Jan 12 2010 2:33pm

Science Fiction Across National Boundaries

The genre world goes through phases much the same as any other cultural zeitgeist. Right now, horror is mired neck-deep in the world of vampires and paranormal romance (with zombies running a close second). Science fiction readers are enthralled with steampunk and the apocalypse. Fantasy is trending toward more gritty, salt-of-the-earth type novels (raise your hand Richard K. Morgan!).

The zeitgeist winds are blowing, my friends. We have seen the science fiction community lift its gaze from its current obsession, push those horn rimmed glasses higher up the bridges of their noses, and expand their view of the world beyond the borders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. We, as a community, have taken a keen interest in the concept of “world SF.”

What is world SF? I’d describe it as science fiction written by authors native to countries where English is not the national language. Simple enough, right?

Perhaps the English reader’s interest in world SF has always been present and what we’re seeing is the gradual growth of interest of international works as our world becomes smaller thanks to the Internet. A cursory glance at the past decade one can see that there’s been a handful of well-received anthologies containing works of a non-English origin—a recent example being The SFWA European Hall of Fame edited by James Morrow and Kathy Morrow. Also, SF claims a number of legendary non-English authors such as Stanislaw Lem and Zoran Živković. Now, a pair of hard-working writers have taken that spark of interest and nurtured it into a fully-fledged movement.

Charles Tan lives in the Philippines and runs a great blog named Bibliophile Stalker. Bibliophile Stalker has long been a great resource for science fiction readers interested in finding interviews, free short fiction, and features on various aspects of the genre. On top of running an entertaining blog, Charles has been a vocal advocate of genre work written by Filipinos and runs the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler webzine.

Lavie Tidhar is often described as ubiquitous. I’d consider that to be spot on. He’s had fiction published in Clarkesworld, Chizine, Interzone, Apex Magazine, Fantasy and many others. He’s a common presence in many high profile standalone print anthologies. Lavie recently landed a three-book deal with Angry Robot (the first novel of a planned three part series, The Bookman,  comes out later this year), has a novel out via Chizine Publications, and is the editor of The Apex Book of World SF.

Lavie and Charles have joined forces and created the World SF News Blog. As described on the blog, “The World SF News Blog is dedicated to posting links, news and original content related to science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics from around the world.” They routinely interview non-English authors (including one with Ashok Bankor that sparked a bit of controversy that has been subsequently been removed), bring to attention excellent work from China, Israel, France, and almost anywhere else where a talented writer might put pen to paper.

It’s a great website. If you’re looking to read something a little different--something ‘foreign’ even--then head over to the World SF News Blog. You’re certain to find something of high quality.

Jason Sizemore is the owner of Apex Publications. He graduated from Transylvania University, watched The Exorcist with his mom at age ten, and when he was a kid he liked to play Aliens with his little brother. For more information about this odd fellow visit jason-sizemore.com.

1. ecurbmp
"...and expand their view of the world beyond the borders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia."

Maybe this is pointless or just a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but is Canada supposed to be a part of the United States, or do we could under "World SF" because we also have French as a national language? The former is annoying and the latter isn't really mentioned anyways, although it'd be nice if the French SF/F community in Canada is doing as well as it's English counterpart. I wouldn't know, to be honest.

That aside, I do like the article otherwise. "The Witcher" RPG is based on writing from a Polish (I think) fantasy writer, and the game was fantastic. Just another example of how SF/F worldwide deserves recognition.
Teresa Jusino
2. TeresaJusino
Thank you for the link to the World SF News Blog. I'm always a fan of trying to get an international perspective on things, and this will be a great resource!
Jason Sizemore
3. jasonb57
@ecurbmp: You're absolutely right. I should have included Canada. My apologies.
4. aleistra
I’d describe (world SF) as science fiction written by authors native to countries where English is not the national language. Simple enough, right?

No, because it leaves me wondering right off about where India falls in your classification, and why you're assuming all countries have a single "national language".
Charles Tan
5. charlesatan
Defining what constitutes "World SF" IS a tricky subject and something me and Lavie have often discussed.

I'd like to chime in with what aleistra said as in the Philippines, English WAS and IS the national language.
6. Rhigde
I don't quite understand how all nations except for a few are considered "the world". The US and others like it have a tendency to feel self-important, but they are not (yet) their own planets.

This seeming segregation (These few nations are the majority, the rest of the planet is a quaint little zone that comes up with charming "traditional" arts) has always annoyed me. Although I'm glad that increased translation and availability is exposing people (like me) in these few "normal" countries to more art, I find it silly and hypocritical to single it out and try to turn it into something more than what it is.

Terribly sorry. Everyone needs a good rant from time to time.
René Walling
7. cybernetic_nomad

I'd say the French Canadian scene is doing quite well (but I am biased). Élisabeth Vonarburg (Maërlande Chronicles, Reluctant Voyagers, The Silent City, Slow Engies of Time, Blood Out of a Stone), Sylvie Bérard (Of Wind and Sand), and Yves Meynard (The Book of Knights) all have books published in English. You can also check out Tesseracts Q for more authors.
Roland of Gilead
8. pKp
Here (France) we do have a small but active SF "scene". Pierre Bordage is probably the most famous. Alas, there is no English translation of his works, preventing English speaker (who, as a rule, do not tend to learn other languages) from appreciating them.

I think that is the main problem of "world SF" ; with the huge mass of English-language SF available, I think English and American publisher hesitate to order translations, because they are costly and will work less well.

Most French SF fans read in English, even when translations exist (because they are sometimes quite poor, and obviously because it's better to read the original text even when the translation is good).

France is perhaps the country where SF sells best and is most recognized outside of the US/UK/Canada, for historical reasons (SF fandom in France was very active and influential in the 70s) leading to great translations of seminal works (Dune, K. Dick's works, Asimov's, Lovecraft...are beautifully translated).
René Walling
9. cybernetic_nomad
pKp writes:

"American publisher hesitate to order translations, because they are costly and will work less well."

I think it is more accurate to say "American publisher hesitate to order translations, because they are costly and [i]are work less well."

We don't know yet if translations would sell less or not.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment