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R.F. Kuang

Fiction and Excerpts [1]
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Fiction and Excerpts [1]

Five SFF Novels in Translation

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.

[Here, then, are five SFF novels in translation that I just adore.]

Series: Five Books About…

Five East Asian SFF Novels by East Asian Authors

Growing up Chinese-American, I had few options when it came to reading books about myself and my culture. Most of the works I could find that featured Chinese characters were by authors without Chinese heritage, which meant you got awful, cringe-worthy scenes detailing almond eyes, lotus-bud lips, qipao slits riding over dainty hips, and nainais speaking in stereotypically broken English.

But in the past decade, mainstream publishing has inched closer towards better representation, even if we’re still not quite there. Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings proved that an epic based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms could be just as popular as Game of Thrones; JY Yang’s Tensorate Series novellas have been racking up the awards nominations this year; and the anthology A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, a collection of reimagined Asian folklore and myths that has already garnered critical acclaim, comes out this year in June.

So here are five more recently published books about East Asian culture and history, by East Asian (diaspora) authors, that I wish I’d been able to find on shelves when I was younger. I’ve tried to pick books across genres and age groups (adult and YA) so that there’s something here that might appeal to everyone. Enjoy!

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Series: Five Books About…

The Poppy War

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school…

R.F. Kuang makes her exciting debut with The Poppy War, an epic historical military fantasy inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century. Available May 1st from Harper Voyager.

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