The Dreamer in the Citadel by Esther Rochon

by Sören Heim

The Dreamer in the Citadel by Quebecois writer Esther Rochon might be an overlooked masterpiece.
~
The first positive impression Esther Rochon's The Dreamer in the Citadel makes: It is short. Seriously: some time ago, maybe after the fantasy-revival surrounding the hype of Harry Potter, publishers (and some authors too) seemed to have decided that fantasy can only be marketed effectively in huge multi-volume novels, modeled roughly after the genre-defining Lord of the Rings but with each volume being about the size of the original Ring cycle.

A Book is not a Turkey


Rochon wrote Dreamer in the 1970s, long before fantasy became "epic by default", so her dense about 170 pages of prose are not a sign of an explicit rebellion against the fantastic mainstream. But still: brevity slightly raises the chances of encountering a good book beneath the covers. Few subjects in world literature actually call for door-stoppers of several thousand pages. Hence, many fantasy novels necessarily contain a lot of filling, and since a book is not a turkey, that rarely adds to literary quality.

But Dreamer actually also makes a great second impression. In the first chapter, we are entering a vibrant pub, presumably within a large city. We are listening in to a mysterious conversation between some guy, who claims to have sealed some forgotten temple containing the statue of some widely ignored ocean-god named Haztlén so well that nobody will be able to enter it, and a young woman, who is mostly wondering what strange pickup routine she is witnessing here. And why isn't that guy finally trying to bed her? Instead, being still more mysterious and then leaving the story forever, the guy reports: "This temple had no door. I constructed one. No one can open it".

He then asks the woman to let some time pass and then tell the rulers of the state of Vrénalik that they are no longer in the grace of Haztlén, that the state will fall and not return to previous glory until the statue of Haztlén is retrieved. The woman complies eventually.

A Mediterranean flavour


Walls and reclusion versus social and spiritual openness stay an important subject throughout the second chapter, which reflects the first one from the woman's perspective (we also learn her name, Trinit-Tayinn, and that the name of her counterpart is "of no importance", as, frankly, it turns out hers is too). The World of Vrénalik is developed in the background, but in an elusive way which quite reminds me of Algeria in Camus' L'Etranger – more dreamscape than landscape, only to be sensed in short fragments of thought and speech. This Vrénalik has a Mediterranean feel to it. Rochon, and this makes Dreamer quite special, does not tell the story in order to build a world but tells a story which evokes a world. Maybe I am only thinking of Camus because I read the thing in French (there is a German translation and a single article on the web also mentions an English one, so locating an English copy might be an interesting quest for fantasy lovers), but the book's language, the plot, which could be a pseudo-realistic narration of a magical occurrence as well as a parabola, and also the absurdity of the opening scenario - building an indestructible door for an already sealed temple - leads me to speculate whether the world's most well-known interpreter of Sisyphus did not really have a distinct influence on Rochon (naturally, there is no literature on the subject).

All quite well. But what is the book about?

The Dreamer in the Citadel… tells the story of Skern Strénid, ruler of Vrénalik and the people of the Asven, who live on the Archipelago of the same name and the surrounding islands. One day Skern imprisons the magically sensitive "Paradrouïm" Shaskath in his Citadel in the capital Frulken, and makes him become a so-called dreamer with the help of a special drug. That way, Shaskath shall influence the weather in his dreams and protect the trading flotilla, which is crucial to Vrénalik's wealth.
That's my paraphrase of the plot as summarised in the German Bibliotheka Fantastika. This plot is a lot more straightforwardly developed from the third chapter onward, but it never becomes a typical (and from the sound of it rather trashy) fantasy plot, due to the narrative style which regularly shifts perspective from character to character and that way allows for a multifaceted view of Vrénalik's social, geographical and economical order.

