“The World is Tilting” (novelette) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)
Original: Japanese, 1989
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006
Synopsis: The city of Marine City is floating in the sea and uses pachinko balls as ballast, which were used in a checkerboard arrangement under the city at the mayor’s expressed command—Fedora Last. Now, after a typhoon, the island city tilts three degrees to the SSE—an obvious listing for a professor and engineer. Regardless of expert advice, the female mayor and her housewife retinue vehemently deny any such tilt, even as it passes twenty degrees.
Pre-analysis: “The World is Tilting” is a story that takes place entirely on a floating city named Marine City, which floats in the Pacific Ocean. When the very land beneath their feet begins to tilt, the heads of government turn a blind eye toward the oncoming dilemma with humorous and sad conclusions. On a similar note, Masaki Yamada’s novel Aphrodite (1980) also has a floating island city with the same name as the novel. This novel has a more somber tone with the head of government seeing the downward spiral of the city’s fate and takes steps to protract its lifespan accordingly.
It’s a popular fact that Tokyo-Yokohama has the world’s largest metropolitan population—around 37 million people, which is 11 million more than Seoul at #2. It’s not particularly dense when comparing it to such squalid cites as Dhaka or Jakarta; actually, the population density of the metro area is equal to that of Barcelona or Prague.
Analysis: But take Tokyo proper into consideration: the perpetual modernization, the rat race of salarymen, the twin bindings of constraint and conformity. When the city becomes cramped, the way of life becomes constrained, and friction builds, the only way out of the fiery cauldron of pressure is outward… outward to the countryside when the inevitable sprawl of metropolitan Tokyo will eventually probe with its grimy fingers or outward bound upon the ocean? If freedom from the strains of urban life is the aim, then the only direction is the ocean, where a city can float on its own buoyancy, live by its own rules, and contemplate its own navel if it very well pleases.
Escape from the complacent chaos of an organized city life into the budding chaos of a fledgling semi-anarchic city life. While visions of sugarplums and bucolic bliss may dance in the heads of the city’s disfranchised, another reality awaits them on the opposing side of their chosen life—life elsewhere takes just as much effort and care to maintain as the city. As a city may teeter on the brink of disaster due to social inequality or natural disaster, strong central governance can overcome these urban hurdles.
Now take the “floating city” in the context of a salaryman: he’s an island unto himself and he has many inner workings, but one priority is key: remain afloat, stay balances, don’t flip. However, the nature of the salaryman is an unbalanced one; too much work, not enough play; too much pressure, not enough release; too much conformity, not enough individuality. While the salaryman’s waking consciousness (the engineer and scholar) is aware of the dangerous tilting, the sub-conscious (the finicky mayor, Fedora Last) ignores the problem as just another common symptom of life in general.
From the demanded conformity to the institution comes the learned conformity of the mindset all-is-normal and nothing-to-see-here-folks. In the case of Marine City, this conformity and complacency is a recipe for disaster.