I am delighted to welcome to the Luna family Japanese writer Fumio Takano, and British translator Sharni Wilson!
Fumio and I met in 2017, at the 75th Worldcon in Finland. We immediately started to talk about joining forces, to introduce her talent and witty style to the English speaking world. It took us some time, but we did it and it was absolutely worth it!
And thanks to the skilled translation of Sharni Wilson, we are now in a position to introduce to you the novella, Swan Knight, which will join our Over the Moon series of quirky, inspirational and humorous books.
Welcome to a parallel world where the past meets the future...
About Swan Knight:
As the nineteenth century draws toward its close, King Ludwig II of Bavaria binge-watches television to escape his reality, side-lined by his own advisers. His one wish is to meet Wagner, the mysterious composer who continues to pump out new music and scores of remixes every day. He sets out, alone and in disguise, to find Wagner in the maze-like subterranean city that sprawls deep beneath Munich. Meanwhile, Karl, a young rookie musician hired by Wagner in the underground world, is shocked to be chosen to be the lead singer in the Swan Knight TV music drama. But even in the depths of the earth, the insidious shadow of political intrigue creeps in. Who is Wagner, the man behind the myth? And what will be the ultimate destiny of Ludwig and Karl...?
Fumio on the novella:
I have always found inspiration in music and history. Swan Knight was inspired by two sources, both music-related: the first was the love-hate relationship between the enigmatic Ludwig II of Bavaria and the controversial composer Wagner; the second was the music of legendary English music producer Trevor Horn. In 2004, I went to his 25th anniversary concert at Wembley; as always, I found him and his music profoundly inspirational. At the time, I was compelled to capture the emotion and excitement of the concert in writing, and so the idea for Swan Knight was born. My approach to writing is to find common ground between unrelated people or things to generate fantastical ideas. Trevor Horn and Wagner, steampunk and Ludwig II—I hope you enjoy their unlikely mash-up.
In 2005, Swan Knight was published in its entirety in SF Magazine, one of Japan's longest-running science fiction prozines; it was acclaimed by readers as a work of alternate history. Later on, in response to the urgings of readers and the editor, I included it in my 2013 collection, Lovers of Venezia. This collection went on to be selected by popular vote as one of the year’s best. Thanks to the outstanding translator Sharni Wilson and the wonderful publishing house Luna Press Publishing, it is my great pleasure to introduce this novella to the English-speaking world, and above all, to the UK, Mr Horn's birthplace.
About the author
Fumio Takano has been a leading Japanese writer of alternate history speculative fiction for a quarter century. Nominated numerous times for Japan's two major science fiction awards, the Nihon SF Taishō and the Seiun Awards, she won the Edogawa Rampo Prize presented by the Mystery Writers of Japan for her novel The Sister Karamazov. Her many works include Canto Angelico, a cyber-baroque opera novel; Red Star, a steampunk novel about a counterfeit Russian emperor hiding out in an electro-industrialised Edo period; and Danger: Do Not Mix, a collection of short stories that remix various literary masterpieces. She is currently working on a novel about quantum mechanics, parallel worlds and the airship Graf Zeppelin, set in her hometown.
Sharni on working on the translation:
Swan Knight presented me with an irresistible challenge: well-known authors I spoke to argued that a “third-person unreliable narrator” is completely impossible to pull off in English. I contend that it is possible, and I hope to have proved my case in this translation.
Aside from the difficulty of rendering these layers of ambiguity, I fell in love with this work for its shades of mystery and mindf@*k that propel the extraordinary plot and characters. Set in a wild alternate reality—late nineteenth century but with early TV technology—with incredible fame and riches, clashing nation-states, pirates, steampunk, bounty hunters and girl knights, is a very real, deeply felt depiction of one man’s overriding obsession with another, and Karl’s situation, as a struggling newcomer in the cut-throat world of the arts, rings true to my own experience.
Although a work of alternate history, it deals with issues that are important here and now: the nature of fame and reality in a world made up of mediated images, and the Romantic ideal of the artist as sole creator that remains with us today.
As part of the process of this translation, I visited the brilliant British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum so that I could capture the unfamiliar sounds of cathode-ray televisions from the 1960s and 70s that were described in the onomatopoeic Japanese. I spent many happy hours researching everything from Bavarian dialects and crests to late-nineteenth century hairstyles and dress.
Through long nights during the pandemic, I wrestled with this translation as I looked after my child during the day, dizzy, shaky and close to hallucinating along with the protagonist. This is one of the most challenging and rewarding texts I have encountered to date, so I am really happy to see it come together.
I would like to thank everyone who helped me along this journey, in particular Miki Nademoto, producer Roland Heap, writers Julie Sandilands, Elina Kivinen, David Rogers, Sajidah Kazmi, and translators Rosalind Harvey, Yui Kajita, Jesse Kirkwood, Lisa Hofman-Kuroda, Sylvia Gallagher, Rita Kohl and Nithya LK.
About the translator:
Sharni Wilson is a literary translator from the Japanese and a writer of fiction. She has translated works by Kaori Ekuni, Masatomo Tamaru, Ayako Suzuki, and Masami Kakinuma, among others. Her work has appeared in Asymptote, the Reading Room, and Landfall. In 2020 she was a finalist for Lunch Ticket’s Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation & Multilingual Texts.
Swan Knight will be out in 2024. Follow the publishing process on the newsletter.