Power politics, drugs & "race"


The story next follows Ftar, who has been ordered to Frulken as an expert on drugs. He is to supervise the dreamer while getting high. But is Skern's project (within the standards of a society maybe somewhere between Sparta and the Roman empire) legitimate? Or is he just trying to weaken the group of the "Paradrouïm", which are considered socially inferior in Vrénalik? Is this power politics? And if so: Is power politics necessarily a bad thing? What readers are led to think about this and other subjects rapidly changes over time as Ftar is talking to people in Frulken, without Rochon making much of a fuzz about it. Many fantastical novels, among them the notorious A Song of Ice and Fire, aim at ambivalence and, well, shades of grey within their world. Here this is actually achieved, and without putting up a huge sign reading "see how grim and dark and ambivalent I am".

Notable: while Vrénalik seems to be a society of social and ethnic prejudice, Rochon refrains from constructing "races" (Paradrouïm also is more of a lifestyle people are partly choosing, partly forced to "choose"). This lets her avoid a typical trap of anti-racist fantasy, which often fails, since Orcs, Elves and others just are that different, that maintaining race distinctions sometimes appears to be a reasonable choice. Who wouldn't be sceptical of Harry Potter's Goblins, who are extremely handy with money, very focused on trade and have a very strange idea of what constitutes "property" … You see where this is going. Anti-racism doesn't work if you actually perpetuate all the stereotypes you are trying to "deconstruct".

An anticlimatic prophecy


Aloofly, often actually in a dreamlike tone Rochon leads us further through her narrative. We follow several (more or less) point-of-view-characters, like the rebellious Paradrouïm Joril, and Inalga de Bérilis, one of Skern's spouses and a great informant on sex and social life in the higher circles of Vrénalik. Vrénalik, that way, begins to feel very real to the reader, the order of production, the position of art in different social structures, sexuality within and out of monogamous relationships are glimpsed at mostly through dialogues, short impressions and actions within the world. Rochon writes her world as if we already knew it, which makes Vrénalik in all its lack strict of auctorial description much more of a country that could actually be than overly encyclopedic fantastic worlds in the style of Tolkien's Middle Earth. A simple but poetic language, carried by few strong reoccurring motifs makes reading quite enjoyable, and the mysterious enclosed temple reappears just in the right moment, shortly before readers forget it as many Asven did – first as an image, then as an actual site. And the dark prophecy is fulfilled – but in a way that as much challenges as reinforces the notion that there could be something like an inevitable fate.

The novel ends with a daring anticlimax: The last 20 or 30 pages paint a detailed, nearly lyrical picture of the still closed temple of Haztlén, and gathers some legends surrounding the statue of the god. What does that tell us? Is Vrénalik of out of the ocean-god's grace for ever? Does nature triumph while humanity is just a passing dream? But then again: Isn't the statue man-made? And it might, Rochon suggests, not even be a statue of Haztlén, but of a once imprisoned poet who wrote the epics of a people fought by the Asven a long time ago (an image which does not coincidentally to some extent mirror that of the dreamer). In the end The Dreamer in the Citadel poses more new questions then are answered in the book, which I found quite enjoyable.

Some minor flaws


Are there weak sides? Sure. Sometimes that other French philosopher seems to break through and some of the more political dialogues have the ring of a preaching Jean Paul Sartre to them. In such scenes, protagonists tend to view the social antagonisms they are bound to a little too clearly. Be it ruler, craftsman or docker, everybody understands a little too much of the workings of the political system and has a little too much understanding for the hardships it imposes. But those are short episodes, they don't shake the foundation of a compact, dense and quite artistic fantastic novel, which is all the while still an easy read (says this reviewer, who as mentioned above was able to enjoy Dreamer in French although he hasn't practiced that language in a long time).

It might be interesting to see whether Rochon was able to keep up the good work when she expanded Vrénalik in her 4 volume Cycle of Vrénalik, or if she had to make her dreamy world more concrete in the process. And whether she can avoid to fall victim to some of the typical traps of fantasy world-building.

