With the winners of this year's Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards announced a few weeks back, it seems like a good time to strongly recommend a couple of recently published books that should be contenders for next year's prize.
Each novel is the first work by its author to be published in English - although we're late to the party on Liliana Bodoc, at least, who has been translated into something like six other languages already. Both books were sent to me for review by SFX magazine, and I'm very glad they were.
The first, which was translated from Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lucia Caistor Arendar, is Liliana Bodoc's utterly charming (and Ursula Le Guin-endorsed) The Days of the Deer:
This is a fantasy of pre-Columbian South America, of hunter-gatherers in the jungle, llama-herders in the desert, and pyramid-building city-dwellers who live on pumpkins and maize. Bodoc evokes the texture of daily life through attention to the rituals and customs of her various peoples, but it’s all deftly incorporated into the story and the characters’ experiences.
This review was made available at SFX's website, so you can read the rest of the piece over there.
The second, the marvellously brain-scrambling What Lot's Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourzopoulou, was translated from the Greek by Yiannis Penas. My review only appeared in the print edition of SFX (although you can see a cutting of it here at the publisher's website), so I'm republishing it below.
It's always fascinating to see speculative fiction from outside Anglophone genre circles. On the evidence of this translation of Bourazopoulou's Athens Prize-winning 2007 novel, Greek sf is both bold and more than a little bonkers.
What Lot's Wife Saw, like Orwell’s 1984 or Ismail Kadare's Palace of Dreams, uses sf to examine authoritarianism's effect on individuals. Although set in a future wrecked by rising sea levels and near-universal addiction to a hallucinogenic salt revealed by the flood, it’s not really a dystopia: Bourazopoulou isn’t interested in the bigger picture (neither salt nor flood make much sense, or get much explained) except as a backdrop to her characters' self-created hells.
The tale’s real heart lies in the Colony, a city-state founded by a shadowy group called the Consortium to mine the lucrative salt. When the Colony’s governor dies, abruptly and mysteriously, the Consortium enlists a writer of fiendishly complicated crosswords (yes, really) to try to make sense of the leading Colonists' arse-covering, contradictory reports on what happened. These letters show six people going flamboyantly crazy with paranoia, eyeing each other with suspicion - is one of them a killer? - and plagued by fear that the Consortium is playing some deeper game. It’s an inspired, wonderfully claustrophobic way to structure a novel about how coercion lives in the mind as much as it does in active oppression by evil overlords. But can you even trust the puzzle’s solution? Maybe the author's the real evil overlord…