Why I am Advocating for a Best Translated Novel Category
By Chris M. Barkley:
Author’s Note: Like Jo Van Ekeren, I am a member of a Hugo Awards Study Committee, which was formed last year at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland. The views expressed in this editorial are solely mine and may not reflect the views and interests of anyone else serving on the Study Committee or anyone connected with any Worldcon, past or present.
My first encounter with the Hugo Awards began back in high school in the early 1970’s when I stumbled upon a copy of The Hugo Awards Volumes One and Two, edited by Isaac Asimov. Up until I cracked open this particular anthology, I had only been a casual reader of fantasy and science fiction. Reading it plunged me into a literary whirlpool that I have reveled in and loved ever since.
When I started thinking about proposing changes to the Hugo Award categories in 1998, I had no idea how to proceed. I had attended fifteen Worldcons but I had attended only a single Business Meeting, and that was only because I was passing where it was being held one afternoon and a friend grabbed me and asked me to vote on something of vital importance. I went in, raised my hand when asked and did so and went on my merry way without knowing what I had just supported.
At Chicon 2000, I became a regular attendee and over the years learned how to cajole, advocate, persuade and validate my points of view. I did learn quickly to develop some thick skin as my early efforts were mercilessly stonewalled and ridiculed on a regular basis.
Through the tireless efforts of myself and other dedicated fans, we made significant changes to the Hugo Award categories and all of them were for the better, in my opinion.
But, as time has gone by it has become evident to some (including myself) that we should take a serious look at all of the categories to see if ambiguities could be removed from the language in the WSFS Constitution, redefining, improving, eliminating or suggesting new categories altogether. The Helsinki Business Meeting commissioned such a Study Group last summer and I happily volunteered.
At the moment, the group is gearing up to reach a consensus to issue a report in time for Worldcon 76 in San Jose.
On June 9, I presented the idea of a Best Translated Novel to the group. I did so because I believe that it is time the World Science Fiction Convention become a truly global award of cultural distinction.
Of course, the group on the whole had its concerns about establishing a new category. On the whole, I would say that we are not in favor of turning the Hugo awards into the Grammys with a nearly endless parade of sub-categories and narrowly defined special interest awards.
Well, imagine my surprise when I opened the June 14 edition of the Pixel Scroll and saw tweets from Rachel S. Cordasco and Claire Rousseau espousing the very same idea! Needless to say, I was very excited to see this and contacted them to enthusiastically pledge my support.
But there is a problem; as Ms. Van Ekeren rightly pointed out, even though we are less than two months way from Worldcon, the time frame for discussing it in advance and scheduling it for a formal debate at the Business Meeting is less than desirable at this point. We are, in essence, the gatekeepers of the Hugo Awards. And while I relish this vital role, I have often been frustrated by the somewhat glacial pace of the process and the sometimes overwhelming sense of caution the members of the Business Meeting immerse themselves in.
Be that as it may, I am quite confident and certain that this proposal will be assigned to a study group, will be roundly debated in the coming year and an amendment will be presented at the Business Meeting in Dublin.
The very first World Fiction Convention in 1939 was held in New York City and it has been documented that the original intention was to have the convention named as homage to the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows. And as time has passed, and innovations and technology have made our community more global, it just makes good sense to extend the good will and honor of being nominated for or winning a Hugo Award to the rest of the world. Because we, as a community, must show that the Worldcon isn’t just a traveling genre party for English speakers, but the whole, wide world. As an analogy I offer the example of the Academy Awards; a Best Translated Novel is just like offering the equivalent of the Best Foreign Film category.
For decades, the Hugo Award was mainly dominated by writers from the United Kingdom and North America. And while we called ourselves members of the World Science Fiction Society, the first convention wasn’t held outside North America until 1957 (London, UK) or in Europe until 1970 (Heidelberg, West Germany). Even then, English-speaking writers have prevailed. That is, until recently.
My inspiration for supporting the Best Translated Novel was inspired by the recent Hugo wins by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Cixin Liu and Hao Jingfang. This shows that the inherent bias against writers from other countries and cultures is slowly melting away. And while no translated novels or short fiction is on the final ballot this year, I am reasonably sure more nominations from writers of different countries and cultures will be forthcoming.
