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Set the dial for…1972!

by nickmamatas

The other day while poking around a used bookstore I found and bought a copy of Best Science Fiction for 1972, Frederik Pohl, ed. I was born in 1972, see, so this sort of thing is interesting to me. Among the stories chosen for this best-of annual was work by Harlan Ellison (two stories!), James Tiptree Jr., and Larry Niven.

And Ryu Mitsuse. “The Sunset, 2217 AD” was translated from the Japanese by Judith Merril (who we are told “had to learn a good deal of the Japanese language”) Tetsu Yano (who “had to acquire a whole new vocabulary of special terms.”) Pohl explained in his introduction that he had a number of stories he hoped to translate for this anthology, but the obstacles were simply too great. Pohl said, “Translating a science-fiction story is almost like translating a poem: you don’t so much put it into another language as you recreate it from scratch.” And here Pohl was speaking of the stories whose translations from Italian, German, and Russian were ultimately unsuccessful. Mitsuse’s story, from “a language so different that even the simple words used in counting from one to five cannot be simply translated by substituting words” was an even greater translation challenge, and one luckily met by two translators working in tandem.

I was impressed at how even today little has changed. Over the course of my life, translated science fiction remained a challenge nearly insurmountable despite the quality of the original work. Luckily I have a great pool of translators to chose from thanks to the rise of manga and video games. However, at the risk of comparing myself to the immortal Judith Merril, I still must do a fair amount of heavy lifting in the editorial stage. Translating Japanese SF certainly seems to me to still take two: an excellent translator of Japanese and someone well-versed in science fictional concepts.

Thirty-eight years later, incidentally, “The Sunset, 2217 AD” still holds up. It’s the story of a cyborg revolt on a Mars colony, but is contemplative and sad rather than good ol’ rock’em sock’em action. Shira-i, a former captain now crippled and obsolete, is reduced to selling photos of an Earthrise over a Martian city to credulous tourists. The photos, we are assured early on, are fake—a montage of the famous photo of the Earthrise over the Moon and a Martian skyline. The emotional reality of life as a cyborg pieced together from flash-frozen body parts and aging equipment limns every translated sentence. I’d be pleased to publish Ryu Mitsuse today. Stay tuned, maybe some classics are in the offing…

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17 Responses to “Set the dial for…1972!”

  1. la_nausicaa says:

    I would like to read Mitsuse. Please can you publish some of Kenzaburo Oe’s sci fi?

  2. Eric Searleman says:

    Maybe Haikasoru will eventually consider publishing an annual collection of short stories from Japan? I’d like that very much.

  3. Sean Wallace says:

    You should translate and reprint 百億の昼と千億の夜! (Ten Billion Days and Hundred Billion Nights)

  4. Eric Searleman says:

    Mitsuse’s Ten Billion Days is on the top of my wish list too.

  5. Julia S. says:


    Tetsu Yano sounds like an interesting person both as translator and writer (at least, from his Wikipedia entry). He also seems to have been in the SF field for 20+ years by 1972, so I find Pohl’s comments to be odd–surely he understood the SF “concepts” well enough if he translated Heinlein and Asimov into Japanese.

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by NMamatas: I talk about translating Japanese SF from the year I was born: http://www.haikasoru.com/science-fiction/set-the-dial-for1972/ #haikasoru…

  7. [...] week! We’ll be posting links, starting with Nick Mamatas over at the Haikasoru blog in Set the Dial for… 1972! I was impressed at how even today little has changed. Over the course of my life, translated [...]

  8. Carrie says:

    I should actually open the Best of 1978 antho I bought because it was my birth year sometime.

  9. Marc McKenzie says:

    Very interesting blog…one of gripes I’ve always heard is, “Well, why haven’t they translated the book (or story) yet?”. The simple truth is that it is never easy to do, and with Japanese, that is even tougher. Great point in bringing up Pohl, since this man is a living legend and SF grandmaster.

