Aliette de Bodard on Non-Western/Non-Anglophone Science Fiction

Earlier this year Norman Spinrad's Asimov's column "Third World Worlds" stirred up a good portion of the speculative fiction community. Anyone who missed out on that explosion can see my original post on the subject. Be sure to also check out the comments and links below my post for more information.

Now the Sept. 2010 Asimov's presents an excellent response to Spinrad's views in the form of Aliette de Bodard's latest Thought Experiments column. Titled The View from the Other Side: Science Fiction and Non-Western/Non-Anglophone Counties, the column's introduction touches on the Spinrad controversy. However, Aliette herself focuses beyond Spinrad to present an excellent summary of world science fiction.

The most controversial part of Aliette's essay is likely to be her ideas on why so little world SF is being translated for Western cultures. To quote: "There is plenty of SF being translated from English into other languages, but little of it that makes its way into Western Anglophone countries." Aliette believes that this gap results from the cultural domination of the West, and of the United States in particular. She discusses how at the time of the Tang dynasty from the seventh to tenth century AD, when China was at its height of power, China exported its culture across the region but took very little in the ways of culture back into itself. The same when France was at the height of its power.

Aliette believes that since the U.S. has been the dominate world power since the middle of the 20th century, this dominate culture is following a similar track as the earlier Chinese and French and not bringing much of outside culture into itself.

This might very well be part of the reason so little non-Western SF is translated into the United States. However, I also wonder whether or not the immense size of the U.S.--over 300 million people spread across a massive landmass containing many separate cultural regions and identities--also adds to that isolation. China went through this same thing many times in their history. Not only were they for long stretches the dominant culture in their region, they were so large and contained so many cultures within their realm that they could ignore the need to look at cultural ideas outside their borders.

It's hard to say whether any of these ideas are true, but Aliette has presented a fascinating thought experiment. I suggest people go read it.