“It’s really cold for spring” Linkdump

Well, it’s true. Because temperatures of six degrees below freezing really aren’t normal for March. Plus, we haven’t had any rain in weeks now.

Anyway, here are some links:

First of all, there’s yet another entry in the Grimdark debate, for Swan Tower a.k.a. Marie Brennan wonders what gritty and grimdark actually mean and why female writers are so rarely mentioned when gritty and/or grimdark fiction is discussed, even if women absolutely write gritty and dark fantasy, though the utter hopelessness of grimdark seems to be more of a male thing.

The Atlantic has an interesting article about romance novels and feminism. For an article about romance fiction in the mainstream press, this one is surprisingly nuanced and free of condescension, though the usual “It’s all just porn for women” crap pops up in the comments, usually by men who have never read a single romance novel.

Talking of sex in fiction, the Observer celebrates the 1980s bestseller Lace, which was something like the Fifty Shades of Grey of its day (and featured goldfish as sex toys!) and has now been reissued for its 30th anniversary, and interviews Lace author Shirley Conran. Turns out Shirley Conran was something of an early feminist and used to be married to Terrence Conran, the founder of the Habitat chain.

The Observer also has a tie-in article offering a history of the “bonkbuster” (i.e. novels by female writers which shock the public by containing – gasp – sex and go on to be bestsellers), which includes such old favourites as Forever Amber (which is actually a cracking good historical novel, though the sex is quite tame by modern standards), Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls. Though they forgot Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying.

At Publishing Perspectives, Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann praises his English translator Carol Janeway, who is also a publishing executive at Alfred A. Knopf and translates in her sparetime. What I find particularly interesting about Kehlmann’s praise of Carol Janeway’s work is the paragraph about academic translation, since apparently translators were instructed to stick as closely to the original wordchoice and syntax as possible. And if the text sounds clumsy as a result – well, translated texts aren’t supposed to sound like texts written by native speakers anyway. This shocked me, because I’ve honestly never heard this. Now most translation classes offered at German universities are geared towards technical, legal and business rather than literary translators and technical, legal and business translation indeed has different requirements than literary translation. But I know a couple of literary translators and all of them strive to make the translated text sound natural, while trying to retain as much of the author’s voice as possible. Maybe “Make it sound stilted and unnatural” was an anglophone only thing. It would certainly explain why translated fiction is so unpopular in English speaking countries and why the few translated books that become popular such as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy are often blasted for their clumsy writing. For I have long suspected that the alleged clumsy writing of Stieg Larsson is in fact an issue with the English translation, since I’ve never heard any complaints about Larsson’s writing in Germany.

It’s plagiarism season again. A reviewer claims to have detected plagiarised passages in Seeds of Hope, a new non-fiction book by world famous primatologist Jane Goodall and her co-author Grace Hudson.

Matt Smith, who plays the current Eleventh incarnation of the Doctor, is said to be leaving Doctor Who in the 2013 Christmas special. The BBC hasn’t confirmed anything yet, though I can’t say I’m surprised. In fact, I expected Matt Smith (and hopefully Steve Moffatt) to leave after the 50th anniversary special in November.

Finally, I’ve got reason to brag, because my fantasy novelette The Hidden Castle is a number 1 bestseller at Amazon. Okay, so it’s only Amazon France, but I’m still pleased. For more information, see this post at the Pegasus Pulp blog.

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12 Responses to “It’s really cold for spring” Linkdump

  1. Daniela says:

    cademic translation, since apparently translators were instructed to stick as closely to the original wordchoice and syntax as possible.

    I remember that from school (Germany, mid-eighties) where we had to do translations in class and had to translate word-by-word and stick as close to the original as possible. Which, given cultural differencies, in some cases just isn’t possible.

    I had an instruction-sheet from one publisher once (romance actually) who had a long list of things translators should be aware off and change during the translation. Not as graphic, more sensual and emotion, etc. So there are also different cultural requirements that translators have to meet.

    I think some translators have even smoothed out some of the issues that existed with the original book. Twilight might have been one of them, with the German translation reading less clumsy than the English original. But then Germany has a long tradition of translating foreign books unlike the UK or US.

    The University of Leipzig has some interesting articles in some of their magazines about the problems of translating in it, for example the problems with translating Harry Potter and the names that have very specific meanings or play with meaning.

    And don’t get me started on some publisher asking translators to shorten novels while translating.

    Congratulations on hitting No. 1 ;-).

    • Cora says:

      Sticking as close as possible to the original text makes sense for legal and technical documents, where single words are more important than style and presentation. Though a lot of my technical translations sound better than the source text, if only because there are engineers who wouldn’t recognize proper syntax if it bit them in the backside.

      But fiction is a wholly different animal and the lone fiction and poetry translation class I took at university encouraged us to translate the spirit rather than the words of the source text. It did cause a boy in class to translate the Beatles song “Hey Jude” (which was one of the assignments) as “Hey, Türke”, because the Turks are the Jews of today. Of course, he totally missed he fact that Jude is a name.

