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Thursday, January 5, 2006

lít do dešifrování

Possibly a special circle in hell is reserved for those who fannishly geek out about their own work.

Regardless, I thought you might be intrigued by this correspondence with a Czech translator:

Dear Mr. Rosenbaum,

I was asked by Martin Sust to translate your short story - Start the Clock - for the new issue of Czech F&SF Magazine. I am almost finished, but there are still some things I need to ask you about. The page numbers refer to the original publication in F&SF.

  • p. 108, para 3 - found footage editor (what exactly is found footage?)
  • p. 110, para 2 from bot. - clowncar (some funny little car?)
  • p. 111, para2 from bot. - public footage, swarmcams
  • p.119, 1/2 - Davy Jones's lockers (I have found the meaning of the term, but still I am not sure why it is here)
  • p. 111, 112 - Is Abby using an apparatus for taking photographs or video?
  • p. 118 Last but not least, I am not sure about the thing Millie is afraid of :-)

I hope it's not too bothering.

Best wishes
Petr Kotrle, Czech Republic

Hello Mr. Kotrle!

Glad to be of help.

  • "Found footage" means footage -- video images -- that are found in the public archives, rather than being filmed specifically for the purpose of the production. Suze is something like a director of films, but rather than using a film crew, she simply mines the vast amount of footage available in the public archives (the descendants of the web and the internet).
  • A clown car in the circus nowadays is a small car that drives to the center of the ring, and then a gazillion clowns get out of it -- more than would fit in the car, so there has to be a trap door in the bottom. In Suze's world, clowncars are a fashionable vehicle for Nines, Eights and so on. It's a funny, possibly clown-themed car, which fits way more people than it should (but simply by good design, not magic or trapdoors). If that's too hard to get across feel free to replace it -- the idea is to signal that Suze and her friends have this odd aesthetic, partly childlike, partly defensively ironic.

  • public footage as above -- footage Suze mines from the (latter-day) web

    swarmcams are tiny sensors that can act as cameras. You might introduce public surveillance in a city by flying a cropduster over it and dropping millions of tiny cameras that weigh somewhere between a dustmote and a leaf. They talk to each other to relay information to the nearest connection to the main network.

    cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_dust , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarm_intelligence

  • Davy Jones is a goofy old pirate legend, so the somewhat kitschy real estate developers who built Pirateland -- which is somewhere between a suburb and a theme park -- installed animated skeletons waving out of lockers. Again, it's the playful-but-weird style that appeals to the Nines: the point is that Suze's normal commute homelooks like Disneyland. Feel free to replace with some goofy, eerie, Disneyfied Czech pirate legend material. :-)
  • I think Abby's taking still photographs with an antique, non-digital, clunky, hefty camera, on real film -- the kind of thing that even today only photography aficionados would be into. Suze found it for her on eBay (or the equivalent).

  • > Last but not least, I am not sure about the thing Millie is afraid of :-)

    Neither am I. :-)

    Millie/Carla is an augmented Three. For older people, direct neural access to the global information/activity network -- the descendent of the internet, but it does a lot more -- is clunky and artificial. It's like learning a foreign language as an adult -- it stays on some level a tool, not a part of self. For Millie/Carla and her friends, in a very real way she's no longer just the child whose body she wears, but something larger.

    What she's talking about is therefore on some level way beyond me. But the gist of it is data mining. She takes:

    1) all the money people spend -- some vast tract of global financial data, and
    2) the way they looked at each other that day -- taken from the public footage, so you correlate financial data with people's interpersonal attitudes/expression as seen on the ubiquitious public cameras,
        and you correlate both of those with
    3) what the weather's going to do -- which may mean the literal weather, or also maybe more, like chaotic predictive modelling about the whole environment including the human environment
        and the result
    4) then you can sing to cats and stuff
        is super way beyond me. Does she mean it metaphorically? Or do they actually talk to cats, are cats intelligent? Or is intelligence and talking not really the point, but they have some important communion with cats that is more like singing? Or is this just kind of an error of translation?

    The point is, they correlate vast amounts of data which is as immediate and real to them as their own bodies, and it leads them unimaginable, incomprehensible places -- and that's what scares Millie. Millie is the (slightly disassociated) part of Carla that is uneasy with being posthuman -- that wants to be like people and trees (similar entities, from her perspective) and doesn't want to be part of the world's ruling intelligence, "to make things okay all the time". Millie is Carla's nostalgia for being an unaugmented little girl, so what she's really afraid of is their power.

    Bolshoiye-gemeinschaft-episteme-mekhashvei-ibura one of their words for what they are -- sort of russian, german, greek, hebrew and swahili for "the big community of the truth of the computation of sacred things"

> I hope it's not too bothering.

Not at all! It's great fun, feel free to ask more. I only wish I could read the result. :-)

It is a great help - thanks!

