The OF Blog: Well, time to get this blog active again vol.2, yes?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Well, time to get this blog active again vol.2, yes?

Seems to me there has been little to no activity here over the last few months. Too long for my liking...

Some of you might know me, others don't. I've come here partly to speculate and partly to complain.

Those of you, who recognize my name should remember I often expressed my strong opinion about the state of Western fantastic fiction. Negative opinion, I might add. For the last few years the number of interesting new writers and interesting ideas has constantly been decreasing. At the same time, I have been reading a growing numbers of opinions that Western scifi&fantasy writers are burnt-out. That of course, is the common opinion here, in Poland or perhaps in general to the east of the river Oder.

We strongly believe that Eastern European authors have more to offer today than those you are accustommed to. The reason? The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves... I don't want to elaborate this, I'm not the right person for that, but if I were to speculate, I'd go with different historic experiences, different cultural background or even ethnic origin. This all adds up to a unique blend of critical look at the modern society and its future and our own past. This doesn't mean typical, low-quality pulp is not available here. On the contrary. But we do get many interesting texts that wouldn't have any chance for being published where you live folks. And that brings me to what I intended originally.


I really loathe Western publishers. Oh, I do realise they need to earn a living and should publish those authors that offer a chance of good return on investment, but who said only Westerners have monopoly on profits, huh? While investments in foreign writers certainly require some spending, they may in turn result in income. As the example of Spain shows, different culture does not necessarily mean readers will be discouraged. In truth, a certain Polish writer (who happens to be the most popular fantasy writer in Poland), Andrzej Sapkowski, has recently gained huge popularity there and his books have been a great success (winning him some of the most important Spanish awards). Success of the first writer resulted in a decision to sign publishing deals with other authors from Poland and Russia.

Unfortunately, this doesn't even seem to be a light in a tunnel when it comes down to American and English publishers, two of the biggest book markets in the world. Given all the information I gathered, it looks that it's damn hard for Poles to find a publisher in the USA or even UK. It didn't even help a young but great Polish writer Jacek Dukaj, that a short animated film based on his fantastic novel, "The Cathedral", was nominated for Oscar two years ago. Translated by renowned Michael Kandel (the excerpt of the novel can be found here) together with another great story by Dukaj ("The Iron General", which in turn is available as an excerpt here) despite efforts couldn't find a publisher.

If a good translation and an Oscars buzz didn't help, what else will? Will the same happen to an interesting Russian writer Sergei Lukyanenko and the chance for international promotion he's having? A blockbuster hit, "Night Watch", based on his very good novel by the same title should hit cinemas in the West very soon. Will the merchandising oppportunities surrounding the film help to promote the book? Time will tell. I can definitely recommend this book to you.

Back to merchandising and Sapkowski I mentioned above. Some Polish computer games company is working on a possible major hit for computer games. The game called The Witcher is based on his hugely successful series of short stories and novels on witcher Geralt, a warrior trained from the early childhood to combat monsters. The early rave reviews suggest the game itself may be really successful, but I'm interesting in whether this would mean a chance for promoting Sapkowski. Again, time will tell. As of today there is no word on a possible translation of his works into English...

*sigh* Anyway, thanks for reading my ramblings. Perhaps anyone of you out there, who happens to read this post is on familiar terms with a publisher interested in new discoveries. If so, let them know there are great writers abroad waiting for a chance.

3 comments:

Eric Joel Bresin said...

Well, Vanin. That's quite a thoughtful post. Like usual I have a couple of criticisms.

First off, I openly admit I have no idea of your reading habits, but it seems when I get into these little debates (whether it be "Our Eastern Sci-fi is better than your Western Sci-fi" or the infamous "Science Fiction is just pulp and offers nothing of literary value"), I often find myself asking how many of the American Speculative fiction Short story magazines do you subscribe to?

Asimovs? F&SF? Analog? Realms of Fantasy?

Or since we are adding Britian and Canada as Western Sci-fi:

On Spec? Interzone? Third Alternative (now changing its name to Black Petals)? Ad nausem.

I'm going to assume the answer is none (based off repsonses by others to this question in the past). If I am wrong, please feel free to correct me.

So how could you possibly know what is going on in the Western Science Fiction and Fantasy fields? If you don't subscribe to the western magazines?

Perhaps you do, however. You don't find Matthew Hughes' Noosphere short story series impressive (appearing in various issues of F&Sf). Jeffery Ford's strange metafictional mythic fantasies extremely original and mind-boggling?

If not you could always pick up one of the Year's Best Anthologies, which in theories highlights the year's best fiction offerings.

Perhaps you are speaking of Western novels rather than the short stories.

Yes, you are quite correct in saying that in the Epic Fantasy genre, there is a kind of repetitiveness. I think George R.R. Martin and Steven Erickson are doing fantastic work of stretching the boundaries of the Epic genre. Now you may argue that Erickson and Martin aren't doing anything particularly original, that they are sticking pretty much to the mold of Epic Genre with their Europeanesque Feudal settings (well, in Martin's case. I would say Erickson has a more exotic Romanesque setting and Greek/Roman-type of god system with his own original twists, which already changes the "formula" a bit).

But alas, I would argue we aren't speaking about the problems with Western Fantasy anymore, but rather the restrictions of sub-genre.

After all, there is always room to be original in a work, but there are certain rules to writing Epic Fantasy.

