Science Fiction in Translation: Perspectives on the Global Theory and Practice of Translation  

AWEJ for Translation & Literary Studies, Volume 6, Number 4. October  2022                             Pp.180-185
DOI:  http://dx.doi.org/10.24093/awejtls/vol6no4.13




            Book Review
 Science Fiction in Translation: Perspectives on the Global Theory and Practice of Translation  


Title: Science Fiction in Translation: Perspectives on the Global Theory and Practice of Translation
Editor: Ian Campbell
Year of publication: 2021
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Number of pages: 359
Reviewer: Rawad Alhashmi


As the title suggests, Science Fiction in Translation (2021) explores the afterlife of several Science Fiction works in Translation from non-Anglophone to Anglophone and vice versa. Edited by Ian Campbell, a well-known scholar in the field of Arabic science fiction, the volume highlights the role of translation in influencing the global popularity of this genre. In the introduction, Campbell argues that since translation is not a transparent process, distortions are an inexorable phenomenon. He contends that the process of translating SF is not merely a matter of finding equivalence between two languages; it also involves “cognitive, linguistic, visual, cultural and ideological phenomena” (3–4). He draws on Lawrence Venuti’s concepts of domestication and foreignness to expound on how the former distorts a common feature of SF, estrangement. He claims that translating SF through a domestication strategy removes or weakens some salient aspects of the text’s original meaning. Consequently, it minimizes the estrangement of the source text, which almost inevitably makes the translation less impactful. Apart from the introduction, this volume comprises 15 essays exploring a wide range of translations from different languages to English and vice versa. These translations include the following: Catalan to English, Russian to English, Swedish to English, French to English, Arabic to English as well as French to English, Spanish to English, and Hungarian to English (in addition to Indian Bengali works, which are yet to be translated to English). The volume is wide in its scope covering many languages and offering interesting perspectives from various countries. This contribution comes as a part of an ongoing book series about Studies in Global Science Fiction, published by Palgrave Macmillan Cham.

In “Speculative Fiction, Translation, and Transformation,” Rachel Cordasco posits that the act of translation and speculative fiction writing play a somewhat symbiotic role to make the impossible, possible in the process of transformation they share. That is, transformation in speculative fiction manifests a source of dread and horror—so is translation since it entails ambiguity about the quality of the translation vis-à-vis the original text. Thus, they share a sense of uncertainty causing “a tension that will likely continue to produce compelling literary and scientific scholarship” (29). In chapter three “An Insufficient Process of Internationalization: Militant Translation and the Experience of Translating into English the Best-Selling Catalan (Sf) Novel Ever,” Sara Martín explores her process of translating Catalan SF into English, especially in securing copyrights for foreign translation and finding a publishing house. This process is a part of what is called a militant translator. In this context, the translator plays a key role in the book’s publication and other aspects necessary to expand the reach of an original work apart from translating it. Eventually, her commendable efforts culminated in the translation of Manuel de Pedrolo’s Mecanoscrit del segon origen (1974) into English. Her account is an excellent example of underscoring the complication of the translation process with emphasis on a militant translator, which tends to be undermined in the domain of scholarship. In chapter four, “Ungendering the English Translation of the Strugatskys’ The Snail on the Slope” R. B. Lemberg examines both the 1980 translation by Alan Myers as well as the 2018 translation by Olga Bormashenko focusing on gender translation from Russian to English. Lemberg demonstrates how Myers’s translation eliminates gendered expressions in terms of titles, names, and grammar while underscoring an anti-Soviet critique that is expected from Western audiences. As such, it fails to capture the cultural meanings underlying the text, which are crucial in comprehending the issue of gender under the Soviet Regime. Unlike the first translation, Bormashenko makes an effort to translate gendered names and terms with gendered English words. Nevertheless, the translator’s approach lacks consistency and is unable to adequately contextualize the novel. Lemberg shows that even though the second endeavor exhibits signs of a much-improved translation, it is still incomplete. To that end, Lemberg advocates a feminist translation approach to retranslate The Snail on the Slope.

