Mar 13 2013 10:00am

Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy in Translation

Though science fiction and fantasy spans all of space and time (and sometimes more) we  worry our little corner of fiction is sometimes limited to our universal translators being set to English. But, it’s always possible to expand your horizons, particulary when you’re a science fiction blog!

Last week, the long list was announced by the BTBA (Best Translated Book Awards) for the best books translated from another language to English. We thought this was a great oppurtunity to open the channel about science fiction and fantasy in translation and meditate on how to learn even more.

The BTBA list was formidable and included several titles not only with fantastical or genre elements (like Prehistoric Times by Eric Chevillard or The Planets by Serigo Chejfec) but also a few honest-to-goodness science fiction/fantasy books. Here are a few:

We, The Children of Cats by Tomoyuki Hoshino (Japan)

This anthology collects and reimagines traditional Japanese folklore, with stories ranging from people growing new body parts at random to haunted forests! Perhaps the best thing about a book like this is that western readers won’t always recognize the folk story upon which these tales are based, making the premises themselves seem super-fresh and exciting.



Awakening to the Great Sleep War by Gert Jonke (Austria)

This novel concerns a world in which the fabric of reality itself seems to be slipping away. Flags fall off of their poles and lids no longer fit their containers as Awakening to the Great Sleep War imagines what the smaller problems of a collapsing would truly be like. Writing an end-of-the-world book that feels relevant and new is a giant challenge for any author, but Jonke is up to the task.


Going forward, we we curious if our faithful friends on our various social media outlets had favorite sci-fi/fantasy in translation, so we headed out to Twitter and Facebook to see what some readers thought. A few of you told us reading Tolkien in Latin is a total trip (we imagine!), and that the Spanish language version of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, replaces Neville’s toad with a turtle. With your help we re-discovered some old favorites, plus a few titles we thought our general readership might be unfamilar with. Here’s a selection of some of the books which emerged from that conversation.


The Star Diaries, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (Poland)

Now, this is one you’ve probably heard of! Perhaps the granddaddy of non-English-writing SF authors, Lem is probably most well-known as the author of Solaris. It’s often in his more humorous books like The Star Diaries where his talent and originality really shine. Forget watching either of the film versions of Solaris and read anything by Lem you can get your hands on, the novel Solaris included.


The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach (German)

An author of mostly hard SF or thrillers, Andreas Eschbach has been publishing books since 1993. His novel The Carpet Makers is a shockingly intricate series of interconnected stories in which carpets made of human hair become stand-ins for the whole of the universe. Eschbach himself has a background in software and aerospace engineering, so there’s plenty of actual science embedded in this fantastical tale.

The rest of 2013 also promises to deliver several new SFF titles in translation. We did a little digging, and discovered a few gems! Here’s what we think you should watch for.

Search for the Buried Bomber by Xu Lei (China)

Imagine a Chinese version of Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones series, and you’ve essentially discovered Xu Lei, one of China’s biggest rising stars. Having started his career by posting stories about grave robbers online, Lei is now writing adventure novels about the same sort of stuff. The forthcoming Search for the Buried Bomber, involves (as you can guess) a buried bomber, and possibly some treasure!


The World of the End by Ofir Touché Gafla (Israel)

This novel follows a man named Ben searching for his long-lost (and presumed dead) love in an eternal, ethereal afterlife. Deceased spirits of folks like Marilyn Monroe might be here, but finding that one person who you lost in the mortal world becomes the true quest. But when Ben discovers his wife might still be alive in the real world, everything about his existence is turned upside down. In this novel, being dead is just the start of the story.


Six Heirs: The Secret of Ji by Pierre Grimbert (France)

In a fantasy world containing magicans, gods, and mortals, telepathic communication with animals doesn’t seem to far-fetched. In this new spin on epic fantasy, Peirre Grimbert tackles a world beset with shadowy thieves and mystical empires. Citing authors like Jack Vance and Michael Moorcock among his heroes, Grimbert looks to be one big new name to watch in the ever-expanding genre of high fantasy.


In addition to all these titles we’ve mentioned, we’re still always looking for more. If you’ve read some genre fiction which was orginally written in a lanaguage other than English, we want to hear about it! Read something that hasn’t been translated, but you think is amazing? We want to hear about that too! Literary communites will be more global than ever as we go forward into the 21st century, so let’s find out where science fiction and fantasy is living, regardless of the nation or language. Translation circuits: on!

