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Global SF Project… Just an Idea, For Now, But…

A friend’s recent post (on a mailing list, so no link) has me thinking about the fact I’m in a slump in terms of sending out stories and even in terms of writing. The last semester just really took it out of me. Between the stress of considering hunting for a new job, getting my freelance gig done, staying on top of my classes, and dealing with personal stuff, there’s been little energy or brain-space left over for writing.

Which drives home to me the importance of priorities. What’s more important: freelance gigs, or writing? What’s more important: making each of my classes “the best ever” or writing? I’m not saying that one should throw aside everything and write, because really, my day job is a good job, and I like it, and I want to do a good job on it. (I find teaching good classes highly rewarding, too.) But there’s a law of diminishing returns that kicks in at some point, where the effort to make the class not just excellent but truly outstanding yields only marginal benefits for a marginal percentage of students.

I was asked, in my interview on Monday, about my intentions regarding research. I responded that I wanted to look at SF, which initially was misinterpreted as, “Okay, but we don’t mean creative writing, we mean academic research.” I clarified that SF in Korea is in an odd position, since it’s quite marginal as compared with SF in China and Japan. I was immediately asked whether I speak/read Chinese and Japanese, and I’m not sure my response clarified much — “Well, I don’t intend on studying Japanese and Chinese SF in the original languages, personally: a lot of research is available on Japanese SF in English, and some is available about Chinese SF… so I figure I’ll focus on the Korean SF first, since there’s basically no scholarship in English on the subject.”

But what I really wanted to say was something more like this.

“Back in the 19th century, until sometime shortly after the turn of the century, in Anglophone universities, one of the great academic projects was translation. Ancient Greek and Roman writings were being translated into English for publication and dissemination. Some academics made translation of non-English language literature an important component of their scholarly ‘research.’ That project dried up at some point, but it is incomplete. As yet, for example, there is scant little Korean SF translated into English. There is perhaps no Korean fantasy or horror literature translated at all. I think that the translation of this work is a worthwhile endeavour, not only because what I’ve seen of Korean SF so far has a very unusual character when compared with SF from Anglophone countries, but also because looking at the avenues of adoption for this genre here can give us insights into the dissemination of Anglophone popular culture to non-Western cultures on a global scale. Besides this, however, the translation of this work in itself is a worthwhile project, not only because it would allow Anglophone SF researchers to get at Korean SF in an academic capacity, but also because it could be a part of the larger project of globalizing SF — creating a body of non-Anglo SF-in-translation and also bringing those visions of the future to bear on mainstream Anglo SF itself.”

But did I say that? Oh, no. No, I didn’t. But I think it’s definitely my plan of attack, should I actually get the position I applied for. A co-translation project, plus hopefully some kind of clearing-house for global SF in translation. Wouldn’t it be cool to see what kind of SF is being written, however marginal, in Viet Nam? In India? In Cambodia? In Mozambique? In Brazil? In Greece? In Poland? And making them available online, especially if there was a decent payment for each work — pro rates — would be a good way to get the stuff out there. (Though it’d be good to look at ways of monetizing such a site, as making it help pay for itself would be ideal; who knows, maybe there would be a market for an anthology down the road, too?) I could follow up with academic articles on the fictional works that got translated this way, as well as academic articles on the uses of this stuff in teaching English Culture to non-Anglo students, and some general critical work on SF and other genre lit in general.

However, I musn’t lose sight of my own writing: that’s a project that needs to keep in motion too. While working on a global SF project, unlike other “freelance” stuff, might not pay so well, it also wouldn’t necessarily eat away at my writing time and energies the way that editing (read: rewriting, multiple times) random sheafs of pages from a middle-school textbook would do.

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