In chapter five “(Not) Translating the Incomprehensible: Defamiliarizing Science, Technology, and Science Fiction in Harry Martinson’s Aniara,” Daniel Helsing addresses science fiction poetry, particularly the epic poem of Nobel Laureate Harry Martinson’s Aniara (1956). Helsing compares two versions of the poem. The first version is translated by Hugh MacDiarmid and Elspeth Harley Schubert in 1963 whereas the second one is credited to Stephen Klass and Leif Sjöberg in 1999. By drawing on Venuti’s distinction between domestication and foreignness, Helsing fevers the 1999 translation, insofar as it captures more of Martinson’s foreignizing translations of science by staying closer to the Swedish original. This translation is largely oriented toward domestication and departs from the original thereby being in contrast with the 1963 translation. In the sixth chapter, Tessa Sermet’s “Imperfect Words for an Imperfect World” examines the tropes of feminist utopias and science fiction in Élisabeth Vonarburg’s Chroniques du Pays des Mères (1992). Sermet underscores how the English translation causes harm to the original French because the translator fails to capture the linguistic play of French phallogocentrism and does not include any prefacing or footnoting to explain them. Accordingly, Anglophone readers do not have full access to Vonarburg’s original work. In chapter seven “Speculative Orientalism? On ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Referents in Boualem Sansal’s 2084,” Erin Twohig addresses Sansal’s novel with special attention to abilang, an Eastern invented language that functions in a similar manner to Orwell’s Newspeak. In doing so, Twohig focuses on how abilang and Newspeak function differently in their dystopian world. Specifically, Twohig demonstrates Sansal’s invented language mixes elements from across Eastern languages to critique religious extremism, albeit being resistant to translation. Twohig’s essay puts forth significant questions about the translation of speculative fiction from Eastern languages to the Anglophone world.

In chapter eight “Philip K. Dick in French: A Mutating Voice,” Amélie Lespilette examines multiple French translations of Dick’s works illustrating the ways in which the translations before the 1990s suffer from visible domestication symptoms. Due to such deficiencies, almost the entire works of Dick have been retranslated to bring the writer’s voice back to the foreground by following the original very closely, albeit with slight modifications. Lespilette’s account is a useful example in articulating how a genuine retranslation appears to be a remedy for rectifying deficient translations. In the ninth chapter, “Ponying the Slovos: A Parallel Linguistic Analysis of A Clockwork Orange in English, French, and Spanish” Niall Curry, Jim Clarke, and Benet Vincent Anthony Burgess analyze A Clockwork Orange (1962). The authors compare two recognizable translations of the novella in French and Spanish languages. The French translation of Georges Belmont and Hortense Chabrier in 1972 as well as the Spanish translation of Anibal Leal in 1971 and Ana Quijada Vargas (who translated the final chapter in 1999). They placed their emphasis on linguistic analysis of an invented idiolect or “anti-language,” called Nadast in both French and Spanish translations. It “is the slang argot of the novella’s protagonist and narrator, Alex” (166). They discuss how such language poses a serious challenge in translation because of the translators’ insufficient experience regarding the development of Nadast. Their corpus-based analysis provides objective insights into translating SF across languages. In addition, translation studies can use it to offer compelling empirical evidence to overturn or lend credence to long-held translation evaluations (186). In the tenth chapter, “Censorship or Cultural Adjustment? Sexualized Violence in Hungarian Translations of Asimov’s Second Foundation” Bogi Takács analyzes Asimov’s Second Foundation in two Hungarian translations: the revised Baranyi translation and the new Sámi translation. Takács explains how the sexual connotations of the original English were left out and replaced by analogies to nonsexual physical assault due to the lack of Hungarian cultural embedding of telepathic influencing as sexual violence. In addition to this distortion, the translator’s tendency to be self-censored in living in an oppressive state is another factor that affects the translation.

The remaining chapters primarily focus on science fiction tropes. In chapter eleven, “Translating the Pathologized Body as a Tool of Nationalism in Chinese Science Fiction” Virginia L. Conn focuses her analysis on Lu Xun’s short story “Medicine” (1919) and Wang Jinkang’s “The Reincarnated Giant” (2005) to shed light on the relationship of the sick body not only in Chinese national citizens but also the state itself. By mapping the changing signification of the “sick man of Asia,” Conn illustrates how it has been developed since its initial introduction and translations to become a thematical literary device of contemporary Chinese science fiction. Chapter twelve “Translating the Chinese Monster in “Waste Tide” is where Yen Ooi examines the monster in Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide (2014) with an emphasis on cultural translation between China and the West. Ooi explicates how the monster reflects internal and external forces that influenced China’s rapid economic growth in order to cope with the west, fostering techno-Orientalist concerns that resulted in techno-Occidentalist responses (258). In chapter thirteen “Ghosts, Aliens, and Machines: Epistemic Continuity and Assemblage in Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s Science Fiction,” Suparno Banerjee examines Mukhopadhyay’s short novels, The Spooky Watch, (1984), In the Forest of Patashgarh (1989), and The Underground Chamber (1996). Banerjee argues that the epistemic continuity and assemblage blur the boundaries between the Bengali culture and Western techno-scientific advancement thereby transplanting Western SF imagery into the Bengali cultural landscape. Therefore, Mukhopadhyay’s works provide the readers with a narrative that is very favorable to the in-depth contemplations of Bengali postcolonial identity engenders via cultural engagement between India and the West. In chapter fourteen, “The Clockwork Chrysalis: Enslavement Poetry of Juan Francisco Manzano,” Alexis Brooks de Vita undertakes a comparative reading of three of Juan Francisco Manzano’s poems with the paternalistically simplifying translations of Madden to document their cross-cultural silencing and misrepresentations. de Vita explores the ways in which Richard Madden’s English translation of Manzano’s poetry manifests surreal poetic imagery that substitutes the disturbing experience of Manzano while defending English racism, which means that Anglophone readers are insulated from the falsity of racism and their involvement in hegemonic systems of oppression and entitled privilege. This essay shows how trivial translation derides the poet’s experiences with slavery because the translator opts to focus on simple imagery and avoids making a scathing critique of slavery in the original poem.

