February 26, 2008

It ain't easy being Cinderella

Author John Burnham Schwartz has written a fictionalized biography about the current empress of Japan. NPR posted three interviews concerning the book and the burdens borne by the real empress and crown princess, in which he describes them as prisoners of empty traditions, invented out of whole cloth in the past 150 years.

Having watched the Emperor's New Year's "address," I think that Schwartz has a point here. After the big build-up, the Emperor got up and waved and said (more or less), "Have a nice year." The End. Now, I believe that the typical State of the Union runs twice as long as common sense dictates, but even Queen Elizabeth has more to say than that.

Coincidentally, the AP ran this article the same day:

The 44-year-old Masako, a former diplomat who married into the royal family in 1993, has opted out of most imperial functions since the end of 2003 because of what is widely believed to be depression.

And this one:

Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito, who turned 48 on Saturday, promised he would visit his parents more after a senior palace official rebuked him for not spending enough time with them.

Not a Cinderella story. Though probably a closer reflection of the kind of life that awaited the typical medieval royal fiancée.

UPDATE: Marie Mockett doesn't think much of the book itself, which from her description descends rather precipitously into classical Orientalism. Which is too bad, because I think it's a subject that deserves serious argument. (I do tend towards republican--meaning anti-royal--sentiments in cases like this.)

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February 24, 2008

Chapter 40 (The Shore in Twilight)

The theological question Risai and Youko touch upon in this chapter revolves around theodicy, or arguments challenging or confirming the existence of the divine in the face of the existence of evil: "If God exists, why does He allow suffering to happen?" The answer Youko seems to arrive at is "theistic finitism," or the proposition that God is not truly omnipotent or omnipresent (or acts as such). On the other hand, the Greeks and Romans basically proposed that even if the Gods are omnipotent, they are not necessary good and certainly not trustworthy, which does make for more entertaining melodramas.

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February 22, 2008

Unwelcome sounds

I parked the car and turned off the engine, got out and heard: "HSSSSSSSSS!" I mean, LOUD. Coming from the front left tire. I put my hand down by the fender and could feel the blast of air. So I jumped back in and hurried (slowly and carefully, that is) down the block to the auto shop before the tire went flat as a pancake.

Whatever I rolled over had pretty much wrecked the sidewall and I ended up having to get a new tire. (With less than 5,000 miles on them--practically brand spanking new--I wasn't getting two).

Later I tried to find what I'd rolled over, but with all this blasted snow half-melting and turning to sheets of ice, it was a futile effort. So I parked elsewhere. A few days later when the snow finally stopped falling and the temperature finally got back to the 40s where it's supposed to be, the culprit revealed itself.

My travails were over in less than an hour (though my wallet was much lighter than I'd hoped). I noticed something I hadn't before. They rotated the back tires to the front. My typical experience with changing tires is they whip the lug nuts off and on with an air impact wrench.

This time, though, after using the air impact wrench, the guy working on my car lowered the lift and went around to all four tires with a torque wrench. And then another mechanic went around with a torque wrench, all twenty lug nuts. I think he had to sign off on it too.

This has got to be a liability thing. I've heard stories on Car Talk about people having their tires fall off after a tire rotation or change. That'd be a major insurance hit. I found the redundancy quite reassuring.


February 19, 2008

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

Chapter 55 / 7-4

TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

1. TP: He was like what Yoko thought of when she imagined [1] a hero or a king. She caught her breath, looking up at him. He smiled.
      "I mean no offense, but are you injured?" Yoko nodded silently.
      The man raised a single eyebrow. [2] "You lack the strength to speak?"
      "I. . . no . . . Thank you."
      "I've done nothing requiring your thanks, but I accept it nonetheless."
      "You saved my life." [3]
      "Oh? I merely wished to rid myself of those annoying creatures. [4] Saving you was a side effect."

EW: The picture of a gallant warrior. Youko looked up at him, still trying to catch her breath. He laughed. "This might not be the most appropriate thing to ask, but you are all right?"
      She nodded, [2] weakly raising an eyebrow.
      "Don't have the strength left to talk?"
      "Thank . . . you . . . very . . . much."
      "It's nothing you need thank me for."
      "Well, I certainly appreciate the help."
      "Having youma wandering about is a nuisance. I didn't know I was coming to your rescue." [4]

1.1. This observation is stated in the third person. LIT: "This was the kind of person [people thought of] when talking about 'the magnificent hero.'"
1.2. LIT: "Silently nodded, weakly raising an eyebrow." All one sentence.
1.3. The verb is not as strong as "saved my life," but could be read, "Thanks for coming to the rescue."
1.4. My translation is pretty literal.

2. TP: "Well, I certainly want to talk to this man, I just... I mean, I don't want to force you to come in with me. You can go back to the inn. This might not be safe."
      "And out here is?" Rakushun demanded, shaking his head. "Let's go, Yoko."

