The Not-So-Fantastic Mr. Fox: Author Uses Machine Translation and Disrespects Readers

DISCLAIMER: Despite the fact that some people believe that even negative publicity is good publicity, we'd like you to consider the article below as a warning and request NOT to support this or other authors using such tactics. If you're curious about the subject, which is completely understandable, please use the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon, where available, to get a sample of this author's work in particular. You can also read the product description / synopsis to get a taste of it―just be warned that it will leave a very bad taste in your mouth. You don't need to purchase these books to have an idea of what we're talking about, so please save your money and invest it in some good books in translation!


Earlier this year, while researching the books in Portuguese that were slowly being made available through Amazon.com.br and Amazon.com, several thrillers written by a certain "Heath Fox" (possibly a pseudonym) caught my eye. I like me some pulp fiction, so I read the synopsis to see if it would hold my attention and I could go ahead an buy it.

Oh, the disappointment! There was so much gibberish in the product description that my eyes hurt! Those sentences barely made any sense and, as a reader of Portuguese, I was left scratching my head, trying to figure out exactly what that was all about. I searched for other books by Mr. Fox and found the counterpart in English. I read the same synopsis and sample and everything made sense to me. The story was actually entertaining...

Was I losing my ability to read my native language? No, after a little bit of thinking, I was able to solve the mystery: Mr. Fox had used a machine translation, such as Google Translate or Bing, to make all his books available into Portuguese through Amazon.com.br!

Looking through the long list of books written by Mr. Fox, I saw that he has titles available in all Amazon languages, that is Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, and German. I could only check the first three, since I can't read the other two, and confirmed that Spanish and Italian were also the product of machine translation.

I was outraged as both a reader and a translator. How come an author thinks it's okay to use machine translation and make his books available to a foreign audience like that, without any human intervention? That is such a disrespect with the reader! And such practice really undermines the hard work of literary translators, who act as a bridge between an author's visions and the images that will be recreated in a reader's mind after a book is put through a language and cultural filter.

The first thing I did was contact Mr. Fox to let him know what was actually going on. Assuming he is monolingual and can only speak, write, and understand English, he probably had no idea about the damage he was doing. I contacted him a couple of times through his official website and here's a copy of the polite letter I wrote to him.

Dear Mr. Fox,

The reason I'm writing to you today, in the name of a group of translators, is that the automatic translations of your novels available through foreign-language Amazon stores are extremely unprofessional and a disservice to your readers.

Some of us have already contacted Amazon and we are taking steps to take your novels down from the store, because we believe that consumers are being misled about the contents of your books in their native languages.

Upon reading the synopsis of your books, we can clearly see that these translations were generated through machines, that is, no human intervention has been made in order to render an intelligible account of your work.

Please keep in mind that we are not criticizing the quality of your books, since your originals in English seem to be quite entertaining. However, upon making machine translations available to foreign readers you are disrespecting them and offering fraudulent products.

Considering the above, we are reaching out to you to resolve this matter. We would like to help you have your books available in other languages the correct way, to the benefit of readers, and to preserve your image as an author.

We look forward to receiving a reply, so that we can assist you in achieving your publishing goals in a successful and transparent manner. If we do not hear from you by March 18, that is, in five days, we will go public with an open letter and you may notice negative remarks being posted to your book pages through Amazon and other stores where the automatic translations are available.

Please contact us so that we can explain this matter further and you can achieve success in foreign markets with your very interesting thrillers.

Kind regards,
RAFA LOMBARDINO

As you can imagine, I haven't heard from him, otherwise I'd be posting his side of the story here. So, I highly encourage readers of a foreign language to go to the Amazon sites targeted at your country, search for "Heath Fox" under the "Books" category and WITHOUT PURCHASING A SINGLE COPY (please do not waste your money!) read a sample of his work as translated by machines.

If you feel as outraged as I was upon reading all that gibberish in my native language, please leave a comment on the book page, as to advise other readers that they are buying a fraudulent product.