'm sure there's a lot that I don't know. I do remember feeling very very excited when my brother told me that there was a Filipino artist working on the X-men comics. That was way back when I was still in college--don't bother to count how long ago that was.

I wish you had been there. You would have been fantastic on that panel.
Apr. 12th, 2012 04:39 pm (UTC)
Grrr...I want to qualify my statement about Filipino greats who move to America. I meant that not all of them do achieve the pulication.

Historically speaking, we do have poets and writers who have been published and recognized in the US, but these are poets and writers of the literary.
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
Given the impact they're making in the economic and political arenas, I wonder whether China and India will eventually become the 21st century powerhouses of SF too. Maybe they are already and the West hasn't caught on yet. Maybe, too, mono-linguists like myself** will become obsolete, if we're not already.

Hopefully the 2013 (and subsequent) Eastercons will focus on inclusivity, cultural and language matters. It was good to see a roughly even male/female split at this year's event. Something to build on?

(** Vaughan hangs his head in shame, as he only speaks English, rusty French, rustier Fortran and universal drinks-ordering language, plus various shades of profane.)
Apr. 11th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
It was a good con and I thought it was the best out of the three I'd gone to. Plus, I finally got to meet you. That was absolutely fantastic. :)

I think this con made a very real effort working towards inclusivity and gender parity, but yes--as it tends to happen with these things, there are always moments of fail...but we keep going forward, right?

As to the language in which we write, I really don't know to what extent the rise of China and India will influence that. English has established itself as a dominant language, I think it will take a very long time before another language overtakes it.

Various shades of profane--where can I sign up for that one?
Apr. 11th, 2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
I have a friend who's written SF for the Chinese short story market, and according to him, their SF market is decades behind the English market in terms of story complexity and plot lines. (In English his stories read almost like fables. Short and simple. Not a lot of character development.)

ETA: I should point out here that this is information I've gotten from -one- writer, so it may not actually reflect the truth. It may just be the magazines he sells to...

Edited at 2012-04-11 04:22 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 12th, 2012 01:37 pm (UTC)
That's the problem...we don't have a wide enough base of data for Asia!
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 12th, 2012 04:47 pm (UTC)
Japan produces awesome stuff. If I had more time, I'd want to learn Japanese and French.

Apr. 10th, 2012 05:47 pm (UTC)
Interesting... Of course, the nice thing about a small number of translations is that the successful stuff is usually very good. I can hardly read French, but thanks to only having access to their greatest hits, I think a couple of French writers are the best in the world.

I guess my problem is that I see silver linings in every cloud.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


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