    That said, there is a good amount of translated Japanese SF out now, as opposed to years ago, when all you could find was the occasional short story (as part of a collection) or a novel, such as Komatsu’s NIHON CHINBOTSU (JAPAN SINKS).

  10. ExcuseMe says:

    I love Mitsuse Ryu(光瀬龍)!
    Perhaps, the most important works in his full length novel are“Tasogare ni Kaeru”(「たそがれに還る」,“It Returns to Twilight”?)“Hyakuoku no Hiru to Senoku no Yoru”(「百億の昼と千億の夜」,“Ten Billion Days and a Hundred Billion Nights”)“Ushinawareta Toshi no Kiroku”(「喪われた都市の記録」,“Records of Lost Cities”?). These three all are sad stories. They draw all the failures from it with the resistance of the human race to the decline.
    Moreover, I enjoyed“Seitou Totoku Fu”(「征東都督府」,I cannot translate),“Genei no Ballade”(「幻影のバラード」,“Ballade of Phantasm”?),“Shin Miyamoto Musashi”(「新宮本武蔵」,“New Miyamoto Musashi”?),“Tamonji Toubatsu”(「多聞寺討伐」,“Subjugation Tamonji Temple”?).

    Pardon me for being poor in English.

  11. ExcuseMe says:

    I love “Hyakuoku no Hiru to Senoku no Yoru”(「百億の昼と千億の夜」,“Ten Billion Days and a Hundred Billion Nights”).
    But I think that “Ten Billion Days and a Hundred Billion Nights” (「百億の昼と千億の夜」) has one problem to publish in the USA. Jesus Christ is an enemy of mankind in its story.
    I fear the protest.

    Pardon me for being poor in English.

  12. nickmamatas says:

    Aw, that’s okay ExcuseMe. Lots of people might be interested in reading such a story, even if many more would find that theme upsetting. After all, we only need to sell thousands of copies of our books, not necessarily millions. (Though if millions open their wallets, I’d be happy…)

  13. ExcuseMe says:

    If you will publish classics, I hope that you pick up Mitsuse Ryu(光瀬龍), Komatsu Sakyo(小松左京), Tsutsui Yasutaka(筒井康隆), Aramaki Yoshio(荒巻義雄), Hirai Kazumasa(平井和正), Hanmura Ryo(半村良), Mayumura Taku(眉村卓), Hoshi Shinichi(星新一), Kyoudomari Aran(今日泊亜蘭), Yamada Masaki(山田正紀), Yamao Yuuko(山尾悠子), Kanbe Musashi(かんべむさし), Kawamata Chiaki(川又千秋), Yumemakura Baku(夢枕獏), and Ohara Mariko(大原まり子).
    Moreover, I hope that you pick up Yumeno Kyusaku(夢野久作), Yamada Futaro(山田風太郎), Betsuyaku Minoru(別役実), Inoue Hisashi(井上ひさし), Mitamura Nobuyuki(三田村信行), and Shibata Katsumo(芝田勝茂) in the writer in the field outside SciFi.

    Pardon me for being poor in English.

  14. nickmamatas says:

    Hello again! You might be interested to know that Tsutsui Yasutaka is actually already published in English by a mainstream (that is, not science fiction) publisher. Over here, he is seen as somewhat similar to Haruki Murakami, or at least his books that are more “literary” are the ones publishers have brought over. I would certainly like to publish one or more of his fantasies one day.

  15. Daniel H. says:

    I’m a little surprised that no one has translated “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.” It’s a short novella, it’s written in a very clear young-adult style, and the recent anime movie was made as a sequel to it.

  16. jeff says:

    Sunset 2217 is a wonderful story abash in local (Mars) color. Similar to Zelazny with a dash of early Delany. Any information on other works of Ryu Mitsuse translated into english would be appreciated.

  17. nickmamatas says:


    Funny you should ask! Some of the older comments up above may hint at what I’m editing for a release later this year…(you can also check amazon to see what I mean.) We’ll have more details soon!

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