Languages in the Future (or why I want a Bulgarian Fan Club)

I got asked the other day why I had Bulgarian as a language in The Science Officer. And in The Librarian. It’s a complicated question to answer, because it goes to the heart of what I see in science fiction, or rather, one of the things I see wrong. Many authors (myself occasionally included), use a single language and ethnicity for the names of their characters.

I live in a very international city, at least by American standards. I work at a high-tech job where the team members were born in nine different countries. People have names from their own cultures, many of which are extremely old.

Javier Aritza will be born in the year 7510 C.E. Doyle Iwakuma will be born in 12,263 C.E. Suvi becomes self-aware in 7426 C.E. (And yes, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have all of this in a spreadsheet and a document encyclopedia).

That’s five to ten millennia from now. A little over three millennia ago, Agamemnon’s forces stormed Troy. Two millennia, Roman Britain was a barbaric outpost on the far edge of the world.

So what will the future look like? I don’t know. I don’t have to know. (I hope, someday, centuries after I’m gone, I have some scholar reading this and laughing at me.) I look at where we are and contemplate where we will be going. In Javier’s time (as referenced by Doyle in The Librarian), these are the major trade languages in the galaxy: Kiswahili, Hindi, Mandarin, English, Arabic, Spanish, and Bulgarian. Kiswahili because of Doyle and his story. Most of the rest, because the languages that are dominant today, at the transformation between the past and the technological age, will probably be the languages that continue to dominate, in some form, as we explode out and explore the whole galaxy.

Which brings me to Bulgarian. I was asked at some point, what my measure of success was. That’s an even more fuzzy question. For me, off the cuff, I said “a Bulgarian Fan Club.” Not because that is a measure in and of itself, but because, if I have people translating my books into Bulgarian (a language I would have to pay a lot of money to do myself), then I have a serious fan base, world-wide. And because, little known outside their own space, Bulgarians have a very proud and successful tradition of good SF, most of which does not get translated into English (at least, that I am aware of. And I don’t read Bulgarian to enjoy it natively.)

So as I’m writing the future, Bulgarian takes on its own mythical quality. I could see them colonizing a dark corner of the galaxy, well away from everyone else, and happily living their lives. Later, when the Earth is destroyed (in 10,397 C.E., mark your calendars), and most of the galaxy falls into a dark age, those Bulgarian descendants keep plugging along.

When Doyle helps rebuild Suvi as Alexandria Station, and turns her into a Great Library, she helps spark a renaissance of culture and learning. In the process, those happy little Bulgarians will create a new Republic, called Aquitaine, and absorb Ballard and Suvi as they go. Because they are a meritocracy leavened with republicanism, the best and the brightest are elevated, regardless of birth, and join with a stable semi-aristocracy. In Jessica Keller’s first novel (Auberon, coming soon), the Republic is represented by what are called the Fifty Families. Those clans tend to have good Bulgarian names, because of where they are. But there are a tremendous spectrum of names that you will encounter.

For me, the writer, it comes down to a fantastically rich, random name generator website I found. You select a culture (or several), a gender, and hit go. It randomly spits back at you a name, with an explanation of what the name means. Because it is random, I get hit with exotic names that come from everywhere, especially if I pick non-adjacent ethnicities, like Japanese and Italian. And it reminds me that there might be a trillion humans alive in the age of Jessica Keller, scattered across hundreds of thousands of planets and stations. And love will follow humans, not cultures.

So I see this fantastic cross-pollination of cultures in the future. And I get to write about it. And hey, fans in Bulgaria: you figure out how to get me there, I will come. 🙂

20140215 – bw