Stefan Raets
1. Stefan
Angélica Gorodischer! "Kalpa Imperial" was translated by Ursula K. Le Guin a few years ago, and more recently "Trafalgar" was translated by Amalia Gladhart. And she has almost 20 other books that need to be translated!
Evelynne Weakley
2. evelynne_r
The Quebecoise writer Anne Robillard's A.N.G.E. and Chevaliers d'Emeraude series are both excellent. I'm not certain if they're available in English yet. Like George R.R. Martin and Patricia Briggs, Robillard's strength lies in her flawed and relateable characters.
Liz Bourke
3. hawkwing-lb
I'm with Stefan on Angélica Gorodischer. I feel Pierre Pevel also deserves mention, along with Andrzej Sapkowski.

And while French mystery writer Tran-Nhut is neither SFF nor yet translated, I'd love to see his work in English.
4. Odo
My recommendations:

+ Translated from Chinese:

Mostly anything written by Liu Cixin is awesome. Eight or nine of his short works have already been translated into English (you can get them for a dollar or so on ebook from Amazon) and his superb novel Three Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu), the first in a trilogy, is coming this year. You can check out some reviews of his short fiction on my blog:

The Wandering Earth:
Taking Care of God:

+ From Spanish:

I agree, of course, with Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer. And I also recommend two novels by Félix J. Palma: The Map of Time and The Map of the Sky. I read all these books in the original Spanish, so I can't comment on the translation.

+ From German:

The City of Dreaming Books and The Labyright of Dreaming Books are excellent fantasy novels for YA and adults alike. And the translation is just excellent.
5. Odo
Oh, and I forgot: I also liked quite a lot All You Need is Kill de Hiroshi Sakurazaka.
Devin Singer
6. DevinSinger
From Russian:

- The Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko. Grim urban fantasy, non-sparkly vampires.

- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Probably classified as "literature," but it definitely has SF themes and sensibility, and it's great regardless.
Agnes Kormendi
7. tapsi
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende; one of the most amazing fantasy books. Momo's a book for a younger audience, but it's also well worth reading.

The Strugatsky brothers were among the top writers of classical science fiction in the USSR, apparently some of their works have been translated to English.
8. Davevanwag
Jorge Luis Borges.
9. Penny
Fuyumi Ono's Twelve Kingdoms novels - anything you could wish for in high fantasy, from monster-slaying to intricate political intrigue, topped off with extremely well-characterised lead ladies.
10. James Davis Nicoll
People interested in translations of Japanese SF should take a look at Haikasoru's titles. In 2011, I did spoilery reviews for everything they had in print: those reviews can be found here (although I've lumped all my Haikasoru-related posts into one group so there are lots of non-reivews in there):
11. James Davis Nicoll
I read something on the weekend that was quite good and translated but it was also something that isn't going to be released for months and months so I am not allowed to name it. I strongly recommend it, though!
D. Bell
12. SchuylerH
Solaris and The Master and Margarita are must reads but any discussion of Soviet SF must also include We and the brilliant, terrifying Roadside Picnic.

@8: Borges definitely, does Kafka count? (I think The Penal Colony does, at least.)

@11: Can I have a vague hint that will prey on my mind so I remember to look out for it?
13. James Davis Nicoll
It reminded me of Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse but it is not by a Japanese author. Out in July.
14. SFinsider
From French:
Cosmos Incorporated; Grand Junction by Maurice G. Dantec

From Chinese:
Fat Years by Koonchung Chan

From German:
Perfume by Patrick Süskind

From Russian:
Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

From Polish:
Wedlug lotra by Adam Wisniewsky-Snerg (actually published in Hungary and it's a damn good novel)
15. Juushika
John Ajvide Lindqvist, Swedish author of Let the Right One In which became the vampire film(s) of the same name. His work is horror/supernatural meeting mainstream, and suffers a bit on account of that meeting: his voice is blandly "transparent," and in Handing the Undead (zombies) the premise is lackluster--not half as creative or well-constructed as it would be in a straight genre novel--and surrounded by all the mundanity of suburbia. But Let the Right One In is pretty fantastic and easily accessible.
16. Daniel Wieder
I enjoyed The Road to Magic by Russian author Alexey Glushanovsky which was recently released. It's a fantasy book with an interesting take on magic and the choices associted with power. I greatly look forward to the rest of the series which has been released in Russia and remains to be translated.
Niki Grasern
17. kraefzke
Some (though unfortunately not all) of Wolfgang Hohlbein's work (German). I remember liking "Die Rückkehr der Zauberer" and "Drachenfeuer" (the latter done in co-authorship with his sister, if I remember correctly) a lot when I was younger. I have no Idea if these two (or anything by Hohlbein) has been translated to English. One more thing: I really was A LOT younger when I read those and haven't since re-read them, so this is the opinion of someone somewhere between 12 and 16 years of age. Didn't read any SFF in German (well, none that was not translated from English) since then, so can't offer anything else.

