NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: THE SURFACELESS

by johannespunkt

Good afternoon! Welcome to this episode of the North of Reality Translation Project, in which I translate stories from Uel Aramchek’s project North of Reality (with permission, of course) into Swedish, and then try to explain to y’all and to myself about translation. The notes are below the story, and today’s story is The Surfaceless, starring you!

You can read the other translation pieces over here: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

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NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: DEN YTLÖSA
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Huvudet på din hacka har förstärkts med utarmat uran. Med trötta armar låter du dess skinnbandsinbundna hals falla, och vaxkakan lossnar i tjocka tackor gjorda av en järn- och bivaxlegering. Under nio års ensamt tunnelgrävande genom världens innanmäte har hackan ofta varit din enda vän.

Du hade oturen att födas på en planet utan yta. Dess kärna fungerar som ett slags termodynamisk polstjärna i ett universum som bara har två egentliga riktningar: inåt och utåt. Nära mittpunkten har mänskligheten byggt en sfär av stålstäder på mildtempererat avstånd, omringad av molniga grundvattenmagasin och integröna skogar; bortom dessa ligger det virvlande tektoniska kaos genom vilket du valt att vandra.

En gång i tiden var det här en drillbikupa, men dess bräckliga yttre visar på att den har varit övergiven i decennier. Du gläds åt deras frånvaro, för sådana insekter gör ingen skillnad på sten och kött i sina roterande gaddars vilda borrande. Medan du hackar dig längre in i strukturen lyser din eldlösa fackla upp en invecklad inflätning av svarta hexagoner omkring dig. Några är mindre än dina naglar, andra stora nog att ett barn skulle kunna krypa igenom dem.

Du tar dig in i det allra heligaste. Den forna drottningens endo- och exoskelett sitter kvar på hennes tron som ett antropomorfiskt bennystan. Detta antyder att hon kan ha påbörjat livet som en människa, men om så var fallet är det tydligt att hon nästan helt och hållet var insekt vid slutet. Vid hennes fötter ligger en pöl av obsidianhonung – en gång i tiden var detta en sprudlande fontän, nu endast ett lager sirapglasyr. Först är den nästan helt kristalliserad, men efter några snabba hack från ditt trofasta redskap återgår den till en mjuk konsistens för första gången på decennier.

Du kupar dina händer och lyfter upp honungen till din mun för att ta en djup klunk. Dess söta smak dröjer kvar vid roten av din tunga och gräver sig in i dina drömmar där du finner dig själv utsträckt längst världens kant där du blickar utåt in i ett omöjligt ingenting.

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Notes

There’s a simple but interesting problem in the first sentence; “been reinforced with depleted uranium” would seem to lend itself to the rather direct translation: armerat(s) med utarmat uran. Unfortunately that is an oxymoron and would disrupt the flow too much, so I opted for förstärka, a less technical and sadly less bad-ass-sounding term.

A technique that comes up from time to time in translation texts as generally good practice is to translate all the tricky phrases first. After you’ve done that you can start worrying about how to glue the words together into sentences, and you see much clearer which areas will be problematic. Doing this, I almost missed that the forests are “nevergreen” rather than “evergreen,” maybe because I thought I had read the story very carefully before. Anyway, that’s obviously a big problem area. Can I find an equivalent pun? Well, yes. The Swedish for evergreen is vintergrön, and “integrön” wouldn’t be too far of a stretch from that. It means not green rather than never green, and at first I was not entirely sure what to feel about it – my dialect makes the pun kind of forced – but I consulted a language friend who speaks closer to the heartland, and I feel better about this decision after that conversation. The pun does in fact work, at least written down or spoken in the standard dialect.

In searching for ways to translate “wander through” I found out that the immediate solution, “genomvandra” — throughwander — apparently means to wander something and exhaust all possible avenues, like some form of scouring. I realized, after that, that the English way to write the sentence also works in Swedish and wouldn’t give the wrong idea about the protagonist’s purpose.

The word “bennystan” is perhaps the most economic translation I’ve done so far, corresponding to “tangle of chitin and bone.” The problem here was that “chitin” does have a correspondent in Swedish but it’s not a well-known word, and writing it out would just be naming an obscure chemical and hoping the audience is familiar with it. The word nystan doesn’t show up on its own very much, and when it does it’s usually a shortened form of garnnystan, a ball of yarn. You’ve got the root in English on loan from, I think, Norwegian, in the form of nostepinne:

Image of a nostepinne with yarn.

Image from tricksyknitter.com/nostepinne. This is a tool for creating balls of yarn, somehow.

Replacing yarn with bone in the Swedish both sounds good and evokes a vivid image (by contrast, “ball of bone” sounds just stupid in English). In other terms, you could say that I omitted the specificity of the skeleton types in order to pack a similar but different punch. It’s at the looser end of the translation spectrum but I think it suits – agglutination (jamming words together, especially nouns) is a technique Uel uses a lot and which suits Swedish very well.

I exchanged the word “saccharine” with the word for syrup, which has similar connotations. And we don’t have saccharine as an adjective in Swedish. We do have sachharin the chemical, of course, but I’ve never known anyone to describe the flavour of things with it. This lack does mean that one connotive element is lost in translation: the small percentage of people whose genes allow them to taste the bitterness of saccharin won’t experience the slight dischord that one has to imagine that they feel whenever people describe sweet things (even overly-sweet or falsely sweet things) as “saccharine.”

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If you feel such dischord, you might have been pushed into an alternate reality, either recently or as a kid. Haven’t yet found anyone who doesn’t feel this dischord about something. It’s entirely possible that this reality of ours is always already alternate, meaning no-one who lives here comes from here. That’s all I can tell you! CHeck back next week, we’re doing Manual Blueshift, a vignette of weird Americana containing my favourite first line of Uel’s ever.

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