Lost in the Translation

Certain competition threads start spontaneously on the science fiction newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written. One of my favourites was about title/author pairs that can be read as a single phrase (with possibly the best being The Sheep Look Up John Brunner). In May 1999 someone quoting an alleged funny mistranslation, by a translator who missed the point, of a well-known SF book title A Very Important Mission, and a thread took off from there. Below are some of the submissions I’ve collected from that thread, and from ones sent to me later. (The contributors of the titles – either the devisers themselves, or telling of titles they remember from earlier competitions – are noted afterwards.) I’ve also provided answers – but no peeking before trying to work them out – that’s most of the fun!

There are mainly three kinds of ‘translation’, illustrated by various submissions for Ringworld:

And extra points for making it the title of another book!

Isaac Asimov

Iain M. Banks

John Barnes

Alfred Bester

Ray Bradbury

David Brin

John Brunner

Algis Budrys

Lois McMaster Bujold

Orson Scott Card

Raphael Carter

C. J. Cherryh

Arthur C. Clarke

Hal Clement

Pamela Dean

Samuel R. Delany

Stephen Donaldson

Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald

Umberto Eco

Greg Egan

Harlan Ellison

Harry Harrison

Robert A. Heinlein

Frank Herbert

James P. Hogan

Norton Juster

Stephen King

Nancy Kress

Ursula K. LeGuin

Fritz Leiber

Jonathan Lethem

H. P. Lovecraft

George R.R. Martin

Julian May

Ian McDonald

Robin McKinley

Larry Niven

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

George Orwell

H. Beam Piper

Frederik Pohl

Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth

Terry Pratchett

Christopher Priest

Spider Robinson

Robert Silverberg

Norman Spinrad

Neil Stephenson

Sheri S. Tepper

James Tiptree, Jr.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Jules Verne

Vernor Vinge

Lawrence Watt-Evans

Walter Jon Williams

Connie Willis

Roger Zelazny