I enjoyed the story and I hope I will get a chance to translate more things you wrote - or will.

There is one thing I'm still thinking about. What is behind the joke "The Cat in the Hat x The Hat on the Cat"?

Best wishes

Hmm... well, Suze's documentary was an argument that the Under-Five be augmented ("wired into the Internet" is how the old fashioned realtor lady wrongly thinks of it, and so do I since I'm of her generation) as a way of freeing them from lives of dependency. This was in the period when Nines and such were coming into their own as a political force, and augmentation of toddlers was one of their rallying cries, kind of a romantic attachment to people they felt solidarity to, the way rich African-Americans care about Haiti and rich American Jews used to campaign for Jews stuck in the Soviet Union.

The Cat in the Hat is, of course, a toddler's book. The cat in that book is magical, all powerful -- more than a mere plaything and sidekick to the children, he's like a force of nature, a force of chaos -- he wrecks the house, then cleans it up. He represents change, power, things you're parents don't know about. (The Dr. Seuss book ends with the toddler-sized moral dilemma of whether to tell the mother about the Cat: "well... what would *you* do, if your mother asked *you*?")

So the cat is emancipated -- he can do things beyond the ken of adults, and he invites the children into that dangerous, captivating world.

His enormous stripy hat is the oddest, most emblematic and totemic thing about him (in the old animated movie which dr. suess worked on, when he takes it off, it contains whole worlds, in the polyglot animated sequence "cat, hat, in french chat-chapeau...", and in the sequel "the cat in the hat comes back" the hat contains an infinite regression of tiny servitors). The hat is what makes the cat more than just a cat.

So the hat on the cat stands for augmentation -- a gateway into a world beyond mere adulthood, to undreamed of power and strangeness, as imagined in a central text for toddlers.

Make sense?


You know, I'm finding new things out about this story as we correspond. :-)

I wonder if you would mind if I post this correspondence on my blog? I think other readers might be interested in it.

I can either leave your name and the target language in there, or if you prefer anonymity I can obscure them...

If it would bother you, though, I don't mind not doing it -- it's just a whim... :-)


Yes, I think it made sense what you wrote about the cat and the hat. You know, The Cat in the Hat as a movie was named "Kocour" (Tom-cat) for the Czech distribution, which makes it more difficult for me to find something for "The Hat on the Cat" (I am not sure the book was even published here, I've googled only movie references). Considering what you wrote, I think I should put the stress on the hat, so perhaps "Kocourův klobouk" (Tom-cat's Hat) could do - or I have to find something completely different to suit the "local" terms, the same way I have already decided to substitute "Macromuppet" by more famous "Tele-tubbie".

You can use the correspondence with my name, I do not mind. It can be interesting both for readers and people interested in the translation process; let them see the pleasures we have. And if some local nit-picker wants to find a stick to beat me for some mistake, he or she will find it anyway.

Best wishes!


Posted by benrosen at January 5, 2006 08:54 PM | Up to blog

*stares* That's really cool.

Posted by: Em Tersoff at January 6, 2006 12:15 AM

From what I can see in a quick google, Seuss has been translated into Polish but not Czech. (Somebody should rectify that.)

Posted by: David Moles at January 6, 2006 11:44 AM

Interesting. Thanks for posting this.

Posted by: Scott Janssens at January 6, 2006 05:36 PM

Thanks (and to Petr!) for posting that. He sounds like fun (and I know you are).

- Hannah

Posted by: Hannah at January 9, 2006 09:57 AM

I would love it if more authors made these kinds of notes public. It's the DVD commentary track, but for text! Fascinating stuff, Ben, thanks.

Posted by: Dan Percival at January 9, 2006 01:25 PM

Fascinating exchange. And I loved 'Start the Clock'.

I run a mailing list on Chip Delany's work (groups.yahoo.com/group/delany-list), and we had a great time answering a translator's questions on the list several years ago -- he was translating Dhalgren into Italian. I think he also got in touch with Chip directly, but it was fun helping him out with 'day-glo', 'Ipana' (toothpaste), and expressions like 'Far fucking out' (as well as the 'Finnegan's Wake'-style passages).

Posted by: Zvi at January 12, 2006 05:01 PM


Delany's one of my heroes, Dahlgren's one of my favorite books, and I daresay "Start the Clock" owes a lot to, for instance, "Aye, and Gomorrah..." (as well as to influences of his like Bester and Sturgeon...)

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at January 12, 2006 05:08 PM

I'm teaching this story in my Intro to SF class at the University of Cincinnati and this entry has been amazingly helpful. Thanks for posting it. And thanks for writing this great story.

Posted by: Charley Henley at October 12, 2012 02:47 PM

Great to hear that, Charley! Thanks for letting me know. I'd love to hear what they think...

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at October 13, 2012 07:11 AM
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