EW: "That's not what I mean. There's a few things I want to talk over with this guy. Maybe you should go back to the inn, just to play it safe."
      "I'm not worried. Let's go."

The expression here could also be translated, "I couldn't care less," or "I don't give a damn." The additions are not in the original.

3. TP: The man took a flagon from the tray and filled his cup seeming completely at ease.

EW: The man nonchalantly picked up a pitcher and poured himself a glass of something. He seemed, however, to have lost a bit of his prior composure.

TokyoPop is correct (the adverb "nonchalantly" should have clued me in): "The action betrayed not the slightest bit of defensiveness or agitation."

4. TP: When this happens, only the sword can be used to stop it. This weapon is one of the secret, sacred treasures of the kingdom of Kei ."

EW: That's why it is said to never separate sword and scabbard. It is the Imperial Regalia of the Kingdom of Kei ."

I was being a little lose with the translation here: "Hence it is said that the swords seals the scabbard." The kanji for "secret" is contained in the word, but it means "treasured possession."

5. TP: "A letter. You sent it from the territorial offices in this town, no? What is it you had to say?"
      But we only sent it today, thought Yoko bewilderedly. No one could have answered so soon . . . [1]
      "You . . ." She faltered. "You're not the minister of En, are you?"
      The man smiled unkindly. [2] "The minister is out. If you've business here, I'll hear it now."
      Yoko's heart dropped. So this wasn't the minister.
      "I wrote what I had to say in the letter."
      "So you did. The Glory-King, was it?" He read the letter! [3]
      "I'm a kaikyaku. I don't know much about this world . . ."
      "That would seem to be the case." [4]
      "You believe me? You think I'm the Glory-King of Kei?" [5]

EW: "You sent a letter via the local ward office. So, tell me, what's this about?"
      "You've got to be kidding. You're the Taiho of En?"
      The man smiled slyly. "The Taiho is unavailable at the moment. But I'll listen to whatever you have to say."
      Youko felt a profound disappointment. So he wasn't the Taiho after all. "I wrote it down in the letter."
      "So you did. Something about the Royal Kei."
      "I am a kaikyaku. I don't know much about this world. That's what it comes down to." Youko looked at Rakushun. "This is Rakushun. He says I'm the Royal Kei." [6]
      "Well," the man readily agreed, "he would be right, then."
      "You believe him?"

5.1. Not in the original.
5.2. Maybe "smiled peevishly" is better. Or "the man scowled." He's reacting to Youko's suggestion that he's Rokuta.
5.3. Not in the original.
5.4. Not in the original.
5.5. The sentence only contains the verb: "[You] believe?" But the object has to be "him." Youko, after all, isn't convinced.
5.6. Youko is quoting Rakushun here.

6. TP: The demon is trapped and the master is trapped in turn . . . . this means that normally, only the sword's true master might draw it.

EW: Because they were sealed together, only the true king can wield the sword.

Better: "As the both of them were sealed together [because each sealed the other in turn], by its very nature, only the true king could draw the sword."

7. TP: Yoko stared at the man. "Who are you? Tell me."
      "Will you not introduce yourself first?" [1]

EW: Youko looked straight at him. "Who the hell are you?"
      He wasn't any kind of normal guy, knowing what he knew about the Kingdom of Kei. [2]
      He said, "Could you tell me your name again?"

7.1. Should be: "Why don't you tell me your name first?" TokyoPop is correct, but too formal.
7.2. In the original.

8. TP: "My name is Naotaka Komatsu," he said simply.
      He's Japanese?! [1]
      Now Yoko wore a look of surprise. [2] "You're a kaikyaku?"
      "A taika, actually. Most here call me Shoryu . . . that's the Chinese pronunciation of the characters in my first name, you see."

EW: He gazed back at Youko without the slightest bit of defensiveness. "Naotaka Komatsu."
      Youko pressed on with an equal bravado. "A kaikyaku?"
      "A taika. The Chinese reading for my name is Shouryuu, which is more common. Though I'm afraid not common enough to be of much use to you." [3]

8.1. Not in the original.
8.2. LIT: "Youko gave this man, who had answered her without any defensiveness, a long, hard look." (I split up the relative clause.)
8.3. LIT: "Most people read it Shouryuu, but not enough to amount to much."

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February 17, 2008

Chapter 39 (The Shore in Twilight)

天馬 [てんば] tenba (heaven horse); often translated (not just by me) as "pegasus."

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February 12, 2008

Studying English with the NYT

If you double-click on a word in a New York Times article, a dictionary definition of that word will pop up (though not on the front page and not in the political diaries or blogs). Color me impressed. There's no way to select and double-click on compound nouns, but it's still a cool language study feature.

