NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: THE DEATH-PAINTED PLANET

by johannespunkt

Good evening, good evening, good evening. Welcome to the North of Reality Translation Project, wherein I translate some of Uel Aramchek’s stories into Swedish but comment on it in English so that most of you can read and enjoy and understand despite not speaking Swedish. Today’s story is The Death-Painted Planet. You can find all of the posts in this project over at this link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

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NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: PLANETEN SOM PENSLATS MED DÖD
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Löpelden kan ses från rymden: en ständigt brinnande halvring som kopplar ihop planetens poler. Till öst om denna självlysande meridian glöder världen violett med liv; till väst finns dock inget annat att se än rök och öken, ett maskhärskat landskap. Flammornas flera jordmånader långa lopp ger fälten precis tillräckligt mycket tid att växa tillbaka. Satelliter i omloppsbana runt ekvatorn kan se hela livs- och dödsförloppet i ett enda varv, från jord till aska och åter till jord.

De första hovarna av vad som kommit att kallas Den eviga vildflykten kan höras bara ett par kilometer öster om eldfronten. Denna världs djur tillbringar sina liv på flykt, dundrande och fladdrande och slingrande sig ständigt österut. De betar kvickt och kort när de kan, och de som ännu inte har utvecklat förmågan att leva utan sömn rider på varandras ryggar. Långa snablar och klängen släpas bakom deras kroppar för att sörpla upp vatten och mossa och undervegetation. Det finns även rovdjur på en sådan plats, mäktiga varelser med mångtandade lemmar som låter dem släpa eller bära sina byten med sig medan de rusar framåt.

Ett expeditionsteam av astrozoologer gjorde en enastående upptäckt medan de observerade den skenande massförflyttningen ifrån deras gyrokopter: en liten stam nakna människor som sprang vid sidan av en flock segelrenar. Det visade sig att de var den överlevande besättningen från ett fraktskepp som krashlandat på planetens yta nästan tio år tidigare, och att de tvingats anpassa sig efter den ständigt förflyttande biosfären. De hade inget materiel kvar från sina stjärnsmugglardagar, för vad de än burit med sig en gång i tiden hade nu trampats eller bränts bort, inklusive deras nödsändare. De hade lyckats anpassa sig och överleva mot ofattbara odds genom att jaga i flock och bli vänner med några av de större bestarna för att sova på deras ryggar om natten.

Trots att överlevarnas beskrivningar av denna upplevelse var mardrömslika har många människor sedan dess självmant valt att springa med Den eviga vildflykten, och många fler tränar och tar supplement för att jaga detta mål. Somliga väljer det som en personlig fysisk utmaning, somliga gör det för att de inte har någonting kvar att förlora, andra söker upplysning genom att uppoffra alla personliga ägodelar. Den fysiska uthålligheten som krävs är enastående, men kanske inte lika mycket som den mentala. För de flesta av den räddade besättningen på det olycksdrabbade skeppet fortsätter flammorna jaga dem i drömmen, och att sitta still i mer än ett par timmar är att ge vika för vansinnet.

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Notes

The word for wildfire in Swedish is perfect for this story: löpeld, formed from the roots of words meaning “sprint” and “fire.” On that note, I was a little bit worried that the two rotations in the first paragraph would lose their connection to each other in translation, but I ran with the theme and connected them both to running laps (lopp), and that was preservation enough. (A good rule of thumb when translating is that if two parts seem connected by word choice, they should seem roughly equally connected in translation.)

At the end of the first paragraph, we get a simple smooth reference to a Biblical phrase in the English. (I looked it up and a Christian website did say that although “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is not in the Bible per se, it is very Biblical indeed because it is a poetic reference to bits of the Bible, alright.) Uel writes “from ashes to fertility to ashes again.” Unfortunately, the equivalent Swedish phrase goes “från jord är du kommen, och jord skall du åter bli” – roughly “you are come from earth, and you shall turn to earth again.” Earth or soil connotes fertility very strongly already, so we’ll lose the whole ashes bit if we just transpose this literally. Fortunately, as I was writing this down expecting to have to go on a Bible hunt and everything, I realized that since it’s a cycle we can just phaseshift it, from ashes → earth → ashes to earth → ashes → earth. The focus of the phrase shifts a little this way, but it would have to anyway because when you start making references you have to triangulate much more. And it feels goddamn smooth so I’m keeping it.

The most immediate solution to translating the phrase “[the] wall of fire” would be “mur[en] av eld” but that sounds so much like translationese (translationese being the name for that special written dialect that includes famous sentences like “Do not disturb tiny grass is dreaming,” along with more subtle but wrongly rendered idioms and overly complicated constructions. Usually these are the result of translators too focused on getting the meaning right, not worrying about making things sound like one would say it in the target language). And, indeed, googling the phrase I mostly find translations of English books.

It’s not that you can’t say the phrase in Swedish – I did find examples of Swedes using it – and it’s not even like you’d suggest the wrong thing by saying it, it’s just that it irks me. I opted instead to make up the word “eldfront” (fire front), giving the wall of fire a meteorological flair without (hopefully) losing its immediacy. I’ve talked a little about how translation has to restrict itself and be conservative before, and surely this neologism – when there’s an equivalent phrase used by other native speakers available – is breaking that rule? Well, yes. But you have to know when to break your own rules. It’s still all about what the result sounds like.

There is an interesting challenge in the word “tumbledeer.” It seems to be a portmanteau of tumbleweed and deer, and as such how would one translate it? Although considering it solely as a Frankenstein of tumbleweed and deer would be missing an important part of it: when we encounter something new we use language to map it to something we already know. A favourite anecdote among some linguists to illustrate this is how the Gurr-goni (also known as Guragone) language genders aeroplanes as vegetables. See, trees are vegetables (kinda) and so things made of wood, such as canoes, are then also vegetables. And an aeroplane is a sky-canoe.

(If you think that’s absurd instead of cool, consider why you’re thinking of crewed rockets as ships.)

So to describe the tumbledeer in Swedish I should figure out how to analogize it. But to do that I should first figure out what they look like. Since I’ve decided to interpret this as though they’re tumbleweedlike, I’m going to assume that they move with the wind. It makes sense to imagine that a giant roaring fire is going to generate some strong and pretty constant gusts. So, imagine a mess of antlers and hooves, with heart and head and stomach placed wherever there’s room. Actually, if they move with the wind, perhaps a big moose-antlercrown could act like a sail, and the hooves could be used to push against the ground quick when they land, to regain speed.

Now I’ve decided sort of what the animal looks like, I will spit out some names for it and see which is best. Segelälg (sail-elk), segelren, skuttlöpare, studslöpare, hovsegel, studshjort, rullhjort, studsdjur, flygren, flygälg, stormälg, stormhjort … I quite like hovsegel (hoof-sails), although it is very silly. It should not be that, though, because hov also means “of or pertaining to the royal court,” annoyingly. But with another pronunciation. It would be a muddying connotation, not an enriching one, so it gets cut. I think of the ideas I listed above, the most evocative is segelren (“sail-raindeer;” it sounds better in Swedish) and so I will go with that.

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Well, that was a lot of words. Thanks for reading, pals. If you like this story of Uel’s, there’s a similar mechanism on a fictional space planet in Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games, which is really good space opera. If that’s your thing, I mean.

Are you doing cool things with words? If you speak a language that is not English, but also speak enough English to read the things I write here, are you translating things? Let’s talk about that, if you have the time.

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