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!