|“The Flood” (shortstory) by Kobo Abe
From Apostolou & Greenberg’s The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (1989)
|Original: Japanese, 1989
Translated by Lane Dunlop, 1989
|“Humankind is threatened by a new disease—liquefaction” (21)|
Synopsis: A philosopher witnesses a construction worker slowly dissolve into an ambulatory puddle of water. Soon, other middle-class workers also begin to form their own puddles and even unite to form large mobile masses within lakes, cups, or clouds. After a few deaths from thimblefuls of water, the fear of water is widespread, so Noah builds his ark, loads his animals, and provokes the rising flood to take his ship and his life.
Analysis: The initial liquefaction occurs when the philosopher gazes through his telescope and into the transparent mind of the construction worker—the menial laborer; what he sees is only fatigue. As his solid, physical form dissolves, soon across the world others involved in similar menial tasks—factory workers and farmers—also dissolve. The revolt had begun.
They once held no power; now they control an abnormal function of liquids which opposes thermodynamics—they can control the properties of their liquid state. When their lives as menial laborers were stagnant with monotonous and dulling tasks, their new lives as mobile puddles resist any stagnation; rather than simply sitting still, the once individual puddles cooperate to destroy the high-minded ideas of the ruling class. The liquid people integrate themselves into boilers, thereby rending them steamless; they enter pools and freeze its occupants in midsummer; they foul up coolant ducts for nuclear reactors, dampening plans for destroying them. The efforts of the once suppressed now coalesce into a united and sometimes homicidal movement. Hydrophobia sweeps the world.
Panicking, the ruling class decides to build dikes and dams to protect themselves from the philosopher’s prophecy of an oncoming flood. All accounts of water levels and meteorology indicate normality, but the plans go ahead, only to be accosted by the liquefaction of the labors meant to be constructing the safeguard.