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Élisabeth Vonarburg (http://evonarburg.neowp.fr) 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.
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24 Feb 2020

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