Whoever wants to find out will definitely have to brush up on their French. As far as I can see most of the Vrénalik Cycle sadly is not available in any other language.
~

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~
Comments (go to latest)
Ichneumon at 19:46 on 2016-01-17
This strikes me as exactly the sort of thing that I would love to write, as well as something I wish I read more of. Particularly, that sort of dream-logic parallel going on between the image of Haztlén and the Paradrouïm dreamer, which is a device I have always been terribly keen on despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it drives a lot of very literal-minded people up a wall. "Ambiguity in the interpretation of a text wherein magic is at work and not 100% explained? Urizen forbid! Heresy!"

I will quibble about Rowling's intent with the goblins, but I'm not sure how *much* I want to quibble here, because I can easily see taking it that way and I think that's half the problem.
Michal at 01:15 on 2016-01-18
(there is a German translation and a single article on the web also mentions an English one, so locating an English copy might be an interesting quest for fantasy lovers)

The unfortunate thing with Quebecois SFF is that you'd think there would be English translations readily available, but the interest of the anglophone Canadian publishing industry in translating that stuff was (and to a large extent still is) virtually nil. I'm almost certain an English version was never released.

I remember reading about Rochon in David Ketterer's Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, but that mostly focused on an analysis of The Shell.
Sören Heim at 07:27 on 2016-01-18
The unfortunate thing with Quebecois SFF is that you'd think there would be English translations readily available, but the interest of the anglophone Canadian publishing industry in translating that stuff was (and to a large extent still is) virtually nil. I'm almost certain an English version was never released.


Do you know why that is? It seems to me that smaller publishers would find a big "mine" of interesting material there... which just needs to be translatet.
Shim at 10:23 on 2016-01-18
Do you know why that is?


Anglophones have always been staggeringly lazy about translating material. There's always more native material out there, so why bother? The UK market doesn't bother translating from the Welsh or Gaelic, either. And translation is fairly hard work and expensive, so maybe smaller publishers don't think they'll recover the costs.

The recent explosion of translated manga is about the only exception I can think of, and that was surely helped by a big fan translation movement with a strong basis in anime. It doesn't show any particular sign of spreading, although there's some interest in depressing Swedish crime dramas these days. Generally TV and film seems to be much more popular, perhaps because the word count to translate is far lower.

What I don't know is whether things are getting translated, or whether the creators are pushing a translation themselves to try and catch the Anglophone market.
Arthur B at 11:13 on 2016-01-18
As someone who regularly has to get stuff translated for professional purposes, I should emphasise that Shim is correct: translation is expensive, and justifiably so, and more so than people expect, even in contexts like preparing technical documents where fine, elegant prose is not a priority and a simple explanation of what the document is talking about to a comparable level of precision as the original document is good enough.

I can only imagine how much more tricky it is to translate fiction, wherein quite often how something is written is just as important as what it actually says and the style of the prose may simultaneously be very, very important to the source text, and very, very difficult to convey outside of the original language due to its reliance on that particular language's cadences and grammatical structure and so on.

The localisations of the Dragon Quest games, for instance, move Heaven and Earth to get a good range of language-specific puns in there; a straight translation wouldn't work in that sense. A while back I reviewed the English translation of the first book in the Witcher series, and one of the issues with the book was that the prose was rather bland and lifeless; those who have read it in its original Polish seem to agree that the English rendition utterly fails to capture the tone. I really like Kalpa Imperial, but I shudder to think how it might have been butchered if it had been handed over to a translator with less flair for English prose than Ursula Le Guin.

