by Dan Bloom
SOMEWHERE IN THE MILKY WAY GALAXY -- When it comes to translating science fiction novels from France, Germany, Italy or Japan (and other non-English speaking nations), the U.S. publishing industry has a rather dismal track record. Yes, Tor Books published a popular sci-fi novel from China by Cixin Liu, "The Three-Body Problem," and not only did it win over readers in translation the by American sci-fi author Ken Lui, but Liu's novel also won the "Best Novel" prize at the 2015 Hugo Awards.
In addition, the 2015 Xingyun (''Nebula'') Award for Global Chinese Science Fiction was recently announced in communist China, with the best achievement prize awarded to Liu in his home country.
But in fact, the U.S. is still not translating many SF novels from overseas.
A top sci-fi novelist in California I spoke to for this article told me why translations are still a problem here.
"The main problem is that the English-language market is self-sufficient," he told me. "American editors are not prejudiced against foreign-sourced work, but few of them can read in a foreign language. As a result, they can only evaluate a sci-fi work from France or anywhere after it has been translated, even a chapter or two on spec."
"So someone has to do some initial translation work on spec, most probably unpaid, as Ken Liu did with the first few chapters of his translation of the 'The Three Body Problem.' That is the only way it can be done."
I'd like to introduce readers today to an important sci-fi novelist from France, who writes only in French and has not yet been able to find a publisher in the U.S. or Britain.
Meet Jean-Marc Ligny, born in 1956, and one of the top novelists writing sci-fi with climate themes in all of Europe.
His most popular novel in France is titled "AquaTM" and it was released in 2006. It has sold over 10,000 copies in France, according to publishing sources in Paris, and about 12,000 copies in Germany in a very good translation in 2009 by Ulrike Werner-Richter for Lübbe Books (www.luebe.de).
Ligny told me in a recent email that 1 million copies of "AquaTM" were printed in China in 2009 by Yunnan Education Publishing House, although, he added: "I'm not sure how many copies were actually sold."
Now Ligny, and his French publisher L'Atalante, have their sights on a U.S. edition.
Ligny’s three climate-crisis novels Aqua™ (2006), Exodes (2012) and Semences (2015) have yet to be translated into English. His publisher has generously sent me English-language summaries, draft translations of the first several chapters of the first two novels, and an English translation of a 2012 interview with French SF blogger Gromovar.
In addition to foreign rights sales to Germany and China, "AquaTM" has been optioned for a feature film in Germany by director Tim Fehlbaum, who in 2011 made the movie “Hell” (which was produced by Roland Emmerich).
The plot goes like this: In 2030 drinking water has taken over from oil as the most precious and vital commodity that people and nations are fighting over. It is, of course, a situation brought on by drought and man-made global warming. In a drought-stricken African country, a scientist, with the help of a pirated satellite picture, an underground water layer on its territory, but it does not all end in a pretty picture. Ligny writes sci-fi with panache and with a vision, so be prepared.
We offer here a translation of the first chapter here: this to find chapter ONE
Aqua™ in English (prologue + chapter 1, parts 1–3)
Ligny visited Florida in October, he told me, noting that he was invited to attend a university colloquium titled "Imagining climate change" at the University of Florida.
"I've written three SF novels about climate change and one for YA readers, and while I am identified in France as a sci-fi writer, I am also comfortable to be considered as a 'cli-fi' writer," he said. "However, this cli-fi term is not used often in France. and there's also not many SF authors here writing about climate change either."
"It's my dream now, and has been for several years, to find a U.S. publisher for my work," he said.