Best Translated Novel
Hugo Category Proposed

Chris M. Barkley, Juli Marr, and Mark Richards have submitted an motion to create a new Hugo Awards category for Best Translated Novel. It will soon be listed on Dublin 2019’s New Business Agenda. (Update Barkley says this is the text they submitted, but some minor tweaks will be made to the language before it is posted online.)

D.1 Short Title: Best Translated Novel

Moved, to amend the WSFS Constitution for the purpose of creating a new Hugo Award category for Best Translated Novel, by inserting a new subsection after existing Section 3.3.4 and revising sections 3.2.5 and 3.2.6 as follows:

3.3.4: A science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more that was translated and published into English for the first time within the previous calendar year. The Award will be given both to the writer(s) of the work and the credited translator(s) of the novel.

3.2.5: In the story categories (3.3.1-3.3.56 and 3.3.78), an author may withdraw a version of a work from consideration if the author feels that the version is not representative of what that author wrote.

3.2.6: The categories of Best Novel, Novella, Novelette, and Short Story, and Best Translation shall be open to works in which the text is the primary form of communication, regardless of the publication medium, including but not limited to physical print, audiobook, and ebook.

Provided that unless this amendment is re-ratified by the 2022 Business Meeting, this Section shall be repealed and; and

Provided further that the question of re-ratification shall automatically be placed on the agenda of the 2022 Business Meeting.

  • Proposed by: Mark Richards (Attending Member), Juli Marr (Attending Member) and Chris M. Barkley (Attending Member).  

Commentary by Chris M. Barkley and Rachel Cordasco:

Eighty years ago, in July 1939, NYCon 1, the very first World Science Fiction Convention was held in New York City.

The title “World Science Fiction Convention” was a bit of a misnomer; it was about as accurate and plausible as baseball’s championship title “World Series” is today. It was named as such in honor of the World’s Fair exhibition being held nearby in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

We have no doubt that while many of the convention’s participants (and those who were excluded for political reasons) imagined science fiction and fantasy literature had a future, at the time the only thing they could be sure of at that time was that war was on the immediate horizon.

As the decades passed, sf and fantasy literature not only took hold in North American and England, it became a worldwide cultural phenomenon.

And as the Hugo Award grew in stature, so did its reputation outside the confines of the English speaking nations where it was born and nurtured.

Until recently, a majority of the nominated writers in the fiction categories have been dominated by English language authors. In 2015, Cixin Liu’ s The Three Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu) became the first novel translated from another language to win the Hugo Award.

Since then there have been very few non-English language nominees in the fiction categories although there have been two winners in the short fiction categories (Hao Jingfang, also from China and Thomas Olde Heuvelt of the Netherlands).

We feel that it is high time that the World Science Fiction Society honor writers from around the world with one of literature’s highest honors.

Each year, US/UK/Australian publishers are giving us more SF in translation (SFT) to read from countries like France, Iraq, Argentina, Japan, Finland, Israel, and many others. In recent years, the number of translated speculative novels has risen to 60-70. After several decades of speculative fiction flowing mostly from the US and UK into other countries, the tide seems to be turning and people who grew up reading translations of Anglophone science fiction or fantasy have been inspired to become translators themselves. Plus, more presses and magazines are open to SFT, and we now have two online publications that actually specialize in international speculative fiction (Samovar Magazine and Future Science Fiction Digest).

The Hugo Award, like the annual Worldcons, are sponsored by the World Science Fiction Society, and it is this inclusion of the word “world” that is at issue when discussions of a “Best Translated Novel” come up. As Donald Wollheim once wrote, “We science fiction readers whose native language happens to be English-…tend to a curious sort of provincialism in our thinking regarding the boundaries of science fiction. We tend to think that all that is worth reading and all that is worth noticing is naturally written in English. In our conventions and our awards and our discussions we slip into the habit of referring to our favorites as the world’s best this and the “world’s best that.” 

Shouldn’t the Hugo Awards recognize more than just those texts originally written in English? SFT is more popular than some people think, and if given the opportunity to recognize a non-Anglophone novel, SFT readers would probably jump at the chance. It’s time to shrug off our Anglocentric perspective, especially in relation to a genre that encourages us to look beyond our immediate environs and learn about those who are sometimes radically different from us.

Simply put, if the Best Novel Category is the equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Picture, the Best Translated novel can serve as our Best Foreign Film. If France, Spain, Israel, China, and other countries can successfully include a “Best Translated Novel” category in their SF awards, so can the US/UK-dominated Hugos.

As the noted philosopher and American football coach George Allen once sagely noted, “The Future is NOW.”

53 thoughts on “Best Translated Novel
Hugo Category Proposed

  1. Art Book worked this year because they are a subset of the existing Best Related Work. — Laura

    As of right now, we don’t really know how well Art Book worked this year. We only know that the Hugo Administrators thought that the participation was sufficient to have the category on the final ballot — but that’s a pretty arbitrary judgement call.

    I want to see the longlist nomination totals before I’d be willing to consider supporting it as a permanent category.

  2. That’s true. But I meant it was probably reasonable to expect it to do ok as a special Hugo because art books have a history of being nominated for and winning Related Work (if not as much recently). I have some misgivings about it becoming a permanent category even if participation turns out to have been high. But I don’t think this proposal is close to being ready for that sort of test.

  3. @Jo Van Ekeren: I didn’t say that a Special Category should become permanent after two times. I said that perhaps it should become a candidate for permanent status after two times. That might still be unnecessary, but I wanted to throw it out, just in case.

    But yeah, new permanent categories would still have to go through the usual procedures, even with my proposal.

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