How to read Science Fiction – 20/01/2009

This article appeared on the Tor blog recently (Tor are a SF publisher, news and blog site) that I as an SF fan and new member of the Translation world (if only as a technologist) found pretty interesting.

One of the things that I often talk about with the friend that introduced me to Translation is the use of cross cultural metaphor and how to translate signifiers and such like. The whole article ponders this point, but there is a notable paragraph about translators:

These days I much more often have this problem from the other end—the literary end. The best example of this I remember came from Making Light in a thread called Story for Beginners. A reviewer wanted to make the zombies in Kelly Link’s “Zombie Contingency Plans” (in the collection Magic For Beginners) into metaphors. They’re not. They’re actual zombies. They may also be metaphors, but their metaphorical function is secondary to the fact that they’re actual zombies that want to eat your brains. Science fiction may be literalization of metaphor, it may be open to metaphorical, symbolic and even allegorical readings, but what’s real within the story is real within the story, or there’s no there there. I had this problem with one of the translators of my novel Tooth and Claw—he kept emailing me asking what things represented. I had to keep saying no, the characters really were dragons, and if they represented anything that was secondary to the reality of their dragon nature. He kept on and on, and I kept being polite but in the end I bit his head off—metaphorically, of course.

Being aware of the subject matter or writing style is killer – my role as a translator between awkward nerds and humans taught me this before I discovered it was called “interpreting”…