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!


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