If you missed it before in the mass of information we call the internet, make sure to read Yoshio Kobayashi’s essay on the new generation of Japanese SF writers.
I myself wish American SF publishers would give us more international writers to read. I’m sure it’s probably based on statistics that Americans don’t like to read writers that have been translated from other cultures into English, or some such reason that is probably true and only serves to indicate our insularity at this moment in history as a culture, but I would think there has to be a base of readers that would be interested in what I’m thinking of as Global SF rather than the English language dominated genre it is at the moment. Maybe someday, the majority of us will care what the rest of the world is having a conversation about, and then a new market will open up for this sort of book here.
The boring reason against publishing translated writing is that it’s simply more expensive – you have to pay translator as well as author. Plus, of course, it’s riskier in that you’re less certain whether something will travel across the cultural divide. Which, I’d suggest, is something that isn’t specific to the USA.
Graham, much agreed that it isn’t just the U.S. with this particular problem, though I would argue that any book can cross the cultural divide if it has a good translator. One of the signs of a good translator is someone who can bring the narrative into their own language and establish a mood that effectively allows a reader from one culture to read about the translated one in a more universal way. The best translations I’ve read have made novels and stories from far flung cultures I know nothing about feel as if they’re actually quite similar, just with perhaps some different social issues and concerns.
When I spoke with a group of Mr. Kobayashi’s translation students, one of the things he was trying to communicate to them was not to translate literally, which unfortunately sometimes still occurs in the publishing world. Bad translations. Lots of them.
The expense of the translator, yes, that’s a problem, but really…money money money…though it’s of great importance, I would hate to have my way of being in the world locked into making so many decisions based on this factor. It’s not as if publishing companies *don’t* make money and are a cast-off art with a suffering commercial value like poetry is these days. I still think if there was more demand by a populace for narrative windows into other cultures, the money issue wouldn’t be an issue. So it does go back to how a culture perceives the rest of the world, at least as one factor of this. Are they interested in it, or not? Sometimes they are, but only in specific forms, like the rage for manga and anime these days in America, and Japanese video games. But try to put a foreign film in theaters and very few people come. That sort of thing.