Hal-Con 2012 Report

On the 14th and 15th of April the third Hal-Con took place in Yokohama with Alastair Reynolds as writer guest of honor and Naohiro Washio as artist GoH (Washio san has been doing the cover art for the Japanese editions of Mr. Reynolds novels). Hal-Con is a once per year international Japanese convention where the Japanese con runners of Nippon 2007 SF Worldcon in Japan are practicing for another future Japan SF Worldcon. The first Hal-Con’s guest of honor was Charles Stross; last year’s GoH was Robert Sawyer.
I wanted to check my report on last year’s Hal-Con before writing this one, but I couldn’t find any. Seems like in the after-earthquake-craze I somehow forgot to write up a report…

I held two seminars/panels/programs/talks (I will call them talks) myself, one on the indie publishing of my “Dome Child” novel and one on the translation of my short story “Half-Life” into Japanese.
Both talks went very well, though for the indie publishing one only two people showed, since my talk was scheduled opposite a program featuring boths GoHs. For the translation talk some 15 people showed up, including Mr. Reynolds.
During my indie publishing talk, I made a short reading from my Dome Child novel (about 5 min) and asked one of the participants to take a video of the reading. I hope to have it up and running on YouTube next weekend.

For me the highlight of the first day was a reading by Mr. Reynolds. He read from his novelette “At Budokan” that has been translated into Japanese by Hal-Con staff and is a part of the Halc-Con book that is published via Hayawaka every year for the convention. “At Budokan” was originally published in the “Shine” anthology and it’s about dinosaurs playing rock’n roll 😉
A fun story and the alternating reading in English and Japanese went very well.
At the GoH party in the evening Mr. Reynolds and me were the only non-Japanese around and my job as an interpreter started 😉

The second Hal-Con day opened with my talk on the translation of one of my short stories into Japanese.
Last year Hal-Con staff and myself translated my time travel short story “The Ghosts of Tinian” (you can find it here in English and here in Japanese). This year I thought I continue with the topic of time, though in a quite different form. “Half-Life” is a short story about an evil watch that gives you a pre-warning by showing you the half-life of your life before killing you. I hopefully will come around to uploading it onto my homepage next weekend. In both cases I myself pre-translated the short stories into Japanese and Hal-Con colleagues improved my Japanese into a printable form.

During the talk, we had an interesting discussion about reading vs. seeing. In English (or any other alphabet based language) you read more or less every word of a story/novel/article (well, we start skipping when it gets boring, but in principle, we read every word). In Japanese (and Chinese) though you have characters instead of alphabet-based words and when you see a character you often know its meaning without necessarily being sure about that character’s particular reading. So even the fundamental process of “reading” is different in English and Japanese.

Another discussion point was the title of the short story. The Japanese term for “half-life” is “hangenki”, which, according to the characters means half – reduction – period. There is no “life” in the Japanese term for half-life. Thus the play on words in the title, that the evil watch in the short story shows you when half of your life is over, does not work. My translators added the term “jinsei no hangenki” = “a human life’s half-life” to convey the idea. Using the title as an example, I picked up a number of other difficult to translate topics, which we went through during the talk’s discussions.
Another issue I would like to mention about translations is how to translate setting into another culture. There is an expression in the short story when the protagonists young son’s face “lights up like a Christmas tree”. The story is set somewhere in North America. As a translator into Japanese you have to decide whether to leave that idiom as it is, or whether to “japanize” the entire setting. With foreign novels that rarely happens nowadays but sometimes it still does. Even in translations from English to German “germanization” can take place. I remember reading an old German translation of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and the characters’ names had been (horribly) “germanized”.

Translation is a very broad and important topic, and as SF and Fantasy authors we even have to translate within the same language, as Mr. Reynolds pointed out. He recently wanted to use the “light up like a Christmas tree” idiom too, but then realized that in the world he was describing there are no Christmas trees anymore and the characters wouldn’t use that expression.

The rest of Hal-Con was filled with interview style panels of Mr. Reynolds and I had to do quite a lot of simultaneous interpretation, which showed me yet again the beauty as well as the difficulty of language and communication. Humans do have a hard time understanding each other! But when they do somehow at an international event like that they all turn out to be very happy! So the effort is well worth it. At least I for my part left the convention tired but happy and I am looking forward to next year’s Hal-Con!

One thought on “Hal-Con 2012 Report

  1. Sounds like a fantastic event, and a lot of work for you. Very cool you got some good time with Mr Reynolds – I enjoyed his book House of Suns a lot when I read it. Though nowhere near as much as Dome Child 🙂 Look forward to seeing the youtube reading, and so glad to hear the translation seminar/talk went so well. I guess you could spend a lifetime on that topic ;).

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