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Writing in English

November 4, 2010

One of the reasons I even started this collection of crud was to practice to write something on a fairly regular basis. It’s worked out so-so so far, but better than I could have hoped, considering my lack of discipline.

Us Swedes are constantly told how well we speak English. That is both true and false. One the one hand, a foreigner asking someone for directions or similar in English is bound to get some sort of sensible answer from a Swede. They may have a funny accent and make literal translation of idioms, but nothing too bad.

On the other hand, people are over-confident in their abilities. Some – mostly young people – matter-of-factly claim to be fluent in English. Now, not to toot my own horn or anything, but I consider myself to be fairly good at English, but I would hesitate a great deal before declaring to be fluent in it. Not by a long shot.

Don’t get me wrong; I would do just fine if dropped into English-speaking territory. But for me to consider myself fluent, I would have to learn so many things. There are the obvious things; holes in my vocabulary, a bunch of idioms, and all the horrible rules of prepositions. But more importantly, there is the issue of nuances, of “fine-tuning” one’s sentences so to speak. In Swedish I have (not surprisingly) a much better feeling of the tiny differences between synonyms.

I made a passing try at writing English prose the other day and it was a humbling experience. The feeling was akin to that of trying to tie your shoelaces while wearing oven mitts. There was just no direct line between the conceptual part of the brain and the executive part.

When writing non-fiction like this, the disconnection is much lesser.

So why did I even try to write in English? Well, it may seem silly, but writing science fiction in Swedish feels so strange. Sci-fi is so technology-laden that it would turn into some sort of Swenglish mess, since we borrow so many words from English when it comes to technology.

Sci-fi and fantasy in English can get away with bombastic names like “Fleshgorger of Doom” or whatever. In Swedish hardly anything ever sounds cool. Add to that that words that come with many synonyms in English rarely do in Swedish, and vice versa. This makes translations difficult in either direction.

But why even look to the English scene for inspiration? Why not read some Swedish sci-fi or fantasy to get things going? Well, the fact is that Sweden doesn’t really have a strong tradition of speculative fiction. I’ve only read a handful of Swedish sci-fi books, and there are really only two that are great (I’ve borrowed Aniara, but not yet read it); the two-parter Rymdväktaren and Nyaga by Peter Nilson. If one were to write fantasy in Swedish, one could of course draw upon the old norse mythology, but sci-fi? There’s not much to go on.

Of the sci-fi ideas I’ve been toying with, hoping to make something out of, only one could work in Swedish, and that’s mostly because it would be set in the present or very near future. Also, not much focus on the technology or even the science bit. (When artsy fartsy people write urban fantasy light, it’s called magical realism, but what would sci-fi light be called?)

So I have decided to try my luck with English in this matter.

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