In chapter fifteen, “The Estrangement of Political Trauma in Two SF Novels by Basma Abdelaziz” Ian Campbell analyzes The Queue (Arabic 2013; English 2016) and Here Is A Body (Arabic 2018; English 2021) with an emphasis on trauma. Campbell poignantly observes some elements of the deleterious impacts of trauma have been excluded in The Queue, which is why English readers will not experience the magnitude of trauma that the original text intended to describe. Equally important, Campbell did not address the translation of Here Is A Body because it was not available in “English translation (November 2021),” as he points out (310). However, it seems there is a mistake because the English version was available from September 2021. It is important to point out that his claim reading the Gate’s structure in The Queue: “There’s no color, no shape to the building, no ‘eight’ anywhere in the original novel” (Campbell 324) is not correct. The crimson color and number eight can be found in the original text on page 101, which corresponds to the English version on page 87. It reads in my translation as follows: “… leads to one of the ‘eight’ grand walls of the Gate … the color of the Northern Building wall was ‘crimson’” (100 [Arabic]). Nevertheless, Campbell’s account does elaborate on the cognitive estrangement tropes in both texts, especially in technology and the traumatic effects of dictatorship in Egypt. In the last chapter, “The Translation of SF Tropes in Dog War II,” Ikram Masmoudi takes a close look at the award-winning novel Ibrahim Nasrallah’s Dog War II (2016), which has not been translated into English yet. Masmoudi opines that Nasrallah’s novel incorporates “a pseudo-scientific imaginary extrapolating the technological advances in the field of cosmetic aesthetics to criticize the prevalence of a culture of forgery and deception” and sheds light on the anxiety of climate change (334). While Masmoudi offered an important analysis of the science fiction tropes in Nasrallah’s text, she did not engage with any secondary sources or reviews about the novel in the original Arabic.

Indeed, the volume does make a significant contribution to the field of Global science fiction studies by engaging in scholarly discussions about the growth of SF in translation. As such, it is a step forward in advancing the ongoing scholarship providing intriguing perspectives about the process of translation and its effects on circulating the genre from non-Anglophone to Anglophone and vice versa. Furthermore, this anthology coincides with the new publication Out of This World: Speculative Fiction in Translation from the Cold War to the New Millennium (2021) edited by Rachel Cordasco. Altogether, they attest to the increasing popularity of the genre while fostering scholarly discussions to cope with the ongoing translated speculative fiction across the world. Having said that, the twenty-first century has seen a palpable shift from non-Anglophone to Anglophone, thus impacting the paradigms of power, albeit on a small scale. One hopes to come across more and more translations of SF, particularly from non-represented languages to ensure that the genre flourishes in the manner it is supposed to and is not confined to a niche audience. Lastly, observing how translation shifts its gear in SF due to its potential to decolonize the Western genre in its global context would indeed be interesting for future studies.


ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, Basma. Al-ṭābūr. Al-Qāhira: Dār al-Tanwīr. 2013.
Abdel Aziz, Basma. Here Is a Body: A Novel, translated by Jonathan Wright. Hoopoe, 2021.
Cordasco, Rachel S., editor. Out of This World: Speculative Fiction in Translation from the Cold War to the New Millennium. University of Illinois Press, 2021. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctv23xmqvc. Accessed 10 Sep. 2022.


Rawad Alhashmi has recently received his Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Texas at Dallas. He holds an MA degree in English from New Mexico Highlands University and an MA degree in Translation and Interpretation from the Libyan Academy for Postgraduate Studies. His research interests include Translation Studies, Postcolonial Literature, and Arabic Science Fiction. His recent works appear in Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies, Translation Today, English Studies, and Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, among others. ORCID- https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4592-2717


Dr. Rawad Alhashmi has recently received his Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Texas at Dallas. He holds an MA degree in English from New Mexico Highlands University and an MA degree in Translation and Interpretation from the Libyan Academy for Postgraduate Studies. His research interests include Translation Studies, Postcolonial Literature, and Arabic Science Fiction. His recent works appear in Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies, Translation Today, English Studies, and Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, among others. ORCID- https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4592-2717