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February 10, 2008

Chapter 38 (The Shore in Twilight)

半嗣 [はんし] Hanshi (half + heir)
女怪 [にょかい] nyokai (female + mysterious/apparition); the guardian born shortly before the kirin and destined to watch over him.

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February 08, 2008

A rose by any other name

In Japan, The "His Dark Materials" trilogy is titled「ライラの冒険」or "The Adventures of Lyra." Not quite as poetic, but to the point. (And I doubt many English-language readers get the Milton reference.)

The British title for book one is Northern Lights, which I believe was changed to avoid confusion with Northern Exposure. The Japanese title for book one is a literal translation of the American title, which does render very nicely in kanji. And the original title is included in English for good measure.

The British sit-com The Good Life (one of my favorites) was retitled Good Neighbors because of an American sit-com with a similar title. The American title might even be an improvement, considering the nod to Robert Frost and the episode about the fence. A triple entendre.

TokyoPop has followed the obvious-but-dull route with the "Twelve Kingdoms" novels, using only half of the original Japanese. Volume 1: Sea of Shadows. Volume 2: Sea of Wind (I detect a pattern here). TokyoPop's title for volume 2 is (half) literal. Stretching definitions a tad, I came up with: Zephyr Oceans, Labyrinthian Shores.

Granted, a good title is one that potential book buyers can actually remember. So too much poetry might be ill-advised on this account. (Just don't get me started on the English title for Ai no Kusabi . . . . )

More musings about title translations here and here.

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February 05, 2008

It's still a Willy Loman world

The New York Times explains why it takes so long for books to get published:

Although publishers can turn an electronic file into a printed book in a matter of weeks . . . they usually take a year before releasing a book. Why so long? In a word, marketing . . . . Even before it’s edited, copy-edited, proofread and indexed, the publicity wheels start turning.

The fundamental obstacle is that costs are pretty fixed in traditional marketing. An ad buy during the Super Bowl costs the same, regardless of the item being sold. And these numbers for books just aren't good. So word of mouth remains the name of the game. But word of mouth takes months--years--to propagate.

Quips Laurence Kirshbaum, former chairman of the Time Warner Book Group, "If you’re trying to explain this to someone from Mars or the Harvard Business School, they'd kind of scratch their head and say, 'There must be a better way.' But so far neither Martians nor H.B.S.-ers have solved this riddle."

The Internet brought us the "long tail," but it can look like a filament to a small publisher. Worse, rejecting the "Influentials" theory most recently expounded by Malcolm Gladwell, Duncan Watts argues that "if society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--and if it isn't, then almost no one can."

His conclusion? "The most effective way to pitch your idea is--mass marketing. And that is precisely what the wizards of Madison Avenue, presiding over our zillion-channel microniche market, have rejected as obsolete."

But perhaps there is a silver lining to be found in the by-now hackneyed idea of "online communities." In other words, identifying smaller markets but still treating them as mass. The one thing the Internet can do is turn anybody into a mass marketer. If they can afford the ad buys, that is.

Keeping in mind that according to Duncan, "The world isn't just complex--it's practically anarchic." Word of mouth can make "big hits bigger. But they also make success more unpredictable." Or as William Goldman put it, "Nobody knows anything." Hey, nobody knows that your next book won't be a bestseller.

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February 01, 2008

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

Chapter 54

TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

1. TP: Back at the inn, Rakushun mumbled that he was "Of the opinion that they should procure lodgings of a quality befitting Yoko's new status." Yoko firmly objected, but the beastling said, "I hardly think the Glory-King would stay in a place like this."

EW: Rakushun had insisted that they take a room at a proper inn and Youko had insisted that it was a waste of money.
      "How could the Royal Kei even think of staying in a cheap place like this?"

Not dialogue in the original.

2. TP: But you're the Glory-King! You'll be able to pay somehow.

EW: You're the Royal Kei. You shouldn't even have to pay.

LIT: "There should be no expectation of a person like the Royal Kei paying."

3. TP: After much argument, they finally decided to remain at the inn they'd originally chosen, which was definitely on the inexpensive side, yet clean and respectable [1]. Their room was small, but it had two beds. There was a window looking over an inner courtyard, and even a small table under the window. Yoko took great satisfaction in the fact that she was able to pay for the place with her own money.

EW: They ended up getting a room that could be said to be the best of the worst. It was a small, four tatami-mat room, about eight by ten feet. [2] The room slept two. It had a window facing the courtyard. There was a small table beneath the window. As they were going Dutch on the room, this was the best inn Youko had stayed in so far. [3]

3.1. "Best of the worst" is a literal translation.
3.2. Room size in Japan is still often measured in tatami mats. I added the parenthetical to provide dimensions.
3.3. We're both wrong. LIT: "Because that was the kind of room they could pay for by themselves, as far as Youko was concerned, there wasn't anything more luxurious [in this class]." Or: "This was the best they could afford on their budget."