Translation is a really substantial additional cost to put on top of the usual costs of publishing a book, and as Shim points out if you are publishing in a language which has millions of speakers or readers then you are quite likely to have a large pool of enthusiastic authors who are native speakers and will be ecstatic to have you publish their stuff.
Sören Heim at 11:35 on 2016-01-18
True that translation is quite expensive (although translaters of fiction, at least in germany, can hardly live on their income) and for a moment I didn't think about how many writers there are who would even pay to get their stuff published, so that it is actually easier to build up a new author from scratch... On the other hand my thought was: There are so many enthusiasts in literature who, like me sometimes for example, will do such a translation for practically free (or as an investment, maybe such a book would actually sell), that maybe a smaller/enthusiast-publisher might take the risk. Then again of course I don't know how much the actual rights to translate Rochon cost, after all she is an award-winning author...
Arthur B at 12:03 on 2016-01-18
There are several problems with relying on enthusiasts:

- Enthusiasts working for free would tend to approach the matter as a hobby, not a job, which may mean that they end up missing deadlines and otherwise not giving it the level of care and attention you would expect from a professional, particularly if they have to drop the translation work due to the demands of their day job or personal life.

- Enthusiasts do not necessarily have very strong professional credentials, so it's hard to work out ahead of time who to give the job to.

- Unaccredited enthusiasts may work in more poetic licence than a professional would, to the detriment of the book. ("Well, even though it says X, it obviously means Y, so I'll put down X instead.")

- I can easily imagine an author being very, very cautious about consenting to translations of their work, because a botched translation could not only wreck all the craft they've put into it but also hurt their reputation in the field in question; they may genuinely prefer to forego the extra income from authorising the translation in order to avoid the risk of their work being mangled by the process. Saying "We'll take your novel and give it to a random hobbyist to translate" is only going to make them more cautious.

Those are just the issues off the top of my head, I'm sure there's more at work.
Sören Heim at 12:29 on 2016-01-18
All very true, too - although until I'd say the 1950s or maybe even 70s the enthusiast-translation was quite common in some fields of literature which nowadays are considered rather "high brow". Ezra Pound & Antonin Arthaud, later Charles Olson and some other modern poets for example trusted the not very well known German poet Rainer Maria Gerhard (not to be confused with Rilke) with their works, and without that little busybody maybe modernism would have reached german audiences much later ... I think Gerhard has more fans in the US today then in germany...
Also a professional translation does not necessarily mean good (still, most of the times better then fan-work - I am certainly not arguing for a "deprofessionalisation" of literature). Did any of you by any chance follow the controversy around the new German LotR-Edition (I think that was in the 90s)?
And there is the problem of an absolute masterpiece, which Rochon's Book is, I'd say, not being read outside of the (ok, rather large) francophone world.
Arthur B at 13:16 on 2016-01-18
I wasn't aware there was any controversy surrounding the German LotR - what happened?
Sören Heim at 13:34 on 2016-01-18
Basically the first translator Margaret Carroux, who was partially advised by Tolkien on the proper translation of names (for example the now established "Elben" for Elves instead of "Elfen" which would make German readers think rather of pixies) translated the whole book in a very formal, "oldfashioned" style, which many readers liked but did not very much reflect the different speech patterns and registers Tolkien assigned to his various people. The new translator, Wolfgang Krege, in 2000 (I looked it up now) tried to fix that problem, but many think he went much too far. He has the Hobbits call Aragon "hey boss" (chef) on various occasions, parts of the book seem to have gotten to colloquial, and I think he once uttered that he wanted to translate the book into a language Tolkien "would use if he wrote the book today". I don't think it's as bad as some say it is, but the Krege-Version gets a lot of criticism, and at least partly well deserved
Arthur B at 13:42 on 2016-01-18
I can see the problem, because the hobbits basically talk like Tolkien's middle-class contemporaries and their employees (literally, since apparently the internal politics of the Shire were a very obtuse spoof of internal politics at Merton College) whereas by the time you get deep in the third book half the people they encounter talk like refugees from the Eddas or the Kalevala. Distinguishing the speech patterns is important, but making the hobbits go informal to that extent ends up inadvertently transforming their society.

