Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ex Libris: James and Kathryn Morrow's The SFWA European Hall of Fame

"There are more things in life, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy", as the Shakespearean quote goes. This is in more ways than one all too true.

One of my reading goals nowadays is to look into speculative fiction not limited to the Americans or British. After all, the source of most of the world's books in genre fiction either comes from the US or UK. Unfortunately, the fact that most of the world is also reading and writing speculative fiction-- and most of them not in English (alas, language being my only weak spot as a voracious reader)-- and not as well-known as their Anglo cousins is a damn shame.

Which is why ordering from Booktopia a copy of The SFWA European Hall of Fame (edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow) was such a high priority for me despite the hardbound price and the shipping fee. Imagine that, a sampler of contemporary science-fiction stories from the rest of the (non-US, non-UK) world all in one hand? That's one hell of a bargain.

It's hard not to gush about this collection of stories from various countries. Just look at its subtitle: "Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent." That's one hell of a promise. Admittedly, there were a couple that just didn't work for me but for the most part, I liked the stories picked by James and Kathryn Morrow.

These range from the chilling but poignant "Separations" by the French Jean-Claude Dunyach (very golden age SF here!) to the haunting tale of the Russian Elena Arsenieva, "A Birch Tree, A White Fox" (despite the somewhat predictable ending). There was also the funky, almost British SF New Wave "Athos Emfovos in the Temple of Sound" by the Greek Panagiotis Koustas (complete with a soundtrack in the head) to a paean to the Secret History and rather interstitial tale (that some may accuse of not being SF enough but I think is just damn fine) of "Between the Lines" by the Spanish Jose Antonio Contrina. The clincher for me though was the Italian Valerio Angelisti's "Sepultura", which has given me hope of writing stories that don't have the Philippine-setting but still have the Filipino perspective.

What's more, the Morrows expound on the long and rich history of European SF (plus going into the different history per country-- can you imagine having to write under the shadow of Dante Aligherie in Italy?) as well as the problems inherent in translating such works for the English-reading public. As such, most of the works are limited to the language they're first written. From this perspective, you can see that limiting oneself to US and UK books does seem short-sighted given the rich and varied treasure chest of genre fiction all over the world. And it also helps that genre fiction is not looked down in some of the countries mentioned here.

(Digression: There is a comment in the 'Net somewhere by a book publisher-- Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor?-- who said translating a work means more costs. Whereas before you had to divide everything between the publisher and the writer, now you had to include the translator. Lemme see if I can find that discussion again...)

All in all, a rare great find and worth every penny. (Rating: Four paws out of four.)

P.S. Check out the link provided by charles. There's a great discussion there on the problem of translating works from non-English to English. Good food for thought.


Charles said...

It wasn't Patrick Nielsen Hayden but here is the relevant article (see comments).

banzai cat said...

Ah, it was David Hartwell. Thanks for the link, charles!