Reading Russian, Poorly

I surely do get a kick out of reading reviews of Old Man’s War in Russian, primarily because the Google and Babelfish translations of what the folks have written are delightfully inscrutable: “Serious miscalculations Scalzi not have been allowed. At the very least, in the chosen path,” reads one, which is generally positive (I think), as is this one, maybe: “Good fantastic gunman in the best tradition of this genre, swallowed the day, with some claim to filosoficnosti, but after reading the special thoughts left.” Hmmm, maybe that wasn’t so glowing. Here’s an amusing one: “Not recomendovap to read a book to people who are more than 64 years not to incite false dreams.” Incidentally, it also appears that another translation of the Russian title of the book is “Destined to Victory,” which I must admit, seems a lot less lugubrious than “Doomed to Victory.”

It’s nice to see the book being discussed in Russian because, frankly, I have no clue as to how well it’s selling there or how it’s been received; Eksmo, my Russian publisher, hasn’t provided me with any of that information (and it’s early yet in any event). The fact people seem to be chattering about it, and generally seem to think it’s good book, is heartening. Now if only translation software were better, so I had a better idea what people were really saying. I suppose I could try to learn Russian.

19 Comments on “Reading Russian, Poorly”

  1. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me
    Chang, father of pangolins

    Your publisher is no doubt too busy training ballroom dancers for the invasion of New Jersey.

  2. I know from previous postings that I’m not the only Russian-speaking person visiting your website. I don’t have time to translate this afternoon, but I’m sure if you ask, someone can.

  3. ah, you gotta love babelfish. rather than translate languages, it churns out the most bizarre, avant-garde poetry ever written.

  4. Buck, it’s fine. Google translate is a weird thing, but it’s good enough to get the gist of what’s being said, which is sufficient.

  5. AlmaAlexander – I'm a scientist by education, a duchess by historical accident and an author who shares writing tips and glimpses of a writer's life, the mundane and the magic

    Your Russian review Yoda wrote, I think…

  6. I actually really like Doomed to Victory as a title, because for anyone who’s read the book and followed John Perry’s adventures, it would be very fitting for a soldier who may or may not agree with how the CDF deals with diplomacy.

    Either way… Dude, your book is in Russian! That’s gotta be a huge ego boost. Congrats.

  7. AlmaAlexander – I'm a scientist by education, a duchess by historical accident and an author who shares writing tips and glimpses of a writer's life, the mundane and the magic

    Home and waiting, John. Ready, aim, fire…?

  8. Student of translation theory, popping out of lurkdom to say: you’re never really going to get a decent translation out of a machine. The patterns of language are such that exceptions are the rule, and it takes human judgment to know when they apply. I’d take one of your Russian readers up on the offer of human translation. Sadly, I’m not one of them. But if you’ve got a review in Ancient Greek or Latin, I’m your woman!

  9. Eh. Learning Russian means spending several weeks learning Cyrillic first, because you have to train yourself out of thinking that letters mean what you think they mean. C becomes S. T becomes M. It’s very confusing.

  10. I love machine translation. The proverbial language barrier is now more of a heavy muffling curtain. I routinely have e-mail conversations with folks by writing to them in English and scrutinizing the Babelfish poetry output of their native language response. I only presume they are doing someting similar on their end. It’s a curiously satisfying manner of communtication.

  11. Basil Exposition: Austin, the Cold War is over!
    Austin Powers: Finally those capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh? Eh comrades? Eh?
    Basil Exposition: Austin… we won.
    Austin Powers: Oh, smashing, groovy, yay capitalism!

  12. Stephanie:

    Way back during Russian 101 at Michigan State (when Reagan was president and people asked me if I was studying Russian because I was a communist!), we spent about two days on the Cyrillic alphabet. When you’re dealing in context, it becomes pretty easy.

    Now that I’m taking another stab at Mandarin, the transition from Latin to Cyrillic seems like nothing…

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