Friday, March 21, 2008

Ciencia Ficción

Last Book Read: Redwall by Brian Jacques

Caution: Long, rambling, link-o-rific post ahead.

Speculative fiction from the U.S. and Canada dominates the world market. At the Boskone conference last February, the discussion about regional SF also focused on those two countries. I decided to make my personal theme of that weekend a search for speculative fiction in the broader world.

It began with the after hours party promoting the Worldcon bid for Australia in 2010. I asked a few folks there about prominent Aussie SF writers. Greg Egan had the top spot, followed by Damien Broderick.

Beyond that, it was acknowledged it is tough to break into the international, let alone the North American, markets. Neither writer, I was told, used particularly Australian settings or themes.

I thought a different tack was in order, perhaps non-English language SF. An agent I spoke with at Boskone, Eleanor Wood, said she always got an earful at the Frankfurt Book Fair where international publishing rights are negotiated. The flow of fiction was too much a one-way street from the U.S./Canada/UK outward.

Wood suggested reading The SFWA European Hall of Fame, a collection of sixteen stories from various European writers, translated to English. I purchased it but haven't started reading yet; it looks very good.

I attended another Worldcon party, this time for next year's Anticipation in Montreal. I asked the host, René Walling, about French language SF. I wish my memory was better. He mentioned a long list of names, starting with Jules Verne and the famous silent movie Le Voyage dans la Lune, and leading up to the present with one of the guests of honor at Anticipation, Elisabeth Vonarburg.

Some of Vonarburg's books, I was told, have been translated into English. By now I was getting an urge to read untranslated SF. French, unfortunately, is out of the question. Spanish, on the other hand, I could muddle through. I certainly studied it long enough, though I must admit having rarely put it into practice.

Yet again at Boskone, I talked with writer Gregory Feeley about Spanish language SF. He recommended an anthology of translated works, Cosmos Latinos, about which he had written a review for the Washington Post.

Cosmos Latinos was a great starting point. It spans over 100 years and features writers from Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Chile, Brazil, El Salvador, Argentina, Venezuela, and Peru. The early works are typical of the late 19th century. The last few selections touch on recent trends like cyberpunk and urban fantasy. And in between is some great fiction.

I'm almost finished with the anthology and there is a definite theme that runs through many of stories. If you guessed politics and war, you'd be right. Unavoidable given the bloody history of many Central and South American countries, and also the civil wars in Mexico and Spain.

Perhaps this has more to do with the selection of these particular stories by the editors than a predominant trend in Spanish language SF. Regardless, this anthology is very much regional SF with stories set in the home countries of the writers, and full of local history, events, and literature. Thank goodness for the footnotes otherwise I would have missed many of the references.

This got me hooked. I started looking for online fiction. I've been helped along by Gustavo Bondoni. He pointed out Cuasar and Axxón, the latter of which he described as "the mother lode".

If neither Spanish nor French is your bag, Douglas Smith's Foreign Market List might have something in one's foreign language of choice. As for me, I'm dusting off my trusty Spanish/English dictionary, though I have a feeling I'll need more help. This new site, My Happy Planet might do.


Blogger Steve Buchheit said...

"The SFWA European Hall of Fame" - have it (my wife is made of awesome). The Spanish have an interesting and vibrant SF community (from what I'm told, I haven't read many) and unfortunately I'm blanking on the name of the author I was told was very good. Sweden also does very well with the SF. Russia has a big Fantasy contingent. The continent of Africa also has some emergent writers in the SF/F field (again, I'm blanking on my names). Australia has an excellent fielding of SF/F (I have two anthologies), and Justine Larbalestier is a transplant from down under.

March 21, 2008 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

African SF/F would be very interesting to read.

March 21, 2008 at 11:12 PM  
Blogger L.A. Mitchell said...

I feel like such a domestic reader after this post. I'd love to experience some great SF/F from other countries.

March 27, 2008 at 5:12 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

L.A., I felt the same looking into all this, thinking "Wow, what have I been missing?"

The two anthologies seem to be a good starting point.

March 31, 2008 at 5:49 AM  
Blogger L.A. Mitchell said...

I'll have to check them out. Thanks for the recommendation :)

March 31, 2008 at 7:50 PM  
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