      I’ve noticed that sex scenes tend to get smoothed over and sometimes cut altogether in the interest of shortening the book in German translations of US romance novels. The issue of illustrative names is interesting, because some translators just leave the English name, while others try to come up with a German equivalent. I usually prefer the former approach, if only because the latter tends to generate such monstrosities as “Königsmund” for “King’s Landing” in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (which is twice as long in German, so at least whoever translated that one did not shorten it). Still, when I first came across “Königsmund”, while watching the German dubbing on the Game of Thrones DVD with a friend, I was horrified, because Königsmund made me imagine the mouth of Robert Baratheon (or Joffrey, who’s even worse) due to the double meaning of river mouth versus human mouth in German that King’s Landing does not have.

      As for things that get better in translation, I’m certain that whoever did the scripts for the German dub got rid of some of the infamously clunky dialogue in the Star Wars prequels and Babylon 5, neither of which are actually good in German, but nor really horrible either. And then you’ve got the humorous German dubs of 1960s TV shows like The Persuaders which can be excellent (The Persuaders is still funny), when they work, and render something unwatchable (I Spy can’t be rebroadcast in Germany because of racist remarks in the dub) when they don’t.

      • Daniela says:

        *Nod* I mostly do technical and business translations, where it’s also usually better to stick as closely to the original as possible, though I’ve had customers request a more open translation to make things more readable (often handbooks or image-brochures).

        With descriptive names I also prefer the original, though I also usually read the original instead of the German translation, especially when it comes to Fantasy. Yah, Königsmund also had me go ‘Huh?’. It’s also not a very good translation and lacks imagination. ‘Königsport’ or ‘Königsha(f)ven’ might have been better. Jon Schnee was aso weird, though it’s a direct translation.
        I also found it strange that in Harry Potter they changed Hermione into Hermine and Aunt Madge became Tante Martha. Some things were changed, others were not (Hogwarts is still Hogwarts and not Schweinewarzen).

        It does make talking to friends who’ve only read the German translation sometimes a bit difficult. Took me a while to get that Helms Klamm is German for Helm’s Deep.

        I never get the whole smoothing and shortening sex-scenes in romances. Isn’t that part of why women read romance novels? 😉 Makes one wonder about what publishers are thinking about their audience, especially publishers concentrating on romance.

        I hate the whole fact that books get shortened and suddenly important details are missing. In one book the whole – important- epilogue was missing which changed whole book.

        • Cora says:

          Jon Schnee did not bother me nearly as much as Königsmund, even though it is weird. As for Harry Potter, I never understood the reasoning behind Hermione/Hermine and Aunt Madge/Tante Martha. Even if the translator or the editor believed that German audiences wouldn’t be able to pronounce Hermione or Madge, I wonder why Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall were left alone, considering their names aren’t any easier to pronounce. As for Tolkien, Auenland for Shire and Beutling for Baggins always confused me even more than Helm’s Deep/Helms Klamm. Though translating Hobbit surnames into German means that my Mom’s maiden name is only two letters different from Frodo and Bilbo. Alas, she never read the books and only watched the movies once, so she doesn’t find that nearly as cool as I do.

          It’s also interesting how all of those name changes are in fantasy rather than SF. When translating SF, the original names are usually kept. Luke Skywalker is not called Lukas Himmelsläufer in German, which is just as well, because Lukas Himmelsläufer sounds like a Volksmusik singer.

          As for cutting the sex scenes, I guess that’s largely done because of the strict wordcount and page length limits of the Heftroman romances published by my namesake, Cora Verlag. Because Cora Verlag crams anything from a 50000 word Harlequin Presents to a 75000 word Superromance into the same 180 small pages, so naturally something had to be cut to make those wordcount limits. And most of the time, what gets cut are the sex scenes, because they are the easiest to lose without impacting the plot. Meanwhile, regular paperback romances don’t seem to cut the sex scenes, e.g. the Linda Howard or Nora Roberts translations my Mom reads seem to be intact as far as I can tell.

          I agree that this whole shortening of books is annoying. I vastly prefer splitting a book in two, if it gets too long, like they do with many fantasy novels, even if it means that Wheel of Time is 28 volumes in German. Though at least, the German edition of A Song of Ice and Fire will last twice as long, while we wait for Martin to write the next one.

          • Daniela says:

            Lukas Himmelsläufer just had me nearly falling of my chair because I was laughing so hard. That would have been really good.
            I think the problem with that is that in German we don’t really have the tradition of descriptive names (anymore). Or of naming kids after flowers, rivers, rainbows and such. It sounds okay in English but in German people just stumble over it, so River Phoenix is fine, Fluß Phönix otoh…

            I don’t know if you’re active on facebook but they now have a group for German writers with English books and one of the main topics is translations (next to marketing). Today one proudly presented her translated book and I had to point out to her that the blurb was already riddled with basic grammar and syntax mistakes and read very *German*. It read as if it was translated word for word and there were mistakes that any spell-check would have caught. The lack of quality really was appalling.

