Saturday, April 14, 2007

Reports From Far Foreign Shores

It would be petty and churlish of me to complain that the latest Dave Itzkoff "Across the Universe" column in The New York Times Book Review only reviews little-known books from presses that don't do much SFF; this issue of the Book Review is devoted to fiction in translation -- always of minor appeal in the self-obsessed USA -- and so Itzkoff's column reviews five books originally written in languages that are not English.

(But I will wonder about the Book Review wandering into theme-issue territory; isn't that more the work of the Wizards and FHMs of this world? What next, the bikini babes of the deconstructionists?)

Anyway, Itzkoff manfully dug up some not-completely irrelevant books (Straight To Darkness, edited by Asamatsu Ken, from Japan; Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec, from France; A Game of Perfection by Elisabeth Vonarburg, from Francophone Canada; Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko and Valdimir Vasiliev, from Russia; and Seven Touches of Music, by Zoran Zivkovic, from Serbia) and said plausible things about them. I could wish that he reviewed books of wider interest to the field (and to the wider world), but this was a directed result to begin with, so that was not possible.

I haven't read, or even seen, any of these books, so I can't comment on his critical judgments. (Though the Japanese books looks interesting to me.) He doesn't say anything that looks clearly wrong-headed, as he has done at times in the past. So this is about what you would hope for in a SF column from a major metropolitan newspaper: it covers a few books decently, and doesn't leave a mess on the floor.

If Itzkoff's columns were generally like this one, I'd have to stop making fun of him; I'm not sure if that would be a good or bad outcome. (It would be less entertaining for me, though probably better for the world and SF in general -- but I of course esteem myself more highly than I do the world.)


Anonymous said...

I have not read Day Watch but I have read Night Watch, which to review in a useless way struck me as the sort of book that would infuriate Mark Atwood [1] until the end, when he would be very pleased.

1: For example, it's pretty clear and very nearly explicit that all capitalists are working for the Dark.

Banshee said...

Nearly all everybody is working for the Dark, except for the people who are working for the Light in such a manner that they manage to Kill Millions of People.

Actually, Lukyanenko is much more optimistic than most Russian writers. :) Seriously, though, he manages to write about very dark worlds and situations while still keeping things bearably light for the characters and the reader. It's a nice trick.

The depressing thing about the official translations is that they left out pretty much everything that would be really amusing to techies and fans, or paraphrased these things until the joke was gone. Also, the translator was allergic to brandnames appearing in print, which seems shallow. Other than that, very good translation.

Anonymous said...

Actually, he did say one incorrect thing: Borges and Zivkovic have very little in common with one another. Borges relied on specific detail and a very particular blend of metafiction and reality based on his ability to provide specific details to support it. Zivkovic relies on anonymous narrators and generic settings and in the ways this shapes his work and his ability to achieve or not achieve certain effects he is more like a kind of amorphous Kafka. In fact, he's nothing like Borges at all. Something in me found the comment repulsive to an extreme, but like you said it's churlish to find fault.


Meril said...

I see finally got the Vonarburg novel back in stock. I gave up on my original order of it--several months ago--and ended up getting it from

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