January 28, 2023

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8 Amazing Works by SFF in Translation You Must Read

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SFF in Translation is very important to me. On the one hand, it lets me read all sorts of new and wonderful stories from around the world – which is fun, but it also teaches you so much about the particular country the story is from. On the other hand, my second reason is even more personal. I love SFF in translation because I see stories that I loved reading in Spanish falling into the hands of an English-speaking audience. And let’s be honest, that audience is quite large considering that overall English is the most spoken language in the world. All that to say that today I want to share with you some of the best SFF in translation that you can read in English!

A few things before we actually get into the list. First off, this list is by no means complete or comprehensive. There are many more translated SFF books for you to read! Second, I tried to select a variety of countries. Although I mentioned Spanish, that’s not the language I’m focusing on today. Last but not least, all of these stories are highly speculative. I’ve tried to stick to the more defined genres of fantasy and sci-fi – but not all books will be strictly one or the other.

But without further ado, let’s jump to eight great works by SFF in translation!

SFF in translation you must read

I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories by Kim Bo-Young

Language: Korean

Translators: Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu

Let’s begin with this deeply speculative and philosophical collection of short stories. I’m Waiting for You weaves two storylines through its interconnected stories. On one side you have these godlike creatures watching their creation: humanity. In the other story arc, there is a couple trying to coordinate their space missions to get to Earth at the same time so they can finally get married. They all come together to tell a beautiful story about identity, love and free will. Plus, the translators’ notes at the end add a whole new layer to these stories!

Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang book cover

Tramps by Hao Jingfang

Language: Chinese

Translator: Ken Liu

Continue to the next SFF in translation. Vagabonds is a tough sci-fi book for those who like their sci-fi scientifically correct. The story follows Luo Yin and Ignacio who, despite coming from very different worlds, just want to find their place. The former is a young delegate sent to Earth from Mars in hopes of finding peace after the war. She is also the granddaughter of the dictator of Mars – although her fellow citizens would not call him a dictator at all. Ignacio, on the other hand, is a filmmaker whose job it is to document these delegates.

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Cover of the Vita Nostra

Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko and Sergey Dyachenko

Language: Russian

Translator: Julia Meitov Hersey

This dark fantasy novel from Ukraine starts an exciting series, which will be further translated with Assassin of Reality in March 2023. Vita Nostra follows a girl named Sasha. Her life changes forever after she meets a mysterious man named Farit. He quickly becomes her mentor, giving her coins after she completes strange tasks. This rabbit hole leads them to the Institute of Special Technologies. There she learns some of the darkest magics – which certainly come at a price.

Frankenstein in Baghdad book cover

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

Language: Arabic

Translator: Jonathan Wright

Our next SFF in translation is a story that weaves speculative elements with good old-fashioned horror. Frankenstein in Baghdad is the story of a scavenger named Hadi. He collects human body parts and stitches them together into a single corpse. One day this corpse disappears. Coincidentally, a horrible looking killer is plaguing the streets. Oh, and reports say bullets hardly tickle him. It won’t be long before Hadi realizes he’s created a monster – and only he will be able to stop it.

the cover of Wizard of the Crow

Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Language: Kikuyu

Translator: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Magical realism or fabulism is also a staple of speculative fiction – making this book more than worthy of joining this list. Wizard of the Crow is a fantastic novel steeped in African history and politics. Set in the fictional “Free Republic of Aburia,” the story follows a variety of characters and institutions as they struggle for power. Among them are High Mighty Excellency, the Wizard, the corrupt Christian Ministry, and the rogue Global Bank. All of these people will clash in a battle for control of the citizens of Aburĩria – and if you want to know how, you need to read to find out!

the cover of The Memory Police

The Memorial Police by Yōko Ogawa

Language: Japanese

Translator: Stephen Snyder

If you want a more sedate, thoughtful, dystopian sci-fi novel, you should definitely read The Memory Police. The story takes place on an island controlled by the eponymous Memory Police, where things disappear without a trace. Most people don’t remember it at all, and those who do are hunted down by memory police. On this island lives a young writer who is struggling to keep her career going. One day she discovers that the nefarious institution is after her editor, so she decides to hide him under her floorboards.

Book cover of Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer, Ursula K. Le Guin (Translator)

Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer

Language: Spanish

Translator: Ursula K. Le Guin

The next work of SFF in translation comes from Argentina. It is an epic work of literary fantasy composed of short stories that imitate oral storytelling. But they also weave fairytale elements and political commentary. All of these stories are connected in some way, mostly because they all take place in the same imaginary empire that never was – an empire that has risen and fallen countless times. The whole idea is very reminiscent of Le Guin’s own work, making this author-translator a match made in heaven.

The World of the End by Ofir Touché Gafla book cover

The World of the End by Ofir Touché Gafla

Language: Hebrew

Translator: Mitch Ginsburg

SFF’s latest, but certainly not least, translated work is The World of the End – a smart and suspenseful novel about the afterlife. The story follows a man named Ben Mendelssohn. His wife Marian died in a bizarre accident and he can’t cope. Determined to find her in the afterlife, Ben commits suicide and enters the Otherworld. There he finds his whole family and even the odd celebrity. But Marian is nowhere to be seen. This prompts Ben to hire an afterlife investigator whose research reveals that Marion is in fact alive and well. So what really happened to her?

Would you like to read more books in translation? Dive into our books in the translation archive – or maybe check out some of the latest releases of 2022!