When Shim and I play D&D we have an established running joke of Hhbbits being various varieties of lowbrow sorts (I've run games featuring Juggalo hobbits before, and my current player character is a hobbit thief inspired mostly by Danny DeVito's character in It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia), so I'm not averse to making them a bit less stuffy. But actually taking the stuffiness out of the source text goes beyond translation and enters the territory of a flat-out rewrite.
Sören Heim at 14:03 on 2016-01-18
Yes, the translation problem with Tolkien is far from trivial, Krege was on to something but went to far (and maybe underestimated young readers). I don't think the german publisher will give it a third try, though.

I have to get a hold of the german Rochon translation in order to determine whether that is at least any good.
Shim at 14:06 on 2016-01-18
I'm a hobbyist translator, so I know a little bit about this.

I agree with basically all of Arthur's points. One of the reasons the big paying field in translation is business is that businesses really need translations doing, and doing well, so they're prepared to pay for it. Literature... there's always some more coming along, at least in major languages. So literary translation seems to mostly consist of:
* big hits from major languages translated professionally into other major languages as a commercial venture (Harry Potter, Naruto et al)
* big hits from major languages translated into minor languages as a cultural project, often financed by language boards and other cultural bodies
* classics translated for mostly scholarly interest

I translate out-of-copyright stories into a minority language and put them on the internet; I might eventually get them collected, edited and published by the language board. I'm now in the middle of a translation for a minor contemporary work, but I actually know the author personally, and I've got some credentials in the form of words of support (but not actual support) from the language board.

I have translated one chapter from a published book. It was super-relevant for my community, and I approached the authors directly. The authors were supportive (it's all about minority languages), but I had to get a publisher's licence. There was literally no possibility of the publisher ever contemplating a translation for my language, so it's not a commercial issue. Nevertheless, they asked for (as best I remember) £200 up front for permission to translate it and host it on my website.

The absolute maximum potential readership was around 2000, the plausible maybe 100 or so at most. £200 for a hobby project for the community on top of time and effort? I didn't have that. Thankfully, the authors intervened after I send them an apologetic email to say I wouldn't be able to go ahead. I still needed a licence, and have to apply for a new licence whenever I move the site.

I do think brand protection must be a major concern though, and for fiction authors more so than non-fiction (the authors took a gamble that my work couldn't do any harm, which was good odds really with so few possible readers). If someone produces a garbled version of a French work, particularly in a major language like English, the zeitgeist will have "Author X is bad" floating around, and that could even harm French sales.
Shim at 14:31 on 2016-01-18
Yes, the translation problem with Tolkien is far from trivial

Yeah, I can see that. One of the toughest issues I'm facing is adequately translating a text which makes good use of authentic colloquial English (and English has a tradition of representing dialect and accent in certain ways) into a language with fewer variations and no existing way of representing them in writing.

Speaking of German translations, the translation of (I think) MacBest (Wyrd Sisters) literally translates "witches cut each other dead in the street", which all Germans I've asked so far agree isn't an idiom and leads to a very different idea.
Sören Heim at 14:34 on 2016-01-18
I don't want to say I'm not convinced, cause basically I am, to some extent it's just bugging me that I can't recommend a real great book to anybody not reading French. But on the other hand this is not like some minor poet only being available in the original, but feels to me, like, I don't know, if there weren't anything of - lets say Bruce Sterling - in german (there is only one Rochon novel in german, too, so its not much better here).
Arthur B at 14:36 on 2016-01-18
It's worth pointing out, of course, that £200 for a licence is actually extremely reasonable when you consider that administrating and overseeing a licence on the licensor's side isn't free: even if you have a boilerplate licence ready to hand, you still have to allocate time to checking up on what your licensee has done and making sure they've actually stuck to the rules you have set.

Of course, you can write off that cost if you don't bother to follow up and don't especially care whether or not the licensee abides by the licence terms. I don't know many authors who would be happy if their publisher treated their work with that little care.
Shim at 15:17 on 2016-01-18
It's worth pointing out, of course, that £200 for a licence is actually extremely reasonable


Oh, absolutely. And at the most basic level, you probably want to do some kind of check that you're not giving free rein to someone completely weird.

