Oct 22 2012

Lost in translation


Over on Facebook, my German cousin Ute left a comment after my link to the Sun Dogs post: “I’ve learned something new now, never heard about sun dogs before.”

That’s interesting, I mused.   I wonder what they’re called in German?   Because certainly they occur in Germany.   Perhaps if I used the actual German term, Ute might remember having heard of the phenomenon before.

I know!  I’ll just get the German translation of The Language of Power and turn to the section that mentions sundogs, and see what word the translator used!  Simple, right?


Yes, that is a Michael Whelan cover on the German edition

Click to see all the German versions.

Just one problem:

From The Language of Power, American edition:

The air had been too dry for snow, but the ground itself froze, as it often did, so that it crunched and crumbled beneath the feet, and two sun dogs, nearly as bright as the sun itself, stood in the sky, illusory companions of the true sun.

From Die Sprache der Macht :

Fur Schnee war die Luft zu trocken, aber der Boden war hart gefroren, sodass es unter den Fussen knirschte, und am Himmel stand eine grelle, milchige Sonne.

With some assistance from Google transate, as my German is shaky at best, this comes out as:

For snow, the air was too dry, but the ground was frozen solid, so it crunched under the feet, and in the sky stood a bright, milky sun.

Yep.  A conspicuous absence of sun dogs.

Now, I am not going to get all huffy about this, because:

a) I am a mid-list writer.  I get no respect.  Fact of life.

b) Translators of mid-list writers also get no respect.   It’s highly likely that the unfortunate translator had all four books dumped on her at once, and was told: “Here.  You’ve got two weeks.”   Or some similarly ridiculously impossibly short amount of time.  She probably came across the sun dog section, and said something like:  “WTF?  What’s a sun dog?  Things in the sky?  Makes no sense!   Should I look it up?  OMG, IS THAT THAT THE TIME?  I HAVE TO FINISH THIS BY 8AM TOMORROW I NEED THAT PAYCHECK!!  Sorry sun dogs, you’re history…”  People have to eat, folks.  I bear her no ill-will.

c) It’s outside of my control anyway.   But someday!   When I’m incredibly famous!  Some publisher (or me) will finance a highly accurate and gracefully artistic translation!   And some genius translator will make his or her fame by recreating in another language the sense and substance of (what Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010,by di Filippo and Broderick, calls) my “measured and alluring” prose.

d)  When I first submitted the book, one of my editors at Del Rey/Ballantine/Random House suggested that I cut the mention of sun dogs;  I said that I preferred to keep it, since sun dogs as bright as the ones Rowan saw are generally only seen in very cold locations, and I wanted to give the reader some authentic details of what it would be like in  the Red Desert in winter.  We decided to keep it. So, the translator merely accomplished what might have been, under other circumstances, if I had a hardnosed grouchy editor, instead of the amazing Betsy Mitchell and the wonderful Shelly Shapiro.

and e) What the heck.

But, of course…I can’t help wondering if anything else was left out.   Oh, I’m certain something was, possibly several somethings.   The sun dogs were not critically important; but, how can the translator know what is or is not critically important, without knowing what’s going to happen in the rest of the series?   Really, I plant a lot of seemingly-unimportant, seemingly-off-hand things that later pay off two, three, or even four books later.    She left out the sun dogs… Gosh did she leave out the mumble mumble smfff mmf mumble?  That would be terrible!

PS: The correct German term for sun dog is Nebensonne.

PPS: no library today, as I had to do some necessary shopping.   I hate shopping.  Except for books. And toys!   And paper goods of any sort.