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Sue Burke
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25th-Nov-2015 12:59 pm - “The Thinkers,” by Liu Cixin
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If you enjoyed The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, the novel that won the 2015 Hugo award, you might enjoy this short story.

It was translated by Joel Martinsen at Paper Republic, a website dedicated to Chinese literature in translation. Martinsen has also translated The Dark Forest, the sequel to The Three Body Problem.

This is a story about the links between thinkers, and about the sun and stars:


— Sue Burke
Authors including Chaucer, Edgar Allan Poe, and Agatha Christie have used unreliable narrators: a story told by someone who can’t be trusted. That person may be lying, mentally ill, excessively playful, boastful, forgetful, immature, naive, contradictory, drunk, drugged, confused, prone to misjudgement, or motivated by a hidden agenda. This kind of story can often end with a twist.

If you need an idea for an unreliable narrator, here are a few ideas:

• This is a wannabe heroic story about someone who is convinced that aliens have landed and infiltrated society, and who wants to force them to reveal themselves and take over the Earth, since humans have messed things up so badly.

• This is a reincarnation story about a child in a very troubled family; from time to time, memories of a normal life seem to rain down on her until it becomes a storm that drenches her with what seems like strength.

• This is a story told by a computer desperately trying to pass the Turing test by recounting the events of the previous day, but in some ways it is more intelligent than a human and has difficulty hiding that fact.

And now this monthly series, Go Ahead – Write This Story, will come to an end. Since 2011 I’ve been offering short writing tips and three ideas on every third Thursday. You now have 50 tips and 150 ideas, and that should keep you busy for a while.

— Sue Burke

14th-Nov-2015 04:04 pm - Rejections: Don’t just say no
I have a post in the Red Sofa Literary Agency’s NaNoWriMo series. It's about rejections. Sometimes they’re fun.


It comes with a kitten -- just for you.

— Sue Burke

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In front of Spain's National Library in Madrid, a statue of Miguel de Cervantes stands with one foot resting on a pair of books. One of them is spine-out, and we can read its title: Amadís de Gaula (Amadis of Gaul).

That book tells the story of Amadis, from the fictional kingdom of Gaul, who was the greatest knight in the world. This Spanish novel of chivalry, written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo and published in 1508, became Europe's first best-seller. It was reprinted nineteen times, translated into seven languages, spawned forty-four direct sequels in several languages, and fueled an entire genre that lasted a century. Most notably, around 1600, it inspired Don Quixote of La Mancha. The second half of Don Quixote was published 400 years ago on November 5, 1615.

In many ways, Cervantes satirizes (or pays homage to) that tale, including a characteristic element of novels of chivalry that began with Amadis of Gaul. An earlier version of Amadis had existed since the 1300s in the form of a three-book novel, but Montalvo's edition was different, as he explains in his prologue:

"I corrected these three books of Amadis, such as they could be read, due to poor writers or very corrupt and dissolute scribes, and I translated and added a fourth book and a sequel, Sergas de Esplandián, which until now no one has seen. By great good fortune, a manuscript was discovered in a stone tomb beneath a hermitage near Constantinople, and it was brought by a Hungarian merchant to eastern Spain in such ancient script and old parchment that it could only be read with much difficulty by those who knew the language."

Of course, Montalvo himself wrote the fourth book and Sergas de Esplandián (Exploits of Espandian). Why lie about it? Because, as he himself put it, the novel "had been considered rank fiction rather than chronicles." By proclaiming it an ancient story and perhaps even forgotten history rather than fiction, it could obtain the status of works by Homer and Cicero.

He doesn't seem to have fooled anyone, but he did set a pattern. Supposedly, the manuscript for the sequel Lisuarte de Grecia (Lisuarte of Greece) by Juan Díaz (1514) had been written in Greek in Constantinople and taken to Rhodes when the city fell to the Ottomans. Amadis de Grecia (Amadis of Greece) by Feliciano de Silva (1530) had been found in a wooden box behind a wall in a cave in Spain, hidden during the Moslem invasion in 711. Silves de la Selva (Silves of the Jungle) by Pedro de Luján (1546) was encountered in the magical sepulcher of Amadis himself, written in Arabic.

And so on. Manuscripts were discovered in distant castles and during voyages to far-off lands. Some were written in Hungarian, Latin, Tuscan, German, Chaldean, and "Indian" (Sanskrit, perhaps). A few were even supposedly written by characters from earlier novels.

Among the many jokes in Don Quixote whose punchline we have forgotten today is the one in Chapter IX. It recounts how, in a market in Toledo, a boy was selling some old paper to be reused. Cervantes looked at one of the pieces of paper, a pamphlet, and it turned out to be part of the History of Don Quixote of La Mancha, written in Arabic by Cide Hamete Benengeli. He purchased a translation of the pamphlets for two pecks of raisins and two bushels of wheat. This discovered manuscript, Cervantes claimed, became the basis of the rest of the first part of his novel.

