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Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: September 2013

‘Where Silverberg goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow’

Isaac Asimov

 

 

 

Reflections is a regular column by multi-award-winning SFWA Grandmaster Robert Silverberg, in which he will offer his thoughts on science fiction, literature and the world at large.

This month: ‘Translations Part II’

Last column I talked about what science fiction critics scornfully call “translations,” lazy-minded stories that have no real speculative content of their own but are simply carried over from standard Western stories or adventure stories or whatever by the simple procedure of calling Comanches “Sloogls,” horses “greeznaks,” and rabbits “smeerps.” Plenty of examples are available out of the pulp-magazine past of science fiction, and now and then one sneaks through today. Another kind of translation is a one-to-one conversion of some episode of human history to science fiction. Isaac Asimov did that in his Foundation series, which was based on the division of the Roman Empire into eastern and western halves. Randall Garrett, in his 1959 story “Despoilers of the Golden Empire,” offered a tongue-in-cheek specimen that begins with the resonant Asimovian lines, “In the seven centuries since the Second Empire had been founded on the shattered remnants of the First . . .” and tells a tale of the conquest of a powerful alien empire by a handful of Earthmen, only to reveal in the final sentence that he has simply been retelling Pizarro’s conquest of Peru. But also I cited a few stories, like Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson’s Hoka series and my own “The Secret Sharer,” that seem to be translations but in fact actually play by the rules of science fiction.

 

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