Can you tell us about the current Spanish SF/F publishing scene?
The publishing scene in Spanish SF/F is—as with most other areas of publishing in Spain—divided between extremes.
The large groups, big publishing houses that have resources and have a great deal of visibility, are able to exert a great deal of influence over what appears in bookshops and is available to the general public. That includes buying books in from overseas.
They are a force for good because they bring in big names from all over the world, and a force for evil because they take up most of the available space.
The small—sometimes extremely small—‘artisanal’ publishers are the motor of homegrown SF/F and provide an essential grassroots service in finding and promoting local talent. They are a force for good because they are indefatigable, broad-minded, and supportive of their own. And a force for evil because sometimes they do not operate with the same professional standards as their slightly larger, more professional counterparts. For example, it is hard to argue for the fair, standard pricing that a translation with paid rights, properly printed, needs to have when other publishing ventures do not pay rights or print on demand.
What does not exist, and which I find on occasion quite depressing—is a space for mid-sized publishers, with a professional attitude—to promote and support the slightly more esoteric end of mainstream international publications.
Are you seeing any particular trends in Spanish SF/F?
Definitely eco-fiction and dystopian fiction. Dystopian writing tends to have been inspired by the twin motors of climate change, and what one might broadly term "The Weird."
There has been a burst of weird fiction over the past few years; perhaps it arrived in Spain a little later than in other countries, but the particular demands of the genre have caught the imagination of the current younger generation of Spanish writers. I would expect this to become an even more dominant trend in the years to come.
Fandom in Spanish SF/F seems to be flourishing. Can you tell us a bit about this?
Fandom in Spain is very active. It is good because it is very creative and constantly generates a stream of high quality projects: anthologies, conferences, prizes, and so on. The flip side of this is that a lot of power is concentrated in the hands of a few people, and what "the fandom" endorses tends to be treated with too much respect.
Spanish fandom is not a clique culture per se, but a few people have most of the say in which gets noticed. It often feels like there is no space for projects that aren’t presented to the world via the approved channels. But perhaps this is the same in every country.
Which Spanish SF/F writer(s) would you really like to see translated into English?
The future of Spanish Weird writing is in the hands of two people, very different stylists with very different approaches. Cristina Jurado writes fascinating, complex, brutal short fiction, and Guillem López is one of the best novelists in any genre in Spanish at the moment. Challenger is a masterpiece. Emilio Bueso was the first person to write an openly ecological novel in Spain: Cenital is an indication of pathways which Spanish literature may take in the future. Ismael Martínez Biurrun and Luis Manuel Ruiz both write speculative work that crosses a number of genres and don’t limit themselves to strict SF/F (and are all the more interesting for that). Tamara Romero writes in English and Spanish, fascinating stories and bizarro novels, and Sofia Rhei (who also has been known to write in English) is a triple threat, author of children’s books, short fiction and adult novels, most of them engaged with the tropes and assumptions of SF/F.
What should we be reading? Which Spanish writers already translated into English would you recommend?
I am interested in the literary end of speculative fiction. Here, as with almost every other genre, the assumption is that Latin American fiction is of more interest to English readers.
We are still dealing with the aftereffects of the astonishing Latin American boom of the second half of the twentieth century. A knock-on effect of this is that authors such as Samanta Schweblin get a great deal of press, but no one is asking who their Spanish equivalents are. And so there is not a lot of Spanish fiction available in translation. And, as is so often the case, it is only more commercial writing that attracts interest from English publishers. Magazine projects like SuperSonic are useful, trying to provide a platform from which Spanish authors might look for a wider European audience. And authors such as Albert Sánchez Piñol, Félix J. Palma, or Marc Pastor have been published in English, and with a fair degree of success, but they are almost like one-offs, beautiful but isolated stars in an otherwise black sky. If I may be permitted a moment of self-promotion, our Nevsky Books project aims to redress this disparity to some extent, translating young and important Spanish-language SF/F writers into English.
You set up Ediciones Nevsky in 2009, specialising in Russian literature in Spanish translation, and your new imprint is Nevsky Books, which showcases new European writing in English translation. Can you tell us what inspired you to begin these projects? What are some of the challenges (and rewards) of running a small press?
My husband and I are both translators, with feet in different cultures. I translate between English and Spanish, and he works with Russian, Spanish, and English. We started off with a firm desire to share things that had touched us. A good example: when we first read the young Russian author Anna Starobinets we were sure that she was someone who would be worth bringing across into Spanish. This was how Ediciones Nevsky ran for a while: publishing authors such as Bogdanov and Bulgakov, who meant a great deal to us. And the same ideology was in play when we started to expand; we published authors we liked and whom we thought could work in Spain: Nina Allan, Lisa Tuttle, Karin Tidbeck … The problem with this approach is that single-mindedness, a desire to share authors who are important for you, doesn’t always work. It is hard to communicate what is on one level a passion: how do you convince a large enough readership that something like Charlotte Cory’s The Unforgiving is one of the best novels in any language of the past thirty years? Sometimes the market doesn’t have space: we don’t want to sink to the level of selling books just to our friends, and we don’t yet have the muscle to pitch a book to one hundred thousand general readers. After a decade we feel squeezed from both ends: the project needs to change and develop a bit as we move into the future. And attaining this degree of knowledge has at times been a painful process.
What more do you think can be done to support speculative fiction in translation?
The fact that projects like Samovar exist is amazing in itself. It is hard—and I speak as a freelance translator as well—to convince editors that certain authors are worthwhile. Perhaps the best way to do this is to try to work by little instalments, either publishing the kind of book that Nevsky Books wants to produce in English over the next few years or via projects such as Samovar. There is a lot of hope, though: diverse cultures and diverse writers are coming through the pipeline slowly but surely, and we need to build on that. More state and private funding would help as well, but that’s a dream to file with all our other dreams.
Your short story collection Lost Objects will be published in 2018 (by Luna Press Publishing). Can you tell us about the collection and how your work as a translator influences your writing (and vice versa)?
Translating writers such as Charles Dickens or Charlotte Cory has taught me more about writing than almost any workshop I have attended (perhaps leaving the Clarion workshop in San Diego to one side). You have to leave your comfort zone to produce a version of someone else’s style. My collection is basically a group of Gothic stories, some of them Weird, some funny, some are engaged with EcoGothic ideas … It is a showcase of the themes that obsess me. I don’t like translating my own work; I work better writing directly in Spanish or English. This may sound slightly counterintuitive for a translator to say, but translating myself has always seemed a little redundant, a little bit of a dead end. For a writer, nothing beats having to translate complex work by another author: the lessons you learn are hard-won and last a long time.
Your research interests have included the links between climate change and the Gothic. How do you see this reflected across Spanish and English fiction?
There’s a lot of academic research at the moment in what one might call EcoGothic: not just looking at fiction but also the ways in which we read our environment. Nature has always been an intrinsic element of the Gothic (think, for example, about Burke and the sublime). So, this is not a new trend, but rather one that has been rediscovered in the light of climate change and with the unstoppable rise of dystopian thinking. The idea that nature threatens us, or may be fighting back against the threat we pose it, or is itself the incomprehensible Other is not a new one, but it is only now that writers such as Jeff VanderMeer are bringing this into the front line of literary speculative fiction. Jeff is perhaps the best example, but there are a number of writers approaching similar conclusions via distinct methods.