4. TP: Yoko heard something familiar in the screams of the escaping townsfolk--the fear of death. These were the kind of screams people could only make when their lives were truly in danger. What is coming? Ah--there . . . [2] Mingled with the screams she heard another voice, like the wailing of an infant.

EW: The screams of the fleeing people awakened something inside her. [1] The most piercing of the cries, that was the sound of a person in mortal danger. Mingled together with the screams was that sound like a wailing baby. The cries of the youma. Youko knew it well.

4.1. Should be: "The screams of the fleeing people sounded familiar in her ears."
4.2. Not in the original.

5. TP: She heard a familiar scream: "Bafik!"

EW: Bakufu, she heard somebody shout.

Should be: "Bafuku" (my typo).

6. TP: She knocked two out of the sky; then, moving with calculated efficiency, she finished off the still-struggling tiger.

EW: She struck down two and gave the tiger another should-be mortal blow.

TokyoPop is correct: "She struck down two and gave the tiger the coup de grace." This mistake arose out an error with the counting suffixes (see 11).

7. TP: She knew instinctively that she had to avoid letting the birds go for her legs--that would open her to attacks from above [1]--so she sprinted past the tiger's [2] corpse and stood with her back to the inn, finding a patch of dry ground where her footing would be good. In the street, the wounded ox bellowed and thrashed wildly on cobblestones slick with demon blood. [3]

EW: To keep from tripping and falling, she skipped past the corpses and with her back against the wall of the inn searched for better footing. She'd stuck the blue bull twice and it was in a frenzy. The blood of the youma was making the cobblestones slick beneath her feet.

7.1. Not in the original.
7.2. The text only says "corpses."
7.3. A minor point, but two separate sentences.

My translation here is close to literal. The last sentence should probably be: "The cobblestones beneath her feet grew slick with the blood of the youma."

8. TP: The road was narrow and poorly lit, and the flock was coming fast. The only light Yoko had was that from the shops that lined the road, a dim half-light that seemed only to make the shadows deeper. She glanced up. The birds, attacking in close formation, were rapidly nearing; it looked as though they were almost boiling out of the shadows.

EW: The cramped, poorly-lit alleyway, the birds gathering. No hope of assistance from the surrounding shops, save for the flickering lamplight. Beyond the muddy glow, the night was dark and deep. If the birds realized this as well, they were close at hand and could be scheming to fall on her out of the blackness.

TokyoPop is more correct: "Before she knew it, the birds were on top of her. They fell on her, as boiling out of the blackness."

9. TP: A flash caught her eye-- [1] the motion of a sword thrust skillfully through the monster's back. [2] Yoko was so distracted she failed to see another bird swooping at her, but this too was cut down by--

EW: As she did, that same someone pierced the back of its skull with a brilliantly executed stroke. It was with such skill that the dexterity of the stroke [3] completely distracted her. He yanked out the sword and eviscerated the next bird thrusting its stinger at her. [4]

9.1. It's not a flash of light, but it is a common-enough phrasing.
9.2. It's definitely the "back of the head."
9.3. I think the error here comes from the verb "brilliant," which as in English can refer to both light and skill. The first usage translates literally as "pierced with a brilliant hand movement." The second usage translates literally as "transfixed by [that] utter brillance."
9.4. Better: "He yanked out the sword and mowed down the birds descending on them."

10. TP: A man was beside her in the street. He stood with a warrior's poise, a full head taller than Yoko. "Focus."
      Speaking only that one word, the man turned and slashed down three screeching monkeys with a single swing of his blade.

EW: He was a big man, a good head taller than herself. "Don't let your guard down," he said, and dispatched the last of the birds with ease.

"Last of the birds" is a literal translation.

11. TP: Then the horde of monkey-demons charged en masse, and the man turned to meet them head-on, Yoko at his side.
      He was skilled, more skilled than she was, and many times as strong. The monkeys in the horde seemed too numerous to count, yet it was only a matter of moments before all had fallen and quiet returned to the corpse-ridden street.

EW: Youko nodded and he tore into the charging monkeys like a battering ram. From the rear the tiger leapt at them and impaled itself. Youko quickly found herself back in the midst of the battle.
      The man's skill far exceeded her own. His strength was an order of magnitude greater. The hoard was numerous, but the dead bodies piled up in the alleyway and the tempest quieted down. It didn't seem to take much time at all.

In Japanese, suffixes are attached to numbers that identify the nature of the thing being counted. In this case, the counter means "head," as in "head of cattle." I didn't realize it could be used for counting monkeys.

      Youko nodded, at the same time slashing at the charging monkeys as if swatting at flies [LIT: "as if slapping at something"]. She impaled one leaping up behind them, and quickly found herself back in the midst of the battle."

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