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Roadside Picnic

Science Fiction Fans

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Apr 13, 2012, 10:54am Top

Hey all,

As the translator, I'm very curious: has anyone read the reissued Roadside Picnic? It's now available on Amazon, but no one's reviewed it yet... and of course, I'm incredibly impatient for reader feedback.

Hope this isn't shameless self-promotion!

Apr 13, 2012, 11:11am Top

Well, if it was just this post, I'd consider it shameless self-promotion. :D

But to anyone who doesn't know, we discussed this earlier:


It kind of tangled up with discussions of a new Lem translation.

I haven't read it your new translation yet. I have to admit, $10 is a bit steep price for me to contemplate for a single fairly short story that I've read before (even if a different translation). Plus, I thought you were going to post (or just send me) an excerpt. I never saw more than that three paragraph chunk in the discussion of what was omitted from the other translation.

I don't know how much control you have on this, but it'd probably help you to have the "look inside" feature turned on for this book on Amazon. Maybe make the first chapter readable (though like I said earlier, my preference would actually be the second chapter as I think that's where you really get sucked in as a reader).

BTW, here's the link for this specific edition at amazon:


Apr 13, 2012, 11:23am Top

Oh, I suppose shameless self-promotion it is... Although since it's actually kind of a famous book, I also thought there might be interest.

I was definitely going to post an excerpt, yeah! But I asked my publisher and they wanted to get the copyediting done first, which took quite a while... Then I realized that there's an excerpt coming out in a magazine, and that I probably should see what they chose before I decided on what to post.

Unfortunately, I have no control over the "look inside" feature... I'll probably ask my publisher about it in a bit, but I'm afraid of seeming like a pest.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:35am Top

Hard to judge the success of a translation without reading it in the original Russian, I'd have thought.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:41am Top

It depends how you define "success," I suppose... You're right that most people wouldn't be able to compare -- on the other hand, the question of how the book reads to the vast majority of the audience that are not native Russian speakers isn't irrelevant.

Of course, I'd be interested in comments from people who've read the original, too! I'm simply interested in feedback of all sorts, if anyone has had a chance to read it.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:51am Top

It's hard to judge how faithful/skilled the act of translating is. But it's not hard to judge whether you like the book it produced. I have no idea how faithful/skilled some LEM I've read is. But I know how much I like the books I've read.

To some degree, there isn't a single "right" way to translate a piece of fiction. So much of what makes some writing successful is deeply embedded in language. When translating, I think we just have to accept that the end product is more of a collaboration that produces a new work, rather than simply a means of changing one language into another.

If you think about it, this is even true to some degree with audiobooks (though for different reasons). Even when they're in the same language, the reader can drastically affect the enjoyment of the source material.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:57am Top

That's a good way to put it, brightcopy... I completely agree.

Apr 13, 2012, 12:08pm Top

#6 Certainly I agree with that. If translation A results in a better book than translation B, then the results are on the page for all to see. And that's "better book" as a book in the language of the reader, rather than the original language of the writer.

Apr 13, 2012, 12:47pm Top

I've read enough literature in translation (and by some seriously accomplished translators) that I would expect to have read a few books by now that were improved in translation, were I in a position to judge.

Apr 13, 2012, 12:51pm Top

#9 by paradoxosalpha> Quite possibly. Of course, not everyone is a good writer. And the pool of translators is small. So if those two attributes don't overlap (and there's no reason to think they should), you have to wonder what the likelihood of having a translator who is also a good writer is.

Of course, it all depends on the quality of the source material as to how much you can improve it. Maybe with some it's easier than others. :D

Apr 13, 2012, 1:02pm Top

I've heard it said that Umberto Eco's books are better in English because his translator is a better prose stylist than Eco is in Italian. I've no way of judging that myself, however, as I don't speak Italian.

Apr 13, 2012, 1:02pm Top

A translator who is not a good writer will be a bad translator. Translation is a species of writing, just one in which fidelity to an extralinguistic source is prized over "originality."

Apr 13, 2012, 1:10pm Top

I've definitely seen the phenomenon of translations being better than the original. It happened quite often with books translated into Russian, actually, since there were a number of famous authors who would also undertake translations. There are a few books Russian readers invariably find disappointing in the original English...

Apr 15, 2012, 11:06pm Top

Oh, I just checked, and it looks like the "Look Inside" feature is definitely on -- does it not work for other people? I think you can actually get pretty far into it.

Apr 15, 2012, 11:16pm Top

It wasn't before, but is now. Excellent! I'll give what's there a read when I get caught up on work. XD

Apr 16, 2012, 5:55am Top

>13 square_25:

Part of it had been the genius of the translator to find local idioms and realities to translate the novel into -- and when someone meets the real text for the first time, they need to translate their vision back into the original :)

Back to this translation...
From what can be read in the Amazon "Look Inside" in the first few pages... a bit too literal in the narrative parts... and loosing the whole feeling in the dialog. In a few places I can see the Russian phrase behind the English one. As for the dialog - way too overdone in places; simplified to explain some things I guess is the correct way to look into it. Which might not be a problem at all if you had never read the Russian version... I had been rereading parts of it lately and it just does not sound right. And it might not be that visible through the whole book...

Apr 16, 2012, 10:50am Top

>16 AnnieMod:

Yeah, I'm sure you're right that's what happened with the books translated to Russian! And of course, in some sense no version will compare to the one you first read as a child...

Ah, interesting that you say it's too literal! Do you have any examples in mind? Which parts of the dialogue would you say had been simplified?

Apr 16, 2012, 12:51pm Top

I almost hate some of those old Russian translations because of that -- they change the novels too much -- you loose the Englishness. They are a great read for someone that does not speak English; once you start liking the Englishness, it's getting weird.

My Russian book is at home so I will post some examples in the evening. As for the dialog - it is mostly replacing of vague references being replaced by clarified expressions...

Apr 25, 2012, 7:36pm Top

I've decided to (finally!) post some excerpts on my webpage: http://www.math.utexas.edu/users/olenab/RoadsidePicnic.html

I was also going to post a poll at some point about which Strugatsky book I should do next.

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