Ancillary Justice: Is there room for Science Fiction in Arabic Literature?

Translated from Inkitab

written by Fatimah Bint Nasser al-Wahibi

Ancillary Justice has attained great success among general readers and organizations that have unanimously awarded it with prizes, including: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clarke award.

This novel was written by author Ann Leckie whose description on her website is stark: She lives in St. Louis, Missouri and is the author of the Imperial Radch trilogy. She has also published short stories in several science fiction magazines. Ann Leckie has worked in several professions; from waitress to secretary, even as a recording engineer.

The simplicity with which she presents herself on her website has another dimension: Most of the time there is a tall tower separating the Arab literary elite from the general public. Most of them present themselves as specialists who have won enough prizes and earned enough degrees to shut you up. Even those of them who have not earned any prizes or degrees present themselves as pompously and superior as possible; pressing me to make this point before I talk about the novel.

The barrier between reader and author in the Arab world is not simply one of hubris. It goes on to encompass some literary genres that are seen by the Arab literary elite as inferior and unimportant. This, in turn, is reflected by popular taste; science fiction literature in the Arab world is slowly fading away. Therefore it is worth bringing up Manscript 5229; an Emirati project that promises to produce and translate science fiction literature, and which has provided me—and others—with the opportunity to learn about amazing worlds, confirming that the human mind is capable of innovation and producing extraordinary things.

Coming back to Ancillary Justice [translated in Arabic as Bariq al-‘Adalah, The Luster of Justice, which also allows them to play on the main character’s name, Breq]: what we have here is a rich novel filled with complex characters, events, and worlds.  The characters come from fictional races and tribes created by the author and actualized by her imagery and descriptions.  These races and tribes all fall under a regime that governs them and the nations they belong to. These nations are influenced by the ambitions and desires of others who wish to control them, just like real-world struggles for influence and power.

Despite the differences in weapons and equipment, the evolution of equipment and machinery, war is grotesque and cares little for justice—especially while it is being waged. But when things calm down a little, and when the strong solidify their power and think that the other has accepted them—or, at least, appears to, they will try to forget that injustice is indelible, and the blood that was spilled runs through the veins of all those who were oppressed, keeping them from forgetting.

There is always someone who tries to bring balance to blind enmity and the equality that only the nobles and those with high morals achieve. What could be easier than eternal enmity? And what could be harder than overcoming the monstrous ego, controlling its caprice, and making it more just and equitable?

The novel abounds in situations that pit good against evil; predispositions imposed on you by your surroundings, your territory, your racial identity, your automatic alignment with those you belong to, and the overwhelming forces that drag you along. These are forces we are only aware of when we are far removed from the conflict, free to ask: are we actually in the right?

Everyone thinks they are doing the right thing. All of these wars are waged for the right reasons, in order to establish values, but we do not see that in this way we kill values and morals. I won’t tell you about the fascinating, enchanting, and mysterious characters in the novel; I do not want to spoil the fun that awaits you.

*Manuscript 5229: An Emirati publishing company specializing in science fiction and fantasy, established by Emirati author Noura Noman. It was named in honor of the manuscript of Ibn Fadlan, written about the journey he undertook for the Abbasid Emperor al-Muqatdir bi-Illah to the land of the Bulgars. The number 5229 is the number of a neglected manuscript in a famous Turkish museum. The voyages recorded by Ibn Fadlan in the manuscript had amazing impact on literature and art, not least the 1999 movie The Thirteenth Warrior. Now it is our turn to come back to this long-neglected heritage that encompasses all kinds of literature and knowledge that speaks to all ages and different minds. The publishing house’s focus is on science fiction and fantasy literature, a genre of utmost importance in encouraging young people to read. Science fiction stories have, and still do, attracted many, young and old alike, and tell stories to all ages. This genre has also created many who are passionate about writing; the fantastic aspects of these stories have sparked their creative imaginations.

On translation and anti-intellectualism

I have seen some pretty awful and very blatant antintellectualism in my life. This is a nice call out, we need to pay more attention.

