Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hidden Talent Right in Front of Our Eyes

Recently, the gang at SF Signal has been exploring a very interesting and important question in its Mind Meld feature: "What is going on right now in international sf/f that anglophone readers might be missing out on?" Writers and editors and fans from around the world have weighed-in on the subject, giving an overview of what's happening in SF in their countries/languages that English-speakers should know about, but probably don't.

It's definitely worth reading for yourself:
part I
part II
part III
(and there may be more installments coming)

As someone who loves to read, any discussion that introduces me to writers and stories I haven't previously heard of is irresistable. Even if many of the works they're referring aren't available in English, this kind of discussion can spur the movement to have them translated, either in print or online. Sure, it may not happen right away, but if the will is there, we might gradually begin to see things open up, linguistically - or at least more so than they are already. When the time comes, I might remember some of the names that have been recommended and know which avenues to follow.

One of the submissions that really stood out for me was that of Jean-Luis Trudel (in part II), who noted that here in Canada, we're in a bit of a privileged position, with strong SF communities in both English and French. Because of our official bilingualism, we're able to see a number of works originally written in French (by authors who are Quebecers, or Acadie from New Brunswick, or Francais from St Boniface in Manitoba, or people from any of our other Francophone communities) published in English magazines and anthologies (take Tesseracts Q, for example: an anthology composed entirely of stories by Quebec authors that have been translated into English). In fact, our national SF awards, the Auroras, present awards for achievements in English and in French.

But that got me thinking about what the broader Canadian population has to offer because, see, it's a myth that we're bilingual. The word implies there are only two languages here in the Great White North, which has never been the case. The infamous "Two Solitudes" may be the most vocal, but there have always been many other linguistic groups here, and some are growing larger and contributing a significant amount to our national cultural mosaic, and to the world's.

Firstly, there are, of course, the First Nations who were here thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. Theirs is an oral storytelling tradition, but Aboriginals are using every media now and using their cultural traditions and mythology to branch out into other types of tales, including SF. One example that comes immediately to mind is a comic series published by the Healthy Aboriginal Network, which started with an issue called Darkness Falls (which I discussed in a posting back in 2006). While the series is meant as a health and wellness educational tool, it is a legitimate foray into comics and is well put together. While other examples don't immediately come to mind, I have no doubt there are many other First Nations authors and artists who are contributing to the broader SF scene.

And there Canada's many, many immigrant communities whose members are adding their unique voices to SF, many writing in English. Too many to name, in fact.

But the more I thought about the question of what Anglophones are missing out on, the more I wondered about what might be happening here in our own backyard that we don't know about. The great thing about Canada is that we have a lot of people who move here and join in our wider culture, while still participating fully in their own cultures and languages. As a result, it's not unusual to hear about Canadians who were born here, but who are also part of immigrant cultures, who use their talents in other languages overseas. One rather infamous example is actor/singer Edison Chen, born in Vancouver but a star in Hong Kong film (and in his own sex tapes, as has been scrutinized by the gossip columns and the courts). I wonder if the same thing is happening right now in the world of SF (no, not sex tapes), where talent born and raised here in an English/French environment is being published in other languages in other countries? If it's not happening now, I'm certain it will happen very soon in the coming years.

The irony, of course, is that because it would be published in other languages, it's unlikely the majority of Canadian SF fans would know about it. And that's unfortunate, because we ought to take pride in the literary/cultural contributions made by all Canadians in all of the languages that we speak. And we can't do that if we don't know that it's out there.

But this is not an argument for all new Canadians to drop their mother tongues and start writing in our official languages. Far from it!

We need to look for new voices in SF with an eye for linguistic diversity beyond English and French. We have only ourselves to blame if we're missing-out on talent because it speaks other languages. Canada's SF community (our arts community in general - but let's keep to the spaced-out focus of this blog) needs to make this a part of our dialogue when we gather for conventions. We also need to exercise our power as consumers and tell publishers that we want them to translate works from other languages. As fans we can make a concerted effort to start learning other languages (or, just as importantly if you're from an immigrant community: make the effort to stay fluent in your other language or the language of your parents) so we can start exploring theese other worlds on our own. But most importantly, we have to do what our country does best: keep lines of communication open with colleagues in SF who speak other languages - both in our country and around the world. When we talk with people elsewhere who share our passion for SF, we'll hear about it when they're publishing great works by our own people and we'll be able to translate those stories, to bring them home for everyone else to enjoy.
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