You can't necessarily just stick laser guns into the character's hands to try and write an original Epic Fantasy because now you are probably writing in the Space Opera sub-genre. Alas, there are certain rules, certain promises, certain things the reader identifies to know they are reading in a certain sub-genre.

It really is as simple as that, otherwise it ceases to be that particular sub-genre. Now with that covered, like I said, Erickson and Martin are doing some very original and interesting things in the Epic Fantasy sub-genre.

But let us look briefly at Fantasy as whole, no particular sub-genre. One novel in particular sticks out in my mind when taking on this discussion. You don't think what China Mievelle did in Perdido Street Station was original? I think that was one of the most original novels I ever read.

Furthermore, I have no idea how many "Western" Sci-fi novels you've read, but how do you know what your "Eastern" authors are doing hasn't already been done before right here in the states or in England.

Quite often a mainstream writer will try their hand at Science Fiction. Think they have a great sci-fi idea and will add all their supposed literary skills into it, to make a deep Sci-fi novel, as opposed to all that trashy pulp stuff that gets published in the genre (they think they have the greatest, deepest, most original thing since slice bread, pardon the cliche) only to find that once it reaches the publisher's hand the idea they thought was so wonderful has been done to death in the genre (but they thought it was original).

So your making an assumption that what these Polish authors, Russian authors are doing is original where it could be that American editors have seen these stories before. One of the things that always fascinates me is that I've only spent time reading Western Sci-fi/Fantasy, mostly newer stuff and classics, but ocassionally I'll get my hands on something obscure and old (such as The Year Best Anthology #5) and I'm surprised how many original stories I find in something that was published in the 1950s or even an anthology like Dangerous Visions published in 1967(?) with stories like Philip K. Dick's "Faith in Our Father's" or Poul Anderson's "Eutopia" or Samuel R. Delany's "Aye, And Gomorrah..."

I think the most interesting thing you said was: "We strongly believe that Eastern European authors have more to offer today than those you are accustommed to. The reason? The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves... I don't want to elaborate this, I'm not the right person for that, but if I were to speculate, I'd go with different historic experiences, different cultural background or even ethnic origin. This all adds up to a unique blend of critical look at the modern society and its future and our own past. This doesn't mean typical, low-quality pulp is not available here. On the contrary. But we do get many interesting texts that wouldn't have any chance for being published where you live folks. And that brings me to what I intended originally."

It could indeed be all about culture. I think this perhaps the most valuable thing you said in your post.

The problem is your assumption that your cultural values gives Eastern Writer a fresh eye and perspective on the genre. That is a major fallacy, extremely flawed. It only gives them an "Eastern" eye or perspective, gives them the ability to tell their stories from that point-of-view. I think you see where I'm going with this.

Maybe certain things get repeated in Western Fantasy because of our own cultural values. We are writing the stories you might find cliche and trite (they aren't necessarily) because that is what the publishers here will buy and that is what the readers here want to read, all of this stemming from our own unique cultural perspective.

But that's a very big assumption their buddy that your culture allows to access original ideas. It probably only allows to access ideas that will be big among your readership who have the same cultural values.

Furthermore, the "West" is a kind of misnomer. The four major countries for Fantasy and Sci-fi right now are: America, Canada, Britain, and Australia.

I base this on where the major awards are given, major writers from these countries, the various major magazines in the field.

Australia is technically not west, even though they are typically Anglo-Saxon.

One last point: if other countries are so gosh darn bored of our "dead" sci-fi and fantasy why are there so many translations done? Why do I know writers who have sold reprint translation rights and been printed in Israeli sci-fi magazines? In (I think) a polish magazine (Nowa something)?

Short stories mind you, but apparently Western Sci-fi/Fantasy can't be so dead if editors from around the world are purchasing Western writers and translating them into other languages.

Anonymous said...

I think Vanin has some very good points.

It seems to me that US publishers are slow on the up take and are looking for formula based success. Steven Erikson is about to release his 6th Malazan novel, we are still waiting for number 3 here in the US. And these books are written in English!

Much of the Spanish speaking world is aware of some great authors. Authors many of us would never have heard of if not for Larry's efforts.

And yes, I do keep up with American writings in both sci-fi and fantasy. It is not only that the ideas are over used, but so are the words. Who among the younger writers are going to take over for the word smiths like Le Guin and Wolf when they are no more? The short story writers are doing a better job, but what novelist is truly challenging us to broaden our thoughts? Yes, some do, but not a vast array of writers.

I for one would welcome some new writers, and it is past time I get off my butt. After all, there are a few great writers out there who have managed to have works translated.

As to why there is a perceived difference by Vanin, I am not so sure. There is a fair amount of Germanic influence in the US culture, but not as much eastern European. Still, there are a sizeable number of Polish peoples here. I have mentioned to Vanin before that I think struggle makes a differnce in a culture's psyche. The US culture has not had to suffer as a whole since Vietnam, and that was not much suffering compared to WW2. That might change with recent events, but that will not have a large effect on the written word for several years.

The only other explanation I can offer is that the US is made up of optimists. Most of us are here because someone in our background was optimistic enough to make the trip for a better life. We like stories about people struggling to over come the odds, and winning. We like to read about the ignorant farm boy becoming king of the world. The publishers know this, and force even more of it down our throats. I guess when more of us show that we want something different, we'll get it. Of course, what ever 'different' is, we'll get that to excess also.

bme

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