Earlier this year, I resolved to start reading more science fiction and fantasy written in non-English languages. There’s something unsettling about reading a novel in a different language–the writing uses different frames of reference, metaphors, and colloquialisms, and the characters seem to move through and think about the world in entirely different ways.
I also began translating from Chinese to English professionally a couple of months ago. Though I had taken academic courses on translation, I hadn’t quite been prepared for the many complexities involved in turning a Chinese science fiction story into an equally good reading experience for English-reading audiences. Thanks to Ken Liu’s very patient mentorship, I’ve learned a million things about voice, word choice, rhythm, and substitution that I already employ largely unconsciously in writing my own fiction, but only thought about deliberately when I switched to translation.
My takeaway from all of this is that translation is magical.