My two cents on translations TO German (if anyone wants to know):
Stephen King is done ok.
Michael Crichton is done pretty good.
Terry Pratchett is done brilliantly (though a lot of puns are Lost in Translation).
Philipp Pullman is done almost perfectly.
Tolkien was reported to say he liked the German version of LotR better than the English one and I agree.
Robert Jordan in German was the worst experience I ever suffered with a translated book. DON'T TOUCH! READ WoT IN ENGLISH!

Quick addition: I totally agree with 6 and 7: The Night Watch series was very enjoyble (though I have no comparison to other languages: my Russian is too bad to read the original and I haven't read the German translation) and Ende is a great Author (though I didn't read the English translations, only the originals, so I have no idea about how good it works in English/how good a job the translator(s) did).
Birgit F
18. birgit
I like the ring poem in LotR better in German than in English.

I also read some of Wolfgang (and Heike, she's his wife, not his sister) Hohlbein's books when I was younger and liked some but not all of them.

I only read the first 2 English / 4 German WoT books in German and also noticed some translation problems.
19. Muradov
Though not completely Fantasy Fiction I must add ?hsan Oktay Anar as a Turkish novelist. He mainly writes a mixture of alternative Ottoman history, a little bit of fantastic ingridients (like the man who has been living for hundreds of years or the man who proves everything in the world is his imagination), and of course a bit of references to other books and real events (like Zahir, who is basically Jesus Christ living in Ottoman era). His novels are like movies, swift, fun to dream of and yet full of powerful words and messages.

I shouldn't forget about the Diyavol Pascha and the Captain Suleiman who controls the winds with his words. All from the great Turkish novelist ?hsan Oktay Anar.
Stephen Dunscombe
20. cythraul
"Battle Royale", by Koushun Takami

The works of Jules Verne.

Any number of ancient and medieval mythological/legendary texts - the Iliad, the Ramayan, the Mabinogion, Beowulf, etc.
I'd like to add a mention here of the SF & Fantasy Translation Awards, which were established a couple of years ago to recognize excellence in translation of works of SF/F into English (as opposed to the many existing awards for translations from English to other languages).

In addition, Locus has begun hosting periodic Small Blue Planet podcasts focusing on SF/F from countries where English is not the dominant language. The most recent (to which I linked) focuses on China and features Hugo Award winner Ken Liu and Chen Qiufan (a.k.a. Stanley Chan); the two won an SF & F Translation Award in 2012 for their work together, with Ken Liu translating Chen Qiufan's work.
22. Ginger
The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, is fantasy but well-written. I also highly recommend the Russian TV adaptation which can be found on YouTube, with English subtitles.
23. Dewey.025
I always *wished* someone would translate Hagar Yanai's Leviathan of Babylon. Great things were said about this book & it's sequel The Water Between the Worlds a few years ago.
Deborah Behle
24. Chatelaine
Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Cemetary of Forgotten Books trilogy, set in Barcelona --
"The Shadow of the Wind"
"The Angel's Game"
"The Prisoner of Heaven: A Novel (P.S.)"

Also wanted to note that the German translation of "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" is beautifully done.
Ian Johnson
25. IanPJohnson
Kawamata Chiaki, Death Sentences (originally called Genshi-gari).

Read it.
Beau Williamson
26. BeauW
From the French (Canadien) "Reluctant Voyagers" is one of the most intelligently twisty SFF books. By Elizabeth Vonnerburg. Just when you think you are lost, it all comes together in a perfect reveal - which then gets twisted down yet another rabbit hole.
27. aliettedebodard
Hmm, off the top of my head:
The Scar by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko
The Last Wish and sequels by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Cardinal's Blades and sequels by Pierre Pével
Not a translation per se, but brought over from India: Amish Tripathi's Shiva Trilogy
28. aliettedebodard
@hawkwing-lb also, just wanted to point out Tran-Nhut is a woman (two, in fact--they're sisters writing jointly under one pen name).
Katharine Duckett
29. Katharine
I always forget about this one, but We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a dystopian classic. George Orwell used it as a model for 1984--it's creepy, Russian, and bleak.
30. Tim Mayer
SEARCH FOR THE BURIED BOMBER is one of the best adventure novels I've ever read. Here's my review:
Alexander Case
31. CountZeroOr
I've definitely got to agree with Twelve Kingdoms. Unfortunately, the English version of the series was getting published in the US by Tokyopop, which means that we'll probably never see a complete version of the series.

Also, I've really enjoyed the translations of the Vampire Hunter D novels that Dark Horse Comics has been publishing.
32. R_A
Great books! It's just so sad that they are mostly pb or e-book. These are books I would have like to buy to keep. More books in hc please.

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