Unfortunately the problem is an imbalance. £200 is a reasonable amount for an organisation paying professionals for their time and skills. As an up-front cost for a hobbyist though, especially with no expectation of earning anything back, it's a significant barrier. I don't know what you could do about it though; it wouldn't be reasonable publishers to soak up costs whenever some random approaches them.
Shim at 15:18 on 2016-01-18
it's just bugging me that I can't recommend a real great book to anybody not reading French


Oh yeah, I'm with you. Lack of translations is a big shame all round. My solution is, of course, that everyone should go and learn more languages :)
Arthur B at 15:35 on 2016-01-18
As an up-front cost for a hobbyist though, especially with no expectation of earning anything back, it's a significant barrier. I don't know what you could do about it though; it wouldn't be reasonable publishers to soak up costs whenever some random approaches them.

Particularly when in the case of a minority language, the publisher might have a very limited number of people who would be even capable of doing the checking...
Sören Heim at 16:10 on 2016-01-18
Speaking of German translations, the translation of (I think) MacBest (Wyrd Sisters) literally translates "witches cut each other dead in the street", which all Germans I've asked so far agree isn't an idiom and leads to a very different idea


That doesn't sound like anything that even could be right in german :D
Janne Kirjasniemi at 16:15 on 2016-01-18
Interesting book and once again I'm sorry that my french is so poor. Though it might not be too late to change that!

Regarding translations, the swedish translation of LotR is rather famous for its problems, which even drew the ire of Tolkien himself.

Generally, this translation thing is interesting from the point of view of a member of a small language. This leads me to think, that one of the problems with this is that translated literature is a marginal market in english speaking countries and specfic marginal within that. Of course there are exceptions to this, like scandinavian crime fiction and some big names (nobel laureates and the like) of literature, especially from the bigger languages but it is hard for a translated title to sell well, at least in the US and I have heard similar talk from the UK, so extending this to the Canadian market might be justified. So, if there is a small market, publishers will take less risks, especially nowadays, when the industry is in a bit of a situation. Why the market is small, I do not really know.

Actually, I think the costs of translation would not be the greatest thing in this, as when all is said and done, those costs would be minor in comparison to marketing and printing the books. In an optimistic note, perhaps digitalization might make it profitable to put more translated works on the market. A translated work does have some advantages. It is already successful in a market, which proves that it is at least readable (cultural differences must be taken into account of course).

As to translation itself, it is true, that it is impossible to translate all the nuances of one language to another, but I would argue that in most cases, this is not a major hurdle and good literature translates astonishingly well, if done properly. It is more of a thing with poetry, but poetry does get translated too. Of course one might take the purists view, that the work cannot be understood without knowledge of those nuances, but that is too strict, even if it is true in a way. For example, in academic philosophy, people will discuss works of ancient greece in their work through scientific translations. Of course, if the work focuses on which ethics of Aristotle's is the primary one, you should be well versed in classical greece, but it is not necessary for general discussion. Similarly, if you are a scholar of Dostojevski, it would be a good idea to know russian, so as to not miss political nuances. But the works themselves are understandable as translations and are still impressive. With stuff like Shakespeare, I would argue that reading a translation is much more sensible than trying to work through the original.

In Finland, translated literature is necessary and a large part of the market, just for reasons of smallness and the finnish anguage output is just not so large and everybody knows that there are treasures found elsewhere. I've never actually read Tolkien in the original, although if I do end up reading it one more time, I think I'll do it in english. So Baggins is Reppuli and Bag End is Repunpää, for me. An elf is a haltia, a dwarf is a kääpiö, a halfling is puolituinen, an orc is örkki and a ring wraith is a sormusaave. But that translation is just lovely. Most of Elric and all of Howard I know only as translations. An extra benefit of it is that the finnish roleplaying scene has their own lingo, which is derived mostly from the finnish translation of LotR, which is nice. And has in my opinion benefited the strength of the culture, because we don't have to use barbarisms to refer to every little thing. I assume it is the same in other languages.

