[Please, note: This is the prologue I have written for the trilingual edition of Manuel de Pedrolo’s Mecanoscrit del segon origen (1974). The text explains why and how it has been produced.]
When I joined the team in charge of organizing the Barcelona Eurocon, back in the autumn of 2015, little could I imagine that I would fulfil one of my dreams as a reader turned into English Studies specialist: translating into English the extremely popular novel by Manuel de Pedrolo Mecanoscrit del segon origen (hereafter, Typescript of the Second Origin). Someone—apparently Cristina Macía—had come up with the brilliant idea of commemorating our Eurocon with a trilingual edition of the book (Catalan / Spanish / English); this would be given to the 800 participants of the event, thus helping to place Pedrolo on the map of the best European science fiction. When I learned about the project through fellow organizers Hugo Camacho and David Alcoy—with I whom I have collaborated in the task of producing it—I naively asked who would take care of the translation into English. This was one of those questions that one asks despite knowing that they will lead to unpredictable consequences (and much hard work). Of course, had I been given the name of another translator my disappointment would have been immense. I was fortunate, therefore, to be in the right place and at the right moment to fulfil, as I say, one of my dreams.
As Antoni Munné-Jordà explains [in his own foreword about Pedrolo] Typescript (1974) appeared just at the time when Catalan literature could finally be made part of secondary education (from 1976 onwards). I myself am one of the beneficiaries of this new breath of wind and of the collective decision by Catalan Literature teachers to trust Pedrolo to interest us, young students, in reading. The copy of Typescript that I have been using as the basis for the translation into English is the one I bought in 1980 for my first year in secondary school—already the ninth edition of the 1976 book in the series ‘El cangur’ of Edicions 62. The cover shows an image iconic for my entire generation: that of a young woman, her face half-covered by her black hair, riding a huge tractor and staring at the horizon. Alba starts on the road towards survival aged only 14, the age I myself was when my teachers invited us to read the book—I cannot vouch for the impact which Pedrolo’s story had among the boys but I can declare with no hesitation that brave Alba became for us 1980s Catalan girls a simply wonderful role model. This felt, at the same time, very natural. We were then so young that we just did not know about the many restrictions limiting girls in post-Franco Spain and Catalonia (and that still apply…). Alba was definitely what we needed as women: a born survivor. Hence my dream to share with the world her story in English.
Alba’s example still persists: just a few weeks ago one of my students, thirty years younger than me, told the class that Typescript is her favourite book. Quite perplexed, she also confessed that she had not realized that Pedrolo’s novel is science-fiction. This statement in turn caused great perplexity among the SF fans in class: after all, Pedrolo narrates a post-apocalyptic story of survival, prompted by the destruction by extraterrestrials of all mammals (both human and animal), with very few exceptions. The terrifying vision of Barcelona devastated by the lethal vibrations used by the visitors, and with most of its buildings collapsed, is unforgettable. At this point, however, I can only speculate about why the teachers who aroused such passion for Typescript in us young readers chose not to teach this novel as science fiction but as… literature. Perhaps this decision—if a decision was ever made, maybe our teachers simply were not aware of the codes of SF—was, after all, a wise one; at the time Typescript was too close for comfort to the still very popular pulp SF novelettes sold by newsagents.
Typescript of the Second Origin is the most widely read work in Catalan literature; however, since it is not read mainly as SF, this may have prevented Catalonia from becoming a powerful generator of works in this genre. This statement may seem very unfair in view of the extensive bibliography compiled by Munné-Jordà himself (see the Archive of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Catalan Society at http://www.sccff.cat/) and the SF series he directs (for Pagès Editors). There is no doubt at all that Catalan SF is plentiful and of good quality but in no way can it be said to be popular, as Typescript certainly is. If we asked the thousands and thousands who have read Pedrolo’s novel to name another SF Catalan author, only a tiny minority would pass the test.
I confess that one of my fears when undertaking the translation of Typescript was that it would not measure up to my powerful memory of the book. I had actually re-read it at least twice in the past, finding it still as satisfactory as any other classic read in adolescence. However, my biggest fear was that the intense reading which translation requires would reveal all its defects. In part this has been indeed the case: Pedrolo wrote very hurriedly and without many revisions, and I must confess that a couple of sentences have been absolutely impossible to understand. Typescript, in short, is not a literary masterpiece of the same rank as the perfect The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by R.L. Stevenson; yet it has the kind of imperfect charm that has turned other novels, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, into universal classics. That Typescript endures well the passage of time was for me proven by the capacity of its final segment still to move readers very deeply (at least those of us who love the book). Despite being concerned about the linguistic precision required to translate the book, Alba and Dídac’s fate once more touched me to the core. I hope its new readers will be likewise moved.
Although the ideal age to read Typescript, as I have said, is 14, I would insist that Pedrolo’s novel can find new readers among all ages. Adelais de Pedrolo, the author’s daughter—possibly the inspiration for Alba, though she denies it—confirms that her father never intended Typescript to be fiction just for young readers. The novel did certainly find a large young readership, but, then, in 1974 when Typescript was published, there were no boundaries between young and adult fiction. The label ‘young adult’ (YA), so popular today, arose precisely in the 1970s and in the English-speaking world partly to appeal to those adolescents less interested in reading, selling them products mostly designed to accommodate their preferences. Today it might seem that Typescript is part of this trend, simply because it is a very accessible book that has very often been read in a school context. I think, however, that reducing Typescript to the any specific age readership is doing it a disservice.
One last word on the volume now in the hands of the reader: this book is a labour of love, a long-deserved homage to Manuel Pedrolo and to his Typescript of the Second Origin. The initial impulse could not have materialized without the generosity of the Fundació Pedrolo headed by Ms. Adelais de Pedrolo and of Group 62, which have allowed us to reproduce the Catalan original. Planeta has also given kind permission for the reproduction of the Spanish translation made by Domingo Santos in 1975. The inclusion of Santos’s translation in our volume is also part of the homage that Barcelona’s Eurocon wishes to pay to one of the main personalities of Spanish SF. On my side, I must explain that since English is not my native language I would not have dared to publish the translation of Typescript without first having it pass through the careful scrutiny of several English readers. I would like to express here my deepest gratitude to Josie Swarbrick, Felicity Hand, David Owen, Donna Scott, and especially to Ian Watson, who has taught me that the art of translation is the art of good writing (at least, the art of doing one’s best). Of course, the mistakes—and I hope they are few—are my own responsibility.
Finally, on behalf of the whole Eurocon team and of the Societat Catalana de Ciència-Ficció i Fantasia, I would like to thank the Institut d’Estudis Ilerdencs of the Diputació de Lleida for the warmth, kindness and generosity with which they have supported our project. There was a time when the endeavour of publishing our dream trilingual volume seemed even more fantastic than the story Pedrolo narrates in Typescript. It is impossible to convey fully the joy we feel at the chance of making available to all European readers Pedrolo’s novel in this first English translation. We do hope that Typescript will soon be recognized as a universal classic.
[PS: my manuscript is currently in the hands of an American university press, Wesleyan, which hopefully will publish it. Please, keep your fingers crossed for me and, above all, for Pedrolo. And if you can in any way help, I’ll be very, very grateful.]
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