Rather than being found in some exotic place after a search filled with drama, difficulty, and great cost, Don Quixote was rescued from the garbage and translated on the cheap.

Besides that satire in Quixote, there's another joke based on one of Montalvo's books that we've forgotten to laugh at. An imaginary island described in Exploits of Esplandian overflowed with gold and was ruled by a califa. Spanish conquistadors had read many novels of chivalry and sometimes compared the wonders of the New World to the marvels in those books, but when they sailed up the western coast of what we now call Mexico, they found a place that offered little besides rocks and condors. To entertain themselves, they started calling that barren land after the fabulously rich island in the book: "California."

Despite being almost forgotten, Montalvo's books have made their mark on the world.

— Sue Burke

Also published at my professional website, http://www.sue.burke.name. In addition, it appeared in the Fall 2015 issue (pdf) of The Source, a quarterly publication of the American Translators Association Literary Division.

Keep Calm
The anthology Spanish Women of Wonder has met its Kickstarter goal. Spanish women destroy science fiction!

Now it's time for the stretch goals....


28th-Oct-2015 12:21 pm - "Summer Home" at StarShipSofa
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You can hear my short-short story "Summer Home" being read magnificiently by J. S. Arquin in today's StarShipSofa podcast:


27th-Oct-2015 02:30 pm - Spanish Women of Wonder Kickstarter
Back in January, I reviewed the Spanish anthology Alucinadas and the reasons behind it. More women are writing science fiction in Spanish than ever, and it was a chance to show what they could do.

The result was an outstanding anthology. In fact, it’s been nominated for Best Anthology in the Ignotus Awards, which will be presented at Spain’s national science fiction convention this coming weekend in Granada. (I’ll be there.)

This great book is only available in Spanish, but that can change. A Kickstarter campaign is trying to collect enough money to translate it under the title Spanish Women of Wonder. If you back it, you’ll get ten original stories plus a delightful tale from the novel Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer.

Full disclosure: I’ll be the translator. I’m excited by the chance to bring these stories by women I know and admire to English-language readers. And now, with 10 days remaining, the project has raised €3,495 of its goal of €4000. Only €505 ($557 USD) to go!

Become a backer – and get some great rewards in addition to your copy of Spanish Women of Wonder.

— Sue Burke

22nd-Oct-2015 04:21 pm - How should we review translations?
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I weigh in briefly on that question, along with Maia Evrona. I conclude that being invisible -- completely ignored by reviewers -- might not be so bad. Maia says there are two kinds of readers and two kinds of reviewers, those who ignore translators and those who feel cheated by them.

Read all about it in this entry in the Asymptote Journal blog:


-- Sue Burke

Let me see..
These days writers often indicate a transition simply by leaving a blank line (or in manuscripts, three asterisks) between paragraphs, but there are other techniques that can substitute for or strengthen the blank line transition.

• An expression like “today” or “the first time” or “when summer came” can indicate that time has passed.
• A word, concept, or object can appear in one scene and in the next one, but something about it has changed.
• Just a hint of foreshadowing (“I’ll meet you there”) can prepare the reader for the next scene.
•  An activity taking place in one scene can be completed at the start of the next scene.
• An evolving emotion in a character can show a change in time or place.

If you want to try out techniques, here’s a few story ideas you can use:

• This is a Hollywood blockbuster in which a terraformer plans to speed her work along by knocking a water-laden comet toward Mars, while someone else wants to aim it somewhere else as a weapon.

• This is a martial arts movie about a sorcerer who accepts the challenge to end a drought caused by a hallucinating mountain spirit.

• This is a magical realism story about someone who feels naked walking down the street while everyone else is wearing the rules of their lives for all to see.

— Sue Burke

14th-Oct-2015 12:54 pm - How do you read?
Not long ago, I picked up a magazine, started reading, and the words made no sense.

I stopped, confused. I have magazines in both English and Spanish in my house, but I know those languages. There should have been no problem. I took another look. The magazine was in English, but I had been reading it in Spanish.

Then I remembered something I learned in typographical design. In English, we read mostly by the shape of the word, not by the letters one at a time. The letters themselves don’t always signify a lot: every rule of spelling and phonics has too many exceptions. Words are what matter, and English-language readers naturally learn to decode whole words at a time.

But Spanish is written phonetically. I can look at any word, even if I’ve never seen it before, and pronounce it correctly. When I read, I sound out the letters one by one because that’s the most efficient reading strategy for that language. The sounds naturally add up to the word.

That’s what I was doing with English: reading letter by letter as if it were Spanish. The result was gibberish. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that I used different techniques for different languages. I just read.

I wonder how it works for other languages – say Japanese, which uses adapted Chinese characters, two kinds of syllabaries, and occasionally the Latin alphabet. How do its readers approach the complex task of decoding that kind of text?

— Sue Burke

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