Lois McMaster Bujold
October 17, 1997
I thought you would be interested to know that your books are gaining popularity in Russia.
Yes, indeed. Thank you for your interest in my work!
Labeling your Vorkosigan Saga "sci-fi", the publishing industry deprives many people of the pleasure of reading it.
I mean people who don't usually read science-fiction. I, for one, would not call Shards of Honor or Barrayar "science fiction" but only "fiction", don't you agree?)
Well, yes, but I'm prejudiced. *I* certainly think I'm writing novels. The genre label acts as a mental barrier in the US, too, alas. The only thing that boosts my books over the wall of misconception seems to be word-of-mouth -- such as they way you found them, courtesy of your friends. I am very grateful so many people do recommend my work to each other.
Being Russian myself, I first encountered your books there, on a short two-week visit last winter. My friends gave me Shards of Honor (a translation, of course) when I had to take a train to another town. Well, I almost missed my station then! I loved it!!
I had a wonderful fan letter from a Canadian woman, who was reading SHARDS while standing in line at the bank, and failed to notice the armed robbery which took place in the line ahead of her...
Since then I have read all of your books in English, and most of them not once, but several times.
I'm always pleased to get some sense of how well my books have been translated. That's a bit of quality control entirely beyond my power to affect, alas. The answer in Russian seems to be "well enough", though, if people are finding and reading them.
Some questions, of course, only you have answers to. Here they are:
1. Do you know Russian or have you just been interested in Russian culture and had some Russians to consult you? Some think the first, but I am rather sure the second. I might be wrong, of course, this being one of those "gut feelings" that I could hardly analyze clearly.
I had one year of Russian back in high school, from which I remember maybe 3 words. I have some slight acquaintance with Russian history, and I'm generally interested in how history affects cultural patterns. I don't, alas, have any Russians to consult with, or there'd be a lot more correct Russian terms floating around in my stories.
2. Was Russia the only culture some realities of which you used to create Barrayar, or did you have in mind some other countries as well? There is a strong opinion that you used Japan as well.
Russia, Japan, Prussia, England, some dozen other patterns. Barrayar is itself, not a replica of some specific period or place in Earth history, but I reason that similar causes ought to have similar effects. So I borrow causes from all corners of human history.
3. How serious are your worlds, really? All of your civilizations have some parody in them,
OUR civilization has some parody in it. I mean, look at it...! Reality is frequently absurd. If I want my fictional worlds to be realistic, they should contain some absurdities. And some of every other thing the universe contains, beauty and horror, heroism and love and families and loneliness and confusion and mistakes....
That said, my space-world is also, simultaneously, a psychological landscape, and the places in it frequently have the job of carrying some special meaning for me to comment upon. This is a common SFnal device.
but how do you want your readers to perceive them, on the whole? "I am meant to be not sure, that's the beauty of it." :-) The are made in great detail and are very convincing, but there are some things I fail to explain.
There's only so much you can pack into a 300 page book. Things will be left out for many reasons. I do mean my worlds to be convincing, because I want my characters' lives to be convincing, and the world supports the characters.
For example, I can't figure out the reasons of not including religion in Barrayaran society.
I suppose I will have to supply a back-story some day. The outside-the-books reason is because it wasn't something the author wanted to deal with at the time -- see the problem of finite choices, above.
During the period of Isolation, it was an agricultural society, and even if they did not have a religion at the beginning, they would have developed it during those centuries. You do describe some of their rituals, but only hint at their beliefs.
OK, let us say Barrayar was settled by mostly athiests, and was on its way to developing a home-grown religion, but the Time of Isolation ended that evolution too soon.
But I am talking not as much about beliefs as about a developed _religion_ with the priests and their hierarchy, and all those power games between church and state. Is that because Russians used to be thought as atheists? :-) But if the Political Education Department was meant to play that part on Barrayar, it was defeated too easily for that matter. Of course, Barrayar is NOT Russia...
Barrayar clearly does not have a State religion. People's private beliefs have not been addressed much (or only subtly.) Other than that, talk amongst yourselves. Have fun.
I am sure Russian translators had a fun time dealing with the challenges your books presented them with. Starting with the "vor-" prefix. They had to change it, of course, to maintain a neutral perception. "Vor does mean thief" still in Russia. :-) I screamed in delight, when I saw the phrase "I am Vor and no thief, milady."
All translators seem to agree to substitute "for-" instead, which is nicely similar to a familiar to a Russian ear German word "von" [fon]. I do not agree with some other cnanges and substitutions they've made, however. They should not have changed "Aral" to "Eirel" or "Drushnyakovy" to "Drushikko" (Japanese theory at working, here). And, I am sure, the translator of Ethan of Athos had missed the hint to a certain Greek territory, or he would not have spelled it "Eitos" which does not mean anything. The problem is that Athos spelled Afon or Afos in cyrillic due to an old tradition.
All fascinating to me to learn. I can't do anything about it, of course. I'm sorry they missed the cue on "Athos"; it was meaningfully meant. Maybe the translator was ignorant of the original monastery-peninsula. You could write to the publisher and point out their mistake, I suppose.
And the last question. In your letter to your fans which is published somewhere on the Web you mentioned that you were writing a book at the moment. Was it Memory or is there another book coming?
The new book, which I have this summer turned in to Baen Books, will be titled KOMARR. It's the direct sequel to MEMORY, so I can't talk about it much without spoiling MEMORY for those who haven't read it yet. But I can say that it chronicles an adventure of Miles's on, where else, Komarr, and except for Miles has an all-new cast of characters. Baen is planning hardcover publication early next summer -- the exact pub date hasn't been fixed yet, as they're still fooling with cover art and some other things.
The book I've just begun writing follows from Komarr, and is only up to Chapter 3 so far. About all I can say of it so far is that Baen will publish it, and it's going to be a long one.
Translation rights to MEMORY have been sold to my Russian publisher, by the way, so the book is in the pipeline over there. Russian readers will have it soon.
I would be extremely glad to receive your answer, but of course it is impossible to answer everyone. However, if you do answer, I could guarantee you to publish it on some popular Russian literary web-sites. If you would so desire, of course.
That's OK by me.
Thank you very, very much for your books! Most of all, for Bothari, whom I judge to be one of the most powerful characters ever created.
P.S. Please, excuse my odd English.
Your English is many orders of magnitude better than my Russian, I assure you.
Best regards, Lois.
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