Sorry for the typos and other mistakes, I haven't the time to check.
Sören Heim at 19:19 on 2016-01-18
My solution is, of course, that everyone should go and learn more languages :)


That'd be my number 1 approach, too. but I think it will be easier just to buy the rights & translate all of Rochons work myself then getting my friends to polish or actually use their school-french. Even when I discover a great English book I just want people to read so much that I will force it on them I usually get a german copy if possible, to lend it around. A lot of people just won't read in a foreign language, it is considered "work".

So, if there is a small market, publishers will take less risks, especially nowadays, when the industry is in a bit of a situation. Why the market is small, I do not really know.


what I am still not sure about is whether it is really that much safer to try to build up new authors and hope one of them will sell well, than to try to get somebody translated, who has already proven she can be a success.

But I think that also varies from country to country and with their respective market situations in literature...
Janne Kirjasniemi at 19:49 on 2016-01-18
Well, I don't want to start speculating, but it might in part be a thing that the world of english language literature is just so large and prevalent, that it could be a bit of a linguistically insular thing too. When Sofi Oksanen's Puhdistus, or Purge, was published in English and she was promoting it in the UK, she was asked why she didn't just write it in English since she spoke it so well. The same question was asked from Leena Krohn in the US recently. As if language and literary expression was such a simple matter of choice. Of course, once again, there are people who can do this, like Joseph Conrad, Milan Kundera or Andreï Makine, but people feel better at home with certain languages, even if they are fluent in a second or a third one. But that the question is asked at all does give an impression of being a bit walled in with conceptions of language and literature. I have no idea how prevalent this sort of thought is, though, since I don't live in an english speaking country, and my time in the UK was spent as a university student, which I guess is a biased view of how people are.

I am kind of happy to live in a country, where everything is subtitled as a matter of course, except programming for pre-school kids, who might be illiterate. And that the majority of culture we are exposed to comes from other languages. Well mostly US now, but still.
Sören Heim at 12:02 on 2016-01-20
This strikes me as exactly the sort of thing that I would love to write, as well as something I wish I read more of. Particularly, that sort of dream-logic parallel going on between the image of Haztlén and the Paradrouïm dreamer, which is a device I have always been terribly keen on


@Ichneumon

completely forgot that I wanted to answer to that one. Maybe one should look for such books not too much in the classical fantasy sections, because of the incredible insistence on rules in part of the fandom & authors... Mongo Betis Novels for example mostly follow some kind of magical dream logic which is fascinating to flow along with but very hard to decipher. Gogols Dikanka/Mirgorod tales are a little bit like that, if you are up for something older&in a grown-up-fairy-tale style, and to a lesser extent some of Carpentiers works. And there was a very small russian novel I once read with a lot of weird stuff going on. Well, the protagonists were drunk most of the time, but dream is dream, isnt it? Don't remember the Name, though.
Sören Heim at 12:06 on 2016-01-20
Have to correct myself. It's off course not Beti, it's Ben Okri.
Jamie Johnston at 14:42 on 2016-01-23
Well there's one tiny 'plus' about the fact that the book is only available in French and German, which is that it meant I got to read the whole of your review!

That sounds weird. It's because normally if I'm going to read something I like to know as little as possible about it before I start. That means that if I'm reading a positive review and I get to the point of thinking 'Hmm, this sounds like something I might enjoy', I then have to stop reading the review! But in this case I knew I was safe because, however much I would like to read the book, I won't be able to. Hurray... :/
Sören Heim at 15:39 on 2016-01-23
Well there's one tiny 'plus' about the fact that the book is only available in French and German, which is that it meant I got to read the whole of your review!


