Wow, do I like this idea! Translation Awards!

I think I only became aware that this ‘problem’ existed after I became a translated author and was able to do some traveling.  Funny, how you don’t notice a void until someone shows it to you.

So, here’s what it is.

Wonderful European publishers buy the rights to sell my books in their home languages. They then pay translators, such as the inimitable Arnaud Mousnier-Lompre or Peter Cuiper, Agnieszka Sylwanowicz or Jorge Candeias to take my words and render them into their respective languages. Then the books are printed and sold, reaching thousands of readers who would otherwise never hear of me.  The translators work very hard and every one of them I’ve ever spoken to has shown a diligence that goes far beyond what they receive as a monetary award for their work.  All of the ones I’ve met are enthusiastic about our genres, and fearlessly charge into translating works that have puns, poems, and invented words.

But what about books coming to our shores from other countries?  Books in Italian or French or Hebrew or Japanese that I’d love to read, if only I weren’t a mono-lingual American?  Those books and authors have a much higher hurdle to clear.  Generally speaking (and I do mean generally! There are exceptions!) the authors of those books must first PAY a translator to create an English version of the book, and then the author must begin the submission process with a US publisher.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a fascinating author who gives me a thumbnail sketch of his or her work that leaves me very eager to read the whole book —- only to discover that the work is not available in English.

What this means to you and me is that many wonderful books never make it to our side of the pond.  And that is very sad.

Fantasy and Science Fiction, in my opinion, are the genres that are most universal to readers.  I support this theory by pointing out that almost all of us have, somewhere, a book of  Fairy Tales from Other Lands, or something similarly titled.  Whether it’s Grimm or Andersen or Tales of the Arabian Nights, Greek myths or Latin fables (thanks, Aesop!)  fantastic stories have always spoken a common language to us.  And I feel that the same is true of SF, as it looks to the future or alternate realities.  All of us are strangers in a strange land when we first open an SF or fantasy book. 

So it’s not only instructive but extremely enjoyable for me to venture into an SF or fantasy world that was created in a different culture.  Think of all the Australian writers who have made their ways to American bookshelves in the last dozen years or so.  Sarah Douglas?  Fiona McIntosh?  Garth Nix?  And many others.  And then multiply those experiences by all the countries where English is not the dominant language, and we get an idea of what we are missing.

So . . . finally . . . to the meat of this post.  What if we indicated how open we are to these wonderful books from other lands by giving an award to the best translation? It could be called, oh, Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards.  And it could offer a cash award that is shared by the original author and the translator.   

This is an idea that really deserves our attention and support!


P.S.  I’ve already been doing this myself on a very small scale. Whenever one of my works has won an award overseas that has a cash prize attached to it, I’ve split it with the translator. After all, no translation, no prize, right?  Fair is fair.  But it would be great to see it on a much larger scale!

14 Responses to Wow, do I like this idea! Translation Awards!

  1. Hi Robin
    I am a great fan of your work I have read (I think ) all of your books.
    I am working on The twany man right now and loving it even if my wife gets mad at me for staying up all night reading them.
    I can’t help it I always have to read the next chapter to see what happens next.
    I am 50 years old now up until two years ago you could not get me to even read one page let alone a book until I picked up one of your books two years ago and have not put them down yet.
    so in closing I just want to say thank you for your work Love it.
    Keith Banner

  2. When I read in my head, I often have to say the whole phrase (or in this case, the shortened phrase). So “an SF book” sounded so odd that I had to read it a few times before I finally could read it correctly as “an Es Ef book”.

    And, I suppose this illustrates how unique languages can be, and thus the importance of translators that must be masters of two languages.

    Fabulous idea.

