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Butcher, William

Entry updated 29 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

(1951-    ) US academic and translator, in Hong Kong from 2005; through his career he has focused very heavily on the work of Jules Verne, both as critic and translator. He is a strong and knowledgeable student of that author, and as his Jules Verne inédit: les manuscrits déchiffrés ["The Unpublished Jules Verne: The Manuscripts Deciphered"] (2015) demonstrates, is deeply familiar with the tangled manuscript evidence; here and elsewhere he vividly conveys a sense that in the long term Verne cannot be properly understood without close examination of that evidence, his earlier novels in particular reaching publication only after complex and sometimes damaging interactions with his publisher Jules Hetzel.

Within the broad-church remit of this encyclopedia, on the other hand, Butcher's assertion that Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea(s) (1870) is not in fact science fiction seems eccentrically restrictive. When he states, in the course of introducing his strong if streamlined 1998 translation of that novel, that "Verne is not a science fiction writer: most of his books contain no innovative science" [his italics], he may have been attempting to position himself within the not unfractious field of modern Verne criticism; but assertions of this sort are of little use to those not engaged in internecine warfare. The comment is not only difficult to credit when applied to Twenty Thousand Leagues [see entry on Verne for details], but represents so unusual a point of view about sf in general – a field no longer plausibly describable so peremptorily – that Butcher may be its only proponent.

Butcher's translations of Verne, in an increasingly crowded field, remain among the best available. [JC]

William Butcher

born 1951



translations (selected; in chronological order of original texts)


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