Monday, March 26, 2012

Stanislaw Lem's Solaris Finally (Somewhat) Available In Faithful, Direct-to-English Translation

The late Polish author Stanislaw Lem (1921 - 2006) is widely regarded as one of the great SF writers of the past century, author of a great many fine works, including A Perfect Vacuum and The Cyberiad. For the most part he was quite fortunate in his translator, since a great many of his more prominent works were translated by Michael Kandel, who, as I've had occasion to note before, is a very fine translator indeed.*

The great exception, however, was the novel that was often proclaimed as Lem's masterpiece: Solaris. Solaris, for some reason,** was not translated by Kandel, or any other competent Polish-English translator: rather, it was translated from an earlier translation into French. Obviously any indirect translation is going to be vastly less faithful than a direct translation, and in this case the bridging translation, in Lem's judgment, itself was poor. So those who wanted to read (possibly) Lem's greatest novel, and didn't know Polish, were more or less out of luck. (Thus I, for one, have never read it.)

This is the moment when I'll mention -- as (for some mysterious reason) seems to be treated as obligatory in discussions of this novel (such as this one or this one or this one), although it's not really relevant -- that the novel was filmed twice, the first time by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972, and the second time by Steven Soderbergh in 2002. I've seen and liked both films, although I think the Tarkovsky was better. (Apparently there was a TV movie version too.) So you could watch a movie of it... but not read a well-translated version of it in English.

Until -- as I just found out (thanks, Tristero!) -- last year.

It seems that the print rights are locked away in the second-translation-of-a-poor-translation... but not the audiobook or ebook rights. So the Lem estate commissioned a new, direct-from-the-Polish, translation, one which is faithful to the text and well-done rather than not and not. It was translated by a man named Bill Johnston, who actually, y'know, knows Polish. The audiobook came out last June (read by Alessandro Juliani (who played Gaeta on the (remade) Battlestar Galactica)); the ebook -- available for Kindle and iBook and probably other formats too -- last December.

And there was much rejoicing.

I'll admit that it's a bit disappointing not to be able to read this on paper -- I've begun, hesitantly, to buy some nonfiction as ebooks, but am still a bit uncertain about reading novels on screen.*** But at least English speakers can now read it (or, for those who prefer, listen to it). So I'll take what i can get.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an ebook to download.

(Post scriptum: Yes, as you'll note, I'm back to being James Inhofe again.)

* I met him once, very briefly (at Readercon), and rather astounded him, I think, when I quoted that brief poem to him from memory.

** My guess (and it's only a guess) is that it's because it was, due to its reputation, translated very early -- before Lem's reputation was made in the west and the expense of a new, direct-from-English translator could be justified (or simply before one could be arranged). Then, once his reputation was established by good translations of his other works, the rights were locked up and not available (as, indeed, is still somewhat the case, as I'll explain in a moment.)

*** Although a few years ago I did read one novel on my laptop -- Blindsight by Peter Watts -- and it was one of my favorite SF novels of the last decade. So I suppose it's past time to try again.


pim said...

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