Found in Translation

A lovely translation of my story "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" has just appeared in the Chinese magazine Science Fiction World. I wanted to take a moment to introduce the two women who have been working on my Chinese translations. They previously worked on my novelette "In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind," and are tackling "And We Were Left Darkling" next.

Translation of fiction is not an easy task. It's not word for word. If you've ever put a phrase into Google Translate, you know that we haven't found a way to automate the process well. Good translators do so much more than substitute words in one language for another. They convey moods and concepts. They convey figurative language and idiom with no corollary. Georges Perec's La Disparition is an entire French novel written without the use of the letter E; the translation to English ("A Void") has to do the same thing, but the entire color palette changes. There are verb tenses that avoid E in French that do not in English. And yet the translator still has to maintain the intent of the author. If you read Ken Liu's translation of the Chinese novel The Three Body Problem, you may have noticed his thorough footnotes. Ken footnoted passages that might hold great significance to a Chinese reader, and none to most Americans. A uniform of a certain color might resonate in one culture, while to another it might be nothing but a detail of world-building. To make the book successful with American audiences he had to make us understand the significance of every sentence. 

Translation is a collaboration.  Working with the translators on "A Stretch of Highway…" (and earlier, "In Joy…") forced me into a more intimate relationship with my own stories. I would get emails asking specific questions I had never answered for myself. I needed to clarify whether a minor character was a younger sibling or an older sibling; the word in English was the same, but they were different in Chinese.  Did "worked on his truck" mean "repaired the engine" or "drove his truck"? Both are reasonable readings given the context. And then there were the figurative sentences: infections with figurative teeth, artificial pathways. It's a figurative story; there was a lot of back and forth.

And then of course there are all the science fictional concepts. If I coin a new word or write a concept into existence, they're responsible for making sure it works in both languages. Have you ever tried to make a pun in your second language? It's tricky business.  

Over the months that we worked together on these stories, we got to talk about other things as well. The places we live, the things we do outside of writing, our pets and families. 

I asked both women if I could talk about them here. I wanted to give you their biographies and a little more, since I didn't want them reduced to a simple byline after all of their hard work.

Wu Shuang, or Anna Wu, is a science fiction, movie, and teleplay writer. She is from Jiangsu Province. She graduated from China University of Mining and Technology, where she majored in Chinese language and literature. She has already published several short stories in Galaxy's Edge, Science Fiction World Magazine, and Arts and Literature, and has worked with Yu Youqun to translate more than two hundred thousand words of English fiction by writers including Mike Resnick, Ken Liu, and Alyssa Wong. She asked me to say that she believes that imagination could change the world, and that the beauty and charm of science fiction will last forever in the universe and galaxy. 

Abby  (Yu Youqun) was born in 1985 in Sichuan Province. She graduated from China University of Mining and Technology, and received Bachelor and Master's degrees of Arts in 2009 and 2012. Her major was English language and literature. She has been teaching college for more than three years. Collaborating with Anna, she began to do translation of science fiction works. She says they work together happily. Abby is responsible for translating the English version into Chinese and communicating with the authors. Anna makes the Chinese version more fluent when Abby has finished her work. She asked me to say, "All of our published works were worked out by our pooling of thoughts. I believe reading science fiction is an amusing enjoyment.  Imagination enlarges our world and horizon, makes everything to be possible. I hope this will be helpful."

I'm so happy to have been able to work with these two talented translators, and I look forward to working with them again in the future. I wrote these stories, but in their careful translations, they bring them to life for a new audience. 

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