  3. Hello, Robin
    Thanks for your wonderful books and the pieces of thoughts you share with us in this blog.
    And thanks for brining the issue about translation. Yes, really, the translators’ work often remains hidden from us, readers. I had never given a thought about the value of their work until once I read the same book both in original and translated language. By the way, I want to thank all Russian translators of your books, you should know that they have made an excellent job, really .
    However, translation is only a part of a huge problem called “the shortage of books”. The absence of translation is a primary factor, as only popular books, it seems, are translated. Moreover, the timing of translation also matters. It’s unfair that some books are translated almost instantly (like Harry Potter and Twilight), and some needs years for reaching the stores, and some books will never be translated. For example, your last 2 books I had to read in English, as nobody knew when they would be finally translated (they are still in process, publishers say). And what about other readers who can’t read in English? But even English reading doesn’t solve all problems, as English books are the rarity in many countries like mine, while Amazon (and others) doesn’t deliver to my country. So there is only one possibility – soft versions that I don’t like. Moreover, even if a book is translated, but was published, say, before 2007, sometimes it’s also very hard to find it, as all stores run out of stocks. All of these problems (no or late translation, no stocks of books) make us, readers, limited in choice.
    P.S. Sorry for any spelling mistake you find 🙂

  4. Dear Madina,

    You are bringing up some ideas that I had not considered before. Thank you.
    Do you think e-books will ease this situation at all?

    Here in the US, we still do not have the flow of books from other languages that I would like to see. I think stories are a wonderful way for us to reach out to each other.

    There has to be a solution somewhere.


  5. Keith, you have said one of the most wonderful things that a writer can hear! Thanks so much for letting me know. I almost envy you, you have so much SF and fantasy yet to discover!


  6. Wintrow! Great to hear from you here!

    I felt frustrated in Italy. And in France, and even more so in Taiwan! I saw all these wonderful books with great covers and I could scarcely read a word of them. For the first time in my life, I glimpsed what it would be like to be illiterate. So I am hoping these awards bring more stories to my bookshelves!


  7. Dear Robin,
    Thanks for your response. Honestly, I was a little bit surprised to receive it 🙂
    So far, e-books are the only reasonable solution for me, when I can’t find a hard copy. They really make my life much easier and interesting. So, thanks for those who invented the internet and e-books. But such reading lacks something important for me. I miss the smell of real books, their weight in my hands, a beautiful cover, and something more that I can’t explain in proper words. And it’s a great pleasure to exchange the most favorite books with your friends, the real books.
    But again, the wide variety of e-books solves the problem only if a reader can find a translation or knows the language of the original. Otherwise, it doesn’t help.

  8. Sorry for being overly garrulous, but I want to add that translators help us understand that no matter what language we speak and what cultural differences we have we still can share the same emotions, the same ideas and spiritual values. And for me, this is the true magic.

  9. Dear Robin,

    I think it is a fantastic idea! Encouraging the translation of other countries SF&F literature into English will make them eventually available in many other languages. I think that quality mainstream literature is anyhow usually translated into many languages and as such those books have a real chance of becoming globally known; with SF&F it is not necessarily the case. I would love to read the Asian or South American equivalent to European/ US Fantasy…


    PS: I read your books in English as I enjoy them even more so. However, as my very first job was working as a translator, once in a while I ‘catch’ myself trying to find the best equivalent in Romanian 🙂

    PPS: Can’t help it, apologies – Aesop was Greek :mrgreen:

  10. Hello Robin!
    In addition of what Madina said i want to thank russian translators that let me take pleasure in reading your delightful books!
    Speaking of e-books. I am adherent paper books, but you know how easy to download books from internet to Electronic Reader 😀

    Dmitry, Russia

  11. I would love to translate your books into Norwegian. I am a professional translator and I would not mind a break from the dry engineering texts that are my bread and butter.

    As to Norwegian SF&F, I am afraid that it is pretty much non-existent. There were a few attempts in the late 70’s but as far as I know, nothing since then.

  12. The other side of the problem is the quality of translation. Speaking of Russia, it is possible to find 3-4 translated versions from different translators and not all of them are good. I decided to read Your books in English because of that, even thought I don’t know 20-25% of the words… 🙁 And, of course, time needed to translate the book. It is very hard to wait 4-6 months when you know that The Book is already published in English.