In the meantime, I am writing this column to directly address some of the issues Ms. Van Ekeren pointed out in her editorial.
First, the intent of the proposed amendment is to honor translated novels seeing their first publication in English. In the WSFS Constitution, the definition of a novel (as of this writing) is: ”A science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more. ” This would or should exclude works of non-fiction, manga or anything else that would not fit into what we traditionally know as the novel category. I take it for granted that some sort of provision will be written to prevent a nominee in the Translated category from also being considered in the Best Novel category.
If and when the definition of the novel category is changed, the wording of the Translated Novel category will be adjusted to suit the Constitution. The one thing that I would insist on inserting into the proposal is that translators of the work being honored also receive a Hugo for their efforts.
As to whether or not adding this new category will “dilute” the prestige of the Best Novel Award or make it a second class or lesser award, I completely reject that sort of reasoning. I have held many of them in my hands on many occasions during my four decades in fandom. Ask any of the recipients in any category whether or not they feel that their Hugo is any less special than anyone else’s. And the answer would probably be a unanimous NO. They are grateful and happy to have their work honored by knowledgeable fans.
One of the main objections seems to be finding eligible works to be nominated. This in turn brings us back to Dr. Cordasco, who has a Ph.D in literary studies, is a huge fan of translated fantasy and sf. She has been running a website completely devoted to tracking translated works for several years. (Speculative Fiction in Translation)
She has also meticulously compiled a list of works (431 as of this writing) published in English: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1RyMOXmi1Zd4yvuTVHQcw5gka8YLZ1In42GJn6Rhh12E/edit#gid=0
Here is a list of translated novels published just in the past two years:
2018 ( Published or scheduled so far)
- Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti, translated by Jonathan Hunt (Italian)
- The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum, translated by Ira Moskowitz (Hebrew)
- The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan, translated by Will Vanderhyden (Spanish)
- Elven Winter by Bernhard Hennen, translated by Edwin Miles (German)
- Alphaland by Cristina Jurado, translated by James Womack (Spanish)
- Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt, translated by Owen Witesman (Finnish)
- Ball Lighting by Cixin Lui, translated by Jowl Martinsen (Chinese)
- Faces From the Past by Rodolfo & Felicidad Martinez, translated by Rodolfo Martinez (Spanish)
- Nekomonogatari White by Nisioisin, translated by Ko Ransom (Japanese)
- Apple and Knife by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein (Indonesian)
- Frankenstein in Baghdad by Achmed Saadawi, translated by Jonathan Wright (Arabic)
- Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz, translated by Madeline G. Levine (Polish)
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Vol 6: Flight by Yoshiki Tanaka, translated by Tyran Grillo (Japanese)
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Vol 7: Tempest by Yoshiki Tanaka, translated by Daniel Huddleston (Japanese)
- The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani (Japanese)
- Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima, translated by Daniel Huddleston (Japanese)
- Science: Hopes and Fears by Juza Unno, translated by J. D. Wisgo (Japanese)
- Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath by Juza Unno, translated by J. D. Wisgo (Japanese)
- The Invisible Valley by Su Wei, translated by Austin Woerner (Chinese)
- A Hero Born (The Condor Heroes, Book 1) by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood
- I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist, translated by Marlaine Delargey (Swedish)
- The Sacred Era by Yoshio Aramaki, translated by Baryon Tensor Posadas (Japanese)
- SRDN: From Bronze and Darkness by Andrea Atzori, translated by Nigel Ross (Italian)
- The Dying Game by Asa Avdic, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Swedish)
- On the Trail of the Grail by Svetislav Basara, translated by Randall A. Major (Serbian)
- Heavens on Earth by Carmen Boullosa, translated by Shelby Vincent (Spanish)
- Bodies of Summer by Martin Felipe Castagnet, translated by Frances Riddle (Spanish)
- Our Dead World by Liliana Colanzi, translated by Jessica Sequeira (Spanish)
- The Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio De Maria, translated by Ramon Glazov (Italian)
- Hadriana in All My Dreams by Rene Depestre, translated by Kaiama L. Glover (French, by way of Haiti)
- The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (Spanish)