Interesting perspective... Or you might still follow Shims suggestion & learn french ... or even german ;)
Jamie Johnston at 22:25 on 2016-01-23
Or you might still follow Shims suggestion & learn french ... or even german ;)

:) Alas I'm not as good at languages as Shim is. My French used to be passable but has mostly dried up from neglect. I've recently started learning Thai, and given my slow rate of language-acquisition I think that will probably keep me busy for some time! (I promise to tell Ferretbrain if I ever read any good SFF in Thai. Or Latin.)
Shim at 22:57 on 2016-01-23
Alas I'm not as good at languages as Shim is. My French used to be passable but has mostly dried up from neglect.

The eternal problem of the linguist :( My Chinese is very rusty now and I could really use it for work, but I'm struggling to get it back up to scratch.
Ichneumon at 08:10 on 2016-01-24
@Sören:

I do manage to find fiction that hits that sweet spot of strangeness mixed with clever worldbuilding, mostly outside of conventional fantasy avenues—I am well aware of Okri, although I do wish I were better acquainted than I am—but I am always happy to receive further recommendations, particularly of authors whose work I might not yet have encountered due to my somewhat excessive specialisation, genre-wise.

Pertaining to the topic of translation, there was a semi-recent issue of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal which I thought did something very clever which is, for all intents and purposes, probably impossible in a unified work: Rather than a single translator's interpretation throughout, the editors anthologised different translators' versions of different poems from numerous time periods alongside the original French text. My favourites, consistently, were Roy Campbell's, with "Le Chat (II)" being an all-time favourite of mine (and in the original), but I am aware that his interpretations paraphrase far more than many of the less beautiful versions.

I would also note Borges' attitude towards translation, and the difficulty of translating his work due to his use of curious if lovely turns of phrase in any language ("into the unanimous night") and words that, while common in Spanish and especially Rioplatense Spanish, have no real equivalent in English or many other languages (el memorioso).
Sören Heim at 18:46 on 2016-01-24
Ben Okri is the only modern author I know who balances in such an extreme way on the edge between magic and realism in the genre of the same name. Rushdie, Carpentier & other well known magic realists are much more on the realistic side, I feel ... so right now I really can't think of another writer to whom the dream logic statement applies to such an extent as Okri... maybe Bulgakow, but not quite.

Rather than a single translator's interpretation throughout, the editors anthologised different translators' versions of different poems from numerous time periods alongside the original French text.


for poetry I think that is maybe the best way to do it, adding listening-examples is a great idea to.
Ichneumon at 21:25 on 2016-01-25
Have you read anything by Leena Krohn? Tainaron: Mail from Another City is a fascinating read.

Really, just leafing through the VanderMeers' anthology The Weird is a great way to find very offbeat, somewhat twisted fantasy authors, although overall the book leans more towards surrealistic/absurd horror, as the title implies—which is absolutely no problem for me; that's what I went to it for—and some of the later entries seem a bit... well, experiments can fail, and some fail more impressively than others.
Sören Heim at 08:49 on 2016-01-26
Haven't read Tainaron yet, but what I find with a quick research sounds very interesting, I'll add that to my reading list.

I wasnt too convinced by my up to now only New Weird read, Perdido Street Station, which started out interesting and then fell completely apart... Going through the anthology might actually help sorting out what to read and what not, thanks.
Ichneumon at 08:31 on 2016-01-27
It's a great anthology, really insanely wide-ranging and all around huge—we're talking phonebook-sized here—with something for, well, not *every* taste, but every taste within the realm of "the weird." The New Weird is only a small part of that, although if you're like a more diverse, concise education in that school, the Leviathan anthologies from the Ministry of Whimsy Press are always a good place to start. While there is certainly some pretentious chaff, the majority is just strange and delightful.

Also, Michael Cisco. Just, always, Michael Cisco. I don't always love or even understand what the man is doing but he's never a dull read and, unlike Carlton Mellick and his ilk, he never seems like he's going out of his way to shock you, but he just does sometimes and it's lovely.
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