Das Syndrom

Just arrived in the mail today: The German-language version of Lock In, entitled Das Syndrom. Why? Because it’s Germany! And my German publishers change the titles of my novels with some frequency. Mind you, it’s not just them; pretty much all my foreign publishers have changed the titles of at least one of my books. I chalk it up to them knowing their markets. I also think “Das Syndrom” would be an excellent name for an industrial band, one that opens up for Einstürzende Neubauten on occasion.

In any event: Look! New book! In German!

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

35 replies on “Das Syndrom”

Gender ambiguity is a tough thing to manage in German; virtually all nouns referring to people have distinct masculine and feminine forms, so you can’t even say “the agent” without specifying the gender of the agent. Worse, the tendency in recent years in Germany is to add more such distinctions, rather than remove them. This is being done in the name of inclusivity, but to Anglophone sensibilities it feels backward.
Anyway, a question for our host: does this publisher have the German-language rights or just the Germany rights? That is, will that same edition be hitting the shelves in Austria?

“Der Autor … Krieg Der Klone!” Would that mean that you were, in fact, the author of “The Clone War”? I can’t help but feel that if a certain famous sci-fi franchise, similarly named film had reached out to you the script would show vast improvement!

Apologies if you’ve heard that joke before.

As German native speaker, I wouldn’t know how to translate “Lock-In” literally in any way that sounds good as a book title. “Das Syndrom” (short for Haden Sydrome) is probably the closest they could get.

I’m half tempted to buy the German version in order to see if they managed to preserve the gender ambiguity; unfortunately the cover art and the synopsis on Amazon (which identifies Chris as male) don’t leave much room for hope…

I dunno, “The Syndrome” could arguably be considered a superior alternate title to “Lock In”. Kinda makes me wish you’d tag these foreign edition posts, in order to go back and look at the alternate titles easily. But, suggesting you do so makes me a total hypocrite, since I never tag anything.

I just thought of the person on the cover as being a generic Hayden, not specifically Chris, but I I hadn’t even thought about the gender specific nouns and articles in German and other languages. That would make ambiguity virtually impossible, wouldn’t it? I guess they just need two editions like the English language audiobooks.

I studied German in school, but I’ve never really used it, thus the one German sentence that comes to mind is, “Vorsicht, Carl, stoßen Sie nicht Ihr Kapf an die Lampe!”

My experience is that about half the time, I like the different foreign title, translated back into English, much better than mine or my English-language publisher’s. However, I have notoriously terrible taste in titles, so this may not indicate what I think it does. So I chalk it up to “They know their market.”

I still hope this book will be translated to Italian one day, so I can finally nag all of my non English speaking friends until they read it.

On the other hand, however, and just like in German, it would be pretty much impossible to translate the gender ambiguity, since per our grammar rules, every noun is gendered, and all articles and adjectives must be gendered according to the noun they refer to.

I’ve been making a database of all the short stories in my apartment (because it often happens that I go “Hm, I wonder if I have any short stories by X?” and this way I don’t have to spend half an hour looking at the table of contents of every anthology and magazine here) and came across a story called “The Einstein Gun” by Pierre Gévart. The blurb noted that it was a translation, and was originally published in French as “Comment les choses se sont vraiment passés” which means approximately “How Things Actually Happened”. I think the translator improved that one.

My oldest is starting to learn German this year. Maybe if he studies hard I’ll buy him Krieg der Klone for his summer read (and, you know, if I have to grab Der Syndrom for myself, well, sometimes you have to sacrifice as a parent).

Dear folks,

A couple of things you might not know about titles:

1) It’s not the author’s job to come up with the final, published title for book. That’s actually Marketing’s job. Generally they will consult with the author about the title (if for no other reason than the one that came up in John’s commentary case–– often the author knows something about the field but they don’t). They’re not out to make an author unhappy; they are out to sell as many books for them as they can. Sometimes they go with the author’s title, sometimes they tweak it a little bit, sometimes they come up with an entirely different one. And, the more major and important the book/author, the more likely they are to intervene, because economic stakes are higher.

Now, a lot of artists are dismissive, if not downright derisive, of those marketing types. When it comes to aesthetics, there is sometimes some justification for that. But, if your publisher has been making good money for you, it’s possible, just possible, that those people know what they’re doing when it comes to selling books.

2) Titles can’t be copyrighted (at least in the US). John’s objection to having a book of his retitled Between Planets was because there was already a well-known book by that name. It wasn’t a legal objection.

pax \ Ctein
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