Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

Let’s get into some definitions.

First, translation – a speculative form.1 The translator-interpreter conveys meaning between one language and another––or between media, or between experiences, or between one genre of signifier and some other completely orthogonal genre of signifier––hopefully doing so in a “radically equitable” “exchange without loss.”2 

Second, science fiction a translation, or series of translations. The writer translates between reality as we currently understand it and any number of imagined ontologies, between what is and what can be, between final frontiers!3 The speculative writer is undoubtedly a translator-interpreter, too. 

Finally, reader – translator-interpreter4. The reader navigates the space between their specific reality and the imagined modes of being offered by the speculative, translated text (or signifier of another genre). 

As you probably know, the English word genre comes from the same Anglo-Norman and Middle French roots as the word gender; speculative writing and translating have long attempted to query and disrupt the boundaries of such conventional categorizations. 

The writers and translators in this issue, all of whom offer speculation as a foundational substrate or as central to their work, seem uninterested in categorization. In fact, I didn’t separate our published works by genre, as is our usual convention, because many of the pieces defied easy labels. 

Evelyn Murdock jumps between prose, poetry, Python, speculative Python, visual art, and language register with a translational virtuosity in an excerpt from “ARTMACHINA!”5 Essam M. Al-Jassim’s poetic translation of Ayah Raafat’s flash fiction “The Maze” questions gendered convention and  the cyclical, translational, and speculative nature of parenting. Andrea Zelaya’s translation of her own work, “Lives Hidden,” straddles slipstream between prose poetry and flash fiction, and casts a shadow, as much of the best science fiction does, on our shared reality. Siloh Radovksy’s “Chocolat” is almost indescribable in terms of genre as it shimmers between the recounting of a shared cultural phenomenon, an essay, dreamlike fiction, and self-aware punchline. “Speechless Mountain,” by Dr. Kanakalata Hathi and translated by Suchona Patnaik, again visits the peculiar fraught territory of parenthood and brings a new lens to love. Phoebe Carter’s translations of Laura Yasan’s “organic chemistry” and “prelude in b sharp” dance in the specialized vocabulary of science and medicine as they translate emotion into empirical imagery. And Clara Dawson’s “UNTIL THE COWS COME HOME,” through its evocative use of postapocalyptic and revolutionary lexica, translates dire science fiction narrative tropes into a new, and hopeful, speculative synthesis.   

I also want to thank Lorena Espinoza, Nolan Dannels, Klara Feenstra, and Joel Burke for their tireless editorial work during the 2018-2019 Alchemy season. 

Iliria Osum

  1. I’m borrowing the idea of translation as a form from Walter Benjamin’s The Translator’s Task.
  2. George Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 319. 
  3. That translation may boldly go where no one has gone before, etc., etc.
  4. The idea of reader-as-translator comes from Gayatri Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York: Routledge, 1993) p. 197, though “translator-interpreter” is still from Steiner.
  5. I also just realized I’m borrowing these footnotes from Evelyn’s piece, ARTMACHINA! Perhaps you’d be so kind as to call it translating form between cross-genre narrative and epistolary nonfiction?