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresan, translated by Will Vanderhyden (Spanish)
- Orbital Cloud by Taiyo Fujii translated by Timothy Silver (Japanese)
- Spells by Michel de Ghelderode, translated by George MacLennon (French, by way of Belgium)
- Me by Hoshino Tomoyuki, translated by Charles De Wolf (Japanese)
- You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin (German)
- Listening for Jupiter by Pierre-Luc Landry, translated by Arielle Aronson & Madeleine Stratford (French, by way of Canada)
- Kzradock the Onion Man by Louis Levy, translated by W. C. Bamberger (Danish)
- Blumenberg by Sibylle Lewitscharoff, translated by Wieland Hoban (German)
- Only She Sees by Manel Loureiro, translated by Andres Alfaro (Spanish)
- The Irish Sea by Carlos Maleno, translated by Eric Kurtzke (Spanish)
- Fever by Deon Meyer, translated by K. L. Seegers (Afrikaans)
- The Mountains of Parnassus by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Stanley Bill (Danish)
- The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan, translated by Yuri Machkasov (Russian, by way of Armenia)
- Malacqua by Nicola Pugliese, translated by Shaun Whiteside (Italian)
- Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel, translated by Rupert Copeland Cunningham (French)
- 2084 by Boualem Sansal, translated by Alison Anderson (French, by way of Algeria)
- Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French (Polish)
- Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell (Spanish, by way of Argentina)
- The King in the Golden Mask by Marcel Schwob, translated by Kit Schluter (French)
- Hexagrammaton by Hanuš Seiner, translated by Julie Novakova (Czech)
- The Book of the Dead by Orikuchi Shinobu, translated by Jeffrey Angles (Japanese)
- Familiar Things by Hwang Sok-yong, translated by Sora Kim-Russell (Korean)
- Monday Starts on Saturday by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, translated by Andrew Bromfield (Russian)
- Moon Scars by Ángel Luis Sucasas, translated by James Womack (Spanish)
- S(Es) by Koji Suzuki, translated by Greg Gencarello (Japanese)
- Archeon by Alessandro Tagliapietra, translated by Patricia Keiller (Italian)
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Vol 4: Stratagem by Yoshiki Tanaka, translated by Tyran Grillo
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Vol 5: Mobilization by Yoshiki Tanaka, translated by Tyran Grillo
- Amatka by Karin Tidbeck, translated by Karin Tidbeck (Swedish)
- Bullseye! by Yasutaka Tsutsui, translated by Andrew Driver (Japanese)
- Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman (French)
- Frontier by Can Xue, translated by Karen Gernant (Chinese)
If you thoroughly peruse the Google doc, you will see that several dozen translated novels have been published in the past decade or so.
Are these works “Hugo worthy”? That determination should be made by the readers and fans, not a committee. I also submit that the point is moot since none of the works above will be nominated since there is no category, so to speak. But the fact that they have been translated and published in such great numbers seems to indicate, at least by the publishers, that there is a market out there for translated novels.
And yes, this would mean that fans who are interested in voting in this category would have to be devoted enough to buy and read more books. And frankly, I there isn’t much of a downside to that.
So, what I am asking is the members of the Study Committee and the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting is to take yet another leap of faith with me.
In doing so, I point back to my advocacy of splitting the Best Dramatic Presentation and Editing categories, the establishment of the Best Graphic Story and my co-sponsorship of the Best Fancast categories. I helped work for their passage because I had a gut feeling they would work. And each of them has not only become popular among fans who vote on the awards, they have also drawn in new fans who had never heard of the Hugo Awards or the World Science Fiction Convention before.
After all the travails, waiting, frustration, arguing and controversy, what, you might ask, are you getting out of this? Although I achieved a certain low level of infamy over the years, I have never sought to be in a spotlight or capitalize on my advocacy.
This week, I celebrated my forty-second year in fandom. On June 25, 1976, I showed up at a convention which happened to be located just a few miles from where I lived (Midwestcon 27), bought a five dollar membership and changed my life forever.
What I have attempted to do over the past eighteen years is try to pay back all of the friendships and wonderful experiences by helping to ensure the legacy of the Hugo Awards and the works they honor and to make sure they endure far beyond after I take my leave from fandom and life. Each year, I admit feeling a bit of pride as the winners in the categories I helped shepherd into existence receive their just due.
And for me, that is more than enough.