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Élisabeth Vonarburg ( is a weaver of words.

There are, sadly, things that get lost in translation. I've always wondered what English speakers made of The Maerlande Chronicles—Vonarburg's vision of a world dominated by women included a lot of reworking of grammatical gender and default gender for titles (both elements are key in French, but mostly absent from English):  the overall effect was both to make the reader both feel that this was a different world, and to question the bases of this one.

But I don't want to suggest that it is impossible to read Vonarburg in English, or that translation is an endeavour doomed to fail. This is a common fallacy I've found in discussions on non-Anglophone SF—a tendency to over-focus on translation problems, which carries the implication that translations are somehow impossible or not worth reading.  This is foolish, as it would restrict us to reading only fiction produced in our native languages: a self-imposed cage that would encourage no communications and broaden no horizons. The total of translated books into English might be negligible (fewer than 1% of the total published books), but in France a third of all published novels are translations (75% of which from English), and no one has claimed that this impoverished our ability to read or write (it is, of course, symptomatic of the hegemony of English, but this is a subject about which I've written at length elsewhere).

"Chambered Nautilus" is part of Vonarburg's "Voyager" series, in which people leap from world to world using a special device—into alternate universes that look almost, but not quite, like the Earth they left. This story is about what happens when they do become lost; and reflects on the meaning of voyages and on the ultimate end of them. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Read "Chambered Nautilus" here or listen to it in this week's podcast here.

Aliette de Bodard is a System Engineer, SF/F/recipe writer with an interest in history, science and cooking. Her fiction won the Nebula, Locus and BSFA Awards. She is the author of the Aztec noir trilogy Obsidian and Blood, and of On a Red Station, Drifting, a space opera inspired by Vietnamese culture.
Current Issue
29 May 2023

We are touched and encouraged to see an overwhelming response from writers from the Sino diaspora as well as BIPOC creators in various parts of the world. And such diverse and daring takes of wuxia and xianxia, from contemporary to the far reaches of space!
By: L Chan
The air was redolent with machine oil; rich and unctuous, and synthesised alcohol, sharper than a knife on the tongue.
“Leaping Crane don’t want me to tell you this,” Poppy continued, “but I’m the most dangerous thing in the West. We’ll get you to your brother safe before you know it.”
Many eons ago, when the first dawn broke over the newborn mortal world, the children of the Heavenly Realm assembled at the Golden Sky Palace.
Winter storm: lightning flashes old ghosts on my blade.
transplanted from your temple and missing the persimmons in bloom
immigrant daughters dodge sharp barbs thrown in ambush 十面埋伏 from all directions
Many trans and marginalised people in our world can do the exact same things that everyone else has done to overcome challenges and find happiness, only for others to come in and do what they want as Ren Woxing did, and probably, when asked why, they would simply say Xiang Wentian: to ask the heavens. And perhaps we the readers, who are told this story from Linghu Chong’s point of view, should do more to question the actions of people before blindly following along to cause harm.
Before the Occupation, righteousness might have meant taking overt stands against the distant invaders of their ancestral homelands through donating money, labour, or expertise to Chinese wartime efforts. Yet during the Occupation, such behaviour would get one killed or suspected of treason; one might find it better to remain discreet and fade into the background, or leave for safer shores. Could one uphold justice and righteousness quietly, subtly, and effectively within such a world of harshness and deprivation?
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