The Space Opera Renaissance: Michael Kandel

Michael Kandel has written numerous short stories and a few novels but he is best known for his work in translation. He has a doctorate in Slavic studies from the University of Indiana and has translated several Polish authors into English. He is credited with bringing Stanislaw Lem’s books to the English speaking parts of the world and providing translations of wordplay that not only have the same meanings but tell the same jokes, which anybody who has done any translations will tell you is not easy – or so I’ve been told. More recently he has translated Andrzej Zapkowski the winner of the Gemmel award a few years ago.

I have a mixed opinion about translated works. I find that I feel separated from the author in a way that reading in the native language does not give me. I know that it is purely psychological, the story is still being told but not in the words that the author wrote. They’re somebody else’s words. On the other hand I don’t speak very many languages fluently enough to read them (currently that would be one) so I would never get to read those stories and books unless they were translated. Tis a puzzlement.

I can, however appreciate a good translation because, although I do not speak fluently in any languages (yes I’m including my native tongue here) I have tried to translate both Spanish and German before and my sentences sound like they were written by a two year old (it was for a class).

“Space Opera” is an aptly named story for this anthology and, much like the work and art of translation I don’t know quite what to think of it. You see I think it needs to be translated. The premise is that this is a review of a space opera. There is a fictional opera that takes place in space. It has all the silly gaudy costumes and nonsense songs that real opera has and it has a space opera story to it. The review is meant to be satirical of both space opera (Kandel is firmly in the group that sees it as low-brow) and regular opera. Some of the bits talking about the composer and his attempts to discuss social commentary in song form are hilarious but when it lapses into what I call opera-speak I get completely lost.

This is not because I have not seen operas. I have seen… a few. I do not understand them. Mostly because they are poorly written over-the-top productions – in another language. I can’t make any sense out of them and, therefore couldn’t make any sense out much of this story. For the people whose Vin Diagrams of interests have a large crossover between science fiction and opera (space opera) this is probably hilarious.

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