“Summer in the Death Zone” (novelette) by Maxim Jakubowski
English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)
Original: French (Un Été dans la Zone), 1973
Translated by Maxim Jakubowski, 1976
Synopsis: MJ, a science fiction writer in front of his typewriter, struggles to pen a story even with the influence of Kafka and the ever notable Max Jakubowski. As he daydreams an erotic memory of his long-gone lover, the Erotic Brigade come to his door and ask to interrogate him about his thoughts on women. He mentions “phosphorus” in the interview because “blue phosphorus islands” had been on his mind recently, and it’s his password to another realm. 20 pages
Pre-analysis: When plunging the depths of science fiction, certain subjective results occur: there are some deep clear oceans of literature out there (Banks, Mann, etc.), there are some undersea caves of complexity and beauty (Kafka, Tsutsui, etc.), then there’s the muck as the floor that sticks to your feet even as you rise from the bottom (van Vogt, Silverberg, etc.). The ocean—of earth and of literature—is also full of oddities like the humor of Brunner, the shapelessness of Lem, the pecularity of Leiber or Sheckley, and the metafiction of Malzberg. These eccentricities aren’t without their own folly, however—Brunner has had his flops, some of Lem’s short stories are too silly for their own good, some Leiber and Sheckley, are way out there, and but Malzberg… ah, Malzberg, you do metafiction so damn right.
Brief Rant: If taken as the centerpiece of the entire collection—here, I suggest that the editor’s own story is meant to be BOTH the implied centerpiece as well as being in the exact middle of the collection (starting at page 145 of 288 pages)—the story symbolizes not French science fiction as an objective state of the art, but rather of the editor’s subjective concern (that being mainly erotica). Look to “Summer in the Death Zone” first to find characteristics that can then be found in many—but not all—of the other stories; the result? It seems that this collection of French science fiction isn’t a broad and objective selection of the genre, but a subjective fixation of Jakubowski’s; thus, his own story’s inclusion taints the rest of the collection. A kaleidoscope of fiction?… No, this is a fixation of conclusion. <<This reminds me of Ellison’s own inclusion in Dangerous Visions (1967), Silverberg’s Deep Space (1973), and Bruce Sterling’s Mirrorshades (1986)… all of which were among the worst in the collection. Hmm…>>
Aside: The fact that this editor’s inclusion into the collection is also a metafictional foray into the author’s own by-name fantasy must be a symptom of some type of egoism or exceptionalism. Consider: Jakubowski was—still is, actually—bilingual from birth, which implies that he could easily have written this story in English or in French, so the fact that it’s “translated fiction” really dies with its conception of being “translated fiction”.
Further Aside: “Translated fiction” should come from the heart of the cultural/lingual ethos of the nation rather than the simple language with which it was written. I could easily pen a story in English, have it professionally translated in Thai, give myself a Thai pseudonym or allow the translator to use their name, and call the story Thai in origin. That all defeats the purpose of it being “translated fiction”, doesn’t it?
Last Aside: “Summer in the Death Zone”, prior to its publication in Travelling Towards Epsilon, had never before—or ever since—been published anywhere else. This so-called French Science Fiction collection is the birthplace and graveyard of Jakubowski’s story.
Analysis: None needed.