Translator's Digest

intellectual-marty

Chandler: “You didn’t read Lord of the Rings in high school?”

Joey: “No, I had sex in high school.”

…and the audience laughed.

I get why it’s a good comeback. But I also get why that, in itself, is a problem.

Don’t take me wrong, Friends was one of my favorite shows in the mid to late nineties. Back then I was a teenager with a lot to learn about life, yet even then I knew (at least intuitively) that there was something fundamentally wrong with the world as Friends portrayed it (starting with its lack of ethnic diversity). I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I came across this thought provoking post by David Hopkins where he makes a compelling case against Friends and what the show’s success says about us as viewers. While the initial premise that a single American sitcom triggered the downfall of…

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I’m forcing some more creative activity…

Hi all,

To be clear: I do not translate into Arabic professionally. However, as I embark on my graduate school journey, I’ve decided to stretch. I’ll be posting some images on Instagram (@Tarjema) of translations. They will all be small; short pieces, quotes, that kind of thing. Here is the first:

View this post on Instagram

A Few Words to a Young Writer

A post shared by Tim Gregory (@tarjema) on

I’ll work on my photography skills, too. Promise.

 

Some Tech Notes

I know almost everything I’ve posted lately has been reblogs, and I’m a bit sorry about that. I’d love to put up more unique content. My life is about to get even busier, so I don’t know if that will change. But today, I’d like to share a couple of tech notes.

First, one of my computers is an older model Dell Venue 8 Pro; it has a 32gb drive and 2gb of RAM and Dell makes a decent active stylus for their tablet systems (the stylus also works with my main computer, an Inspiron 7352!). The Windows 10 Anniversary update came out a couple of weeks ago now, and included some nice updates for stylus-enabled systems. Being more of a geek than is healthy for me, I really wanted to install it on my tablet. The problem is that, even after removing everything but the operating system – and even using some admin tools to strip the OS to bare bones, I was never able to free enough space to get the installer to work. It says it wants 16GB of free space, tough to accomplish when the 32gb drive has 23gb of usable space, and the OS takes up around 8gb. Even when I got to 17gb free the installer failed.

So. I downloaded the installation image creation tool from Microsoft and did a clean Windows 10 install (no Dell preloaded software). This took forever, and the OS I ended up with was not the Anniversary update. After running all of the system updates, I grabbed a fresh copy of the installation image creation tool and did another clean install. This time I got the update! Hooray 🙂

If you are going through this, don’t give up. You can make it work.

Windows 10 image creation tool (use “Download Tool Now”)
Freeing up space in Windows 10: Article 1, Article 2
Dell USB adapter/power adapter – so you can charge the battery & use a keyboard and mouse at the same time. (I got mine on eBay a bit cheaper)

Now, to get a copy of the most recent MS Office and a drawing glove for using OneNote for Sketchnotes.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid on ‘Literary’ vs. ‘Academic’ Translation

This article/interview about literary vs. academic translation is well worth your time.

ArabLit

Way back in March, Kareem James Abu-Zeid was in D.C. for the Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here festival. At that time, he spoke with Epicenter about Mutanabbi (the tenth-century poet of poets) and about the art of translation:

This is not academia. This is not academia.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid is one of a few professional Arabic-English translators who makes his living outside academia. In the past, he has taught courses in Arabic (and German, French, and English) at UC Berkeley and at the Universities of Mannheim and Heidelberg in Germany. But he has since left the academy. And his primary focus was never on academic work, but on translating and writing.

In the interview, which is posted in full below, he discussed the divide between “academic” and “literary” translation:

Everybody has different takes on translation — and there’s actually a lot of Arabic literature being translated — there’s a pretty strong divide between what I’d call more academic…

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Any Last Requests?

Saad al-Ashmawi. A headsman, reaper of souls; a murderer authorized by law. After taking hundreds of lives, he has developed an uncanny ability: just as the blade strikes home, as the body crumples to the ground, during that momentary journey down the well into darkness, this supernatural ability opens his eyes to see and understand the thoughts of those who are crossing over into death.

