I finally got a Russian copy of Alexey Pehov’s fantasy novel Shadow Prowler. It turns out that in the first few paragraphs, the translator translated the word for “halberd” (eminently suitable for a well-trained city guard patrol marching through a fantasy-medieval-Renaissance city, and possessing multiple weapon uses in the way of hooking and poking as well as chopping) as “heavy battle-axe” (not very comfortable on a long patrol of the city, and mostly useful for chopping people in half or threatening to do so).
The Russian word for halberd (alebarda) even sounds like halberd. It’s not that difficult. So I’m sure he deliberately dumbed this down to something that “more people would understand”. But I don’t think most people are ignorant that a halberd is a fearsome weapon.
Between “battle-axe” and “halberd”, the picture I get in my mind of the city guards is fairly different. Halberds are for professional soldiers or well-trained militia. Battle-axes are more for individual warriors, or knights fighting together but separately in a melee. Maybe this isn’t a fair evaluation, but it’s the usual connotation for these things.
Halberds also set the scene with a fairly high level of weapons technology. When cannons show up a chapter later, the previous revelation of halberds makes them quite believable.
I know in my heart that this translator guy never played Dungeons and Dragons, or he’d worry about this. I’m not what you’d call a weapons aficionado, but sheesh, even I know that this sort of thing is important story-knowledge. (But then, this is the same guy who, in translating another Russian fantasy novel, removed a whole discursion on why you might want a Desert Eagle with special bullets as your home defense gun if you have vampires in your neighborhood. Language geek, yes. Fannish geek, no.)
So yeah, it’s a good thing I’m not translating Russian novels and he is, because he’s good at it. But when somebody who’s perfectly competent messes around with stuff in the novel even though he knows better, it makes me crazy. It’s not because I don’t like mistakes and variants that I nitpick; it’s the lack of respect and appreciation for facts and authorial choices. It bugs me.