            I tried reading the German translation of J.D.Robbs Naked in Death (my mom’s copy in an attempt to save money) but caved and picked up the original. The translation was very true to the original and based on the size of the book I doubt that they shortened it. I know that Klett Cotta had to split one of Pat Rothfuss’ books into two because the original is already huge and the translated version was even bigger. So it depends on the publisher and on the writer, bestsellers as usual get better treatment than midlist no-name writers.

            • Cora says:

              It’s because descriptive names are so rare in Germany nowadays that literal translations of descriptive SFF names sound so weird to us. Though Bastian Schweinsteiger and Florian Silbereisen could be minor characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, if translated into English.

              The problem with English translation is that everyone thinks they can do it – hey, they had English at school, didn’t they? I sometimes get customers who helpfully point out that they have translated most of the text already, they only need some specialized terms put in. The result is usually an unreadably mess. I politely asked one guy who did this (he also had the habit of looking up words he didn’t know and then pick translations that were totally wrong in that context) to just give me the German text and let me do my job, because that way it would save both of us time and money.

              The J.D. Robb translations are accurate and unabridged as far as I can tell. I don’t read them in detail, but I buy them quite frequently because I got my Mom hooked on the series and give her a new installment for her birthday or Christmas.

              Splitting one book into two is pretty common with translated fantasy. It’s done with Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, all of which are very big books to begin with. I vastly prefer that approach to randomly shortening a book, though I wish the publishers would be more upfront about it. I once gave a friend the German translation of Perdido Street Station for her birthday. When I asked her if she’d enjoyed it, she said, “Yes, but that cliffhanger was annoying.” And I thought, “Wait a minute, what cliffhanger?” Turned out the publisher had split the book in two parts and didn’t really advertise that fact. Still, at least I knew what to give my friend for Christmas.

  2. Estara says:

    We have around -1 degrees and lots of rain turning to snow. Not too big flakes, though, just a continuous light dusting. I bet the middle of Franconia is deep in snow again. My parents have a lot of sun during the year but if it snows it also snows a lot.

    Re: well-written translations. I’d like to contribute a link to my review of recently released Malve von Hassell’s translation of Tamara Ramsay’s Wunderbare Fahrten der kleinen Dott, called Rennefarre. Which has great new illustrations by Monica Minto and is based on the one-volume edition of the book. She really did a congenial translation, I thought – I excerpt quite a bit in my review at Goodreads.

    A book that can be recommended to interested English natives with no fear. It keeps the tone of the original but reads well in English, I thought.

    • Cora says:

      We do have sun, but also really nasty winds. Plus, the high pressure zone over Scandinavia is giving me headaches.

      That’s a lovely review of Malve von Hassell’s translation of Tamara Ramsay’s Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures, which I plugged in these pages a while back. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to translate Dott’s adventures, if only because the story always struck me as so very German and very tied to the Mark Brandenburg where it’s set. Still, I’m glad that English speakers finally get to read it.

  3. As I said at Swan Tower, traditional grimdark (grittygrotty) still repeats the ersatz Campbel/lite mythology of “the hero’s journey” in Byronic mode — it’s like Satanists reenacting Christian rites by inverting old stuff, instead of a new framework. So the mode is both regressively gendered and derivative, except that its practitioners want to pass it off as something new and radical by arbitrary (and a-historical) definitions of “realistic” reconstructions.

    • Cora says:

      I agree that grimdark or grittygrotty (nice term, plus it won’t annoy the Warhammer 40000 fans) is a reaction to the Campbell type hero’s journey fantasy and just as predictable and formulaic as bad Campbell style fantasy. What we have here is a bunch of writers who got weary of the formulaic plots of bad hero’s quest fantasies and decided to subvert that formula by pissing all over the usual tropes of Campbellesque fantasy. Of course, a subversion of a formula is still formulaic, only that those who write and enjoy that stuff cannot see it.

  4. On translation: all of the Greek-to-English prose translations I’ve read have been uniformly awful (poetry has fared a bit better, partly because its translators are often poets themselves). I noticed a bizarre flatness in translated works from other languages and felt certain that this couldn’t arise from the source material in every single case. So, yes. Better yet, no.

    • Cora says:

      I tend to avoid translations whenever possible (which is rather weird coming from a translator) and read the original instead. In cases where the original is in a language I cannot read well enough (or at all), I used to go with either the German or English translation, whichever was easier to find. However, since many English translations were flat or outrightly bad, I now stick with German translations. But if it’s a translated text, I generally don’t pass judgment on the prose, unless I have read the original.

      Poetry translations are so challenging that most of them are indeed done by poets. Ironically, they also pay very badly and literary translation in general is not very well paid. For example, the German translator of Salman Rushdie is paid less per page than I get for translating technical specifications written by engineers whose language skills make George Lucas seem like a master stylist by comparison.

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