[Japanese version

Why A Japanese S-F Reader Is Trying to Translate Cordwainer Smith?

Rei Sakaki

Many people have written various things about the stories by Cordwainer Smith. I am not sure whether I can add anything to them. I have, however, received numerous communications from people who follow his stories, and yet I haven't presented my own. This is my chance to write on Smith.

I am one of many of today's young s-f readers. I was born in the year that Cordwainer Smith died.
It was about 1980 when I first read two of Smith's stories, they were "A Planet Named Shayol" in 7th Annual of the Year's Best SF edited by Judith Merril (the Japanese translation was published from the S\o^\gen Suiri Bunko in 1967) and "Drunkboat" in 9th Annual of the Year's Best SF (the Japanese translation from the S\o^\gen Suiri Bunko in 1968).
I have only a vague memory of the date and the circumstance that I read them, but I still remember vividly the titles and the peculiar impact of the stories. The images from the stories have haunted me.
I have even dreamed the vision of Space-3 in "Drunkboat" and the scene on the planet Shayol in "Shayol."

"Behind me I left the working ships, the cloths and the food which goes through space. I went down rivers which did not exist. I felt people around me though I could not see them, red people shooting arrows at live bodies."
"In the wintertime where there is no summer. In an emptiness like a child's mind. In peninsulas which had torn loose from the land. And I was the ship."
"The rocket nose. The cone. The boat. I was drunk. It was drunk. I was the drunkboat myself," ...
("Drunkboat," the Japanese translation by Toshiyasu Uno)
My dreams about "Drunkboat" and "Shayol" were inspired by the Japanese translations.
There is a phrase "Translator is traitor."
The translations contain the subject and the object not only of author but also of the translator; for example, what Japanese wording would best describe the author's style?
"Drunkboat" was recently published in a new Japanese translation by Norio It\o^\. We can find various differences in the translation method when we compare the new version with the old. This prompts the question of whether we can really read the same meaning that native readers read while reading a translation. (just as the Japanese version and the English version of this essay!) -- It is the endless problem of translation.
But I won't discuss the right or wrong of it here. It was important for me that the translations captured his uniqueness as a writer regardless of the perspective or method of the translators. Maybe, this aspect is captured by the imagination in his stories.

When Japanese readers -- including me -- read and talk about Smith and other foreign writers, generally it is necessary that there are the Japanese translations and reviews in Japanese.
This has two aspects. One aspect is that the readers can be given selected stories and information through the filter of translators or reviewers. Another aspect is that untranslated stories and information are unknown by the readers.

For me, Smith is an author that inspires new discovery and imagination when I examine his stories. So I started to study his stories in my own way, and then I began reading his manuscripts in the Smith collection directly.
Smith is renown for the imagination in his stories. Now I (or we) know that many things and events in his universe were based on his contemporary surroundings and events; Earthport and other wonders were set along the east coast of the United States in our time. Smith himself often talks about "Murkins" and their ruined but enormous "highway nets" in his stories. He might be just an American-style writer in that respect, but the fascination and mystery of his stories never will decrease. Why do they endure? To answer that question is the reason that I am investigating Smith's original works.

I also have an interest in determining how Smith's stories can best be transferred to my native Japanese language.
I was unhappy with reading his stories in not only Japanese but also English, so that I aspired to translate his stories and to realize his vision for our fanzine. I am enjoying the process itself of learning his words, expressions, sentences, ideas, and becoming familiar with other people's views about transferring those insights into my own Japanese.
As I said, there is a problem with how far any translation can communicate the taste of the original story. Smith himself, however, tried translation of Chinese poetry and adaptation of stories written in other languages, was aware of the problems of translation, and would have understood our dilemma, I hope.

I, as a reader who would be at a loss for words in the presence of the author, can't help feeling some humility at expecting to learn not only his stories but also his real-life. Nevertheless, in the case of Smith, we must understand the real-life behind his stories in order to read them with the greatest possible appreciation and understanding.
Paul Linebarger aka Cordwainer Smith was said to have lived in Japan, but he only visited Japan according to Professor Elms. Still, Japan was a place Linebarger felt tied to.
I am starting to search Linebarger's footprint in Japan, too.

Although I am not sure how far I can go, I will continue working on my interests until I realize my goals or recognize my limitations.

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Copyright (C) 1995 Rei Sakaki, All rights reserved.

September 1997, Converted ASCII text into HTML format