When Neil asked me to write an article for his save the semi-prozine Hugo site the only thing of value I could think of was my unique perspective. I am one of the editors of Albedo One magazine, a very semi pro magazine out on the outskirts of civilization. It is unlikely that we will ever be anything but semi pro and just as unlikely that we will ever be able to pay our contributors at the full pro rate – though many semi-pro markets do – and it is our ambition to do so.
So what can we bring to the party? I hear you ask. What is the point of a magazine such as ours even existing? There are, of course, the usual generic reasons: providing a market for new writers, providing an outlet for cutting edge or experimental fiction that would not find a home in a more commercially-minded magazine and, to my mind the most important of all, the provision of choice and variety in a market where the commercial imperative can often dictate content. We are mavericks who survive on the crumbs from the rich man’s table. You can’t buy us with money. Though if you’ve got a reasonable offer I’m sure Neil won’t mind passing it along. But up front I mentioned a unique perspective and I think that’s what Albedo One has got. So bear with me while I tell you a story.
In 2007 the editorial team of the magazine were invited to Eurocon in Copenhagen as guests (not of honour, naturally,). This was a very European con with fans attending from all over the continent, and with a distinctly European feel, whatever that is. In panels and in discussions, in the bar and elsewhere, the subject of translating fiction from non-English languages into English (which is where the big money and the awards are handed out) was raised. I guess it came about because some European writers asked if we would look at their stories if they sent them to us. An odd question you might think. But the reality is writers outside of the Anglophone countries feel that their stories lose something in the translation which will take away any chance they have of securing publication or even of a fair reading. As an editor I can only agree with them. Albedo One rejects over 99% of all fiction submitted. From an editor’s perspective that means that we have to read more than 100 stories for each one that appears in print. To put it into a reader’s perspective that means that in order to find a single suitable short story an editor (or team) must plough through the equivalent of a fantasy trilogy. And that, in our estimation, is a trilogy that is un-publishable. So if a story does not read well right up front, it gets rejected.
I have a question to the readers of this article: do you speak a second language? If the answer is yes the follow-up question is, have you ever or would you ever consider submitting a short story to a market in your second language? I suspect that the number who could honestly answer that second part positively would be very small indeed. So you see the problem for a writer from a, say, German speaking background. And what if he speaks only one language or if his second language is French or Chinese (as may become likely over the next decades)? How on Earth is he ever going to get a story published in English – in which the Best SF of the Year collection is published and in the pages of which foreign language stories are never mentioned. How can he ever get nominated for a Hugo unless the story is translated into and published in English?
He could pay to have it professionally translated and thereby rendering it the equal language-wise of any other submission. And that is true, except that what writer can afford to pay what could amount to hundreds of dollars to have a story translated so that it can be submitted on spec to a series of markets that may reject it because it is not a story they like. Even then, if he sold it first time out his profit would be negligible. Nobody would be writing fiction without a contract if that was the case.
We thought it was worth finding foreign language stories and giving non-Anglophone writers a chance in the Anglophone world. All that was needed was a methodology. Or a justification for picking the particular story we might choose to publish. The only way Albedo One could guarantee that a story we could not read in the original was worthy of acceptance was to find a criteria for using the judgment of others. So we proposed that if a country had an annual story contest we could reasonably publish the winner of the contest regardless of its eventual fit into the magazine. Even if our readers don’t like it we have the justification of it being the best story from its country or in its language for the previous year. At the very least the inclusion of such a story might provoke comment and discussion. At best it might be a work of genius. And accepting a story on those terms means we have a motivation and justification for investing editorial time in giving it a polish – after all we are the ones who speak colloquial English.
So far we have secured the best German short story of 2007 for our next issue. We are speaking to Galaxies magazine in France about publishing their best. The best Dutch story from last year is also being submitted to us and we will continue to pursue this angle as far as we can. If we get one foreign language translation into every issue it still adds up to only a tiny handful. But maybe we can make a difference. Maybe there’s a foreign language writer starting out on his career who will be helped on his way to fame and fortune by us. Occasionally, caring might be enough.
Saving the semi-prozine Hugo is a place to start showing that you care. The small magazines are where there is still a chance for seeds of change to be planted, and surely SF must be about change for without it there will be no future. But isn’t there another campaign to tag onto it? Ou est le Hugo Francais? Or Spanish or Greek or Korean? If you feel that there could be merit in starting a campaign to institute a foreign language Hugo you might be interested in checking out my blog at bobn-translation.blogspot.com.