The human soul is the one possession most dear to any person. Death, also, is beyond price. That is why he could see into the minds of those about to die in those final moments of stark terror. He saw amazing things before the day that changed things forever. He asked the traditional question before execution, “Any last request?” He offered to fulfill a final wish, then made the fateful cut, and then he would see their thoughts. This time however, the thoughts were of him. His life from that moment on would never be the same, thrown into complete chaos by his quest for the truth behind this ability. From a world perpetually awash in death in the execution chamber, he found himself in a completely different world of the dead, one far more wild and perilous.

Mars One: No Return

[I haven’t read the book yet, this is a translation of the synopsis above]

Mars One: No Return a project underway in the real world.

Are you bored? Discontented with life on planet Earth? Do you dream of a journey away from the familiar? We can make your dreams come true. All you have to do is apply online.

Be warned: it is a one-way ticket; there is no return trip. Every two years a crew of four will be sent, you could be on the next mission. You need to be fully prepared.

Four individuals decided to undertake this suicidal voyage and to be on the first mission. The public motivation for the trip: Help mankind take a giant leap forward. In reality, each individual has their own reasons and hidden motivations for making the irrevocable decision to depart planet Earth and never return. The project was attacked on humanitarian grounds: How could they go along with sending a human being on a one-way voyage? The cleverest aspect is that some of the project’s profits will come from pay-per-view! There will be a live feed broadcasting the details of the crew members lives on the surface of Mars.

The novel’s events occur between 2005 and 2025, but the seed of the tale was planted while the world was embroiled in events. International conflict, a plethora of intelligence factions, and various organizations forced their way on to the stage along with nations allied with one another and at odds with each other. Let the events of this tale carry you on a unique trip through time, space, and the human heart. From Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Tel Aviv, Crimea, Australia, America, to outer space and Mars. This novel tells the tale of four complete strangers whose lives were brought together by political decisions and worldwide economic shifts. You will gain a deeper understanding of what it means when someone you have never met explains the intricate details of a mission you know had never heard of that has been involved in an important part of your life. This story will present past, present, and future combined with political thriller, romance, horror, comedy, action, fantasy, and the magical world of space.

El Yassob [The Dragonfly]

[translated from the back cover]

Year: 2071

Location: The Kingdom of United Southern Arabia (Egypt, Sudan, and Nubia) – Eastern Desert Sector

The World: Females, males, and … Dragonflies

A new and terrifying world with different classes. Under the rule of a mercilessly harsh queen, a misandrist who hates anything to do with the Y chromosome. She is trying to completely eradicate men through an insane plot to manipulate genes to eliminate the need for males. Women have been promoted, placed in high-level positions, and given all white-collar jobs. University education is exclusively available to women. They have primacy in every arena. The queen selects the strongest, most handsome, smartest, most gifted and outstanding men as her “Dragonflies”, and they are fanatically loyal to her.

Seif, a former Dragonfly, spent fourteen years at the mother colony, the one directly connected to the queen’s palace. He now finds himself on the freeway along the Aswan border. He does not know how he got there, much less where he is, but he knows one fact: He does not want to return to the colony, though it offers everything he could desire … he does not want to be a Dragonfly, though that position comes with all of the advantages possible for a man to possess in that nightmarish world full of terrifying events. Instead, he wants to be a regular man. A nothing who has nothing but poverty, ignorance, and hard labor.

The penalty for treason is clear. The choice is not really a choice: life in the Waterfalls Prison, or going to the submission declaration chamber after serving five years.

At the colony’s prison, Seif found himself among a group of men who had set two goals for themselves: escape from that hellish place, and permanently eliminating the queen in order to return everything to its rightful place. Then the world could go back to its natural order: male and female, and … nothing else.

Will the men succeed in returning things to normal and gaining back their natural rights in the world, including work, education, and even medical treatment?