Salmonella Men on Planet Porno – Yasutaka Tsutsui

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“Salmonella Men on Planet Porno” (novella) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)

Original: Japanese, 1977
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006

Synopsis: Dr. Suiko Shimazaki is pregnant on the planet named Nakamura, but she hasn’t been impregnated by a man; rather, the androspore of the native “widow’s incubus” has planted the seed of life in her. The research team is unwilling to bring the abomination to full term in six days’ time, so Yohachi must enter the humanoid camp nude to participate in their obscene activities—to learn the cure—but not before entering the libidinous jungle.

Pre-analysis Brainstorm: Modern society is a human invention; it’s a man-made construct based on a long history of beliefs, premises, laws, superstitions, conquests, interventions, morals, norms, taboos, etc. Compare this with the animal kingdom where animals, too, have simple and complex relationships. In the animal world, the societies that developed are evolution necessities and change very little—no beliefs penetrate the society, nor the history of their laws, morals, etc. Aside from the million-year long process of evolution, their societies are stagnant but necessarily stable.

In various (all?) human societies, taboos, in particular, remain a core part and remain stable regardless of whatever revolutions transpire. The sexual revolution in America brought sexuality to the forefront of social importance, but, even nowadays, the topic of sex is still considered a near-taboo topic of touchy conversations.

Analysis: In “Salmonella Men”, the Japanese society of the future still maintains the taboo subject of sex; however, the planet they are on is filled with nothing but sexing plants and sexing animals—the planet just screams sex. All around the scientific expedition, the flora and fauna go through the course of nature, a ravenously libidinous affair in which everything is a target of desire. A small number of them continually protest at the lewdness of the planet’s life, damning it all obscene. Consider that the flora and fauna are going through their motions of evolutional necessity, so why should that be obscene? It’s only obscene to the eyes of the humans, who have brought subjective views of what is right/wrong, just/unjust, or good/bad.

The topic of sex among the men of the scientific camp is less than taboo—they speak about the women as small conquests, yet the elderly doctors of the camp have the strongest subjectivity, which is counter-intuitive because, as academic and medical doctors, they should be the most objective, detached, and observant; yet, they consider “Planet Porno” to be a land of absurdity, obscenity, and indecency. When one woman becomes pregnant, not by one of the men but by one of those so-called obscene plants, it becomes apparent that the only solution to her troublesome and very pronounced pregnancy is to contact the natives–”They went around permanently naked” (196) and participated in frequent acts of debauchery right in the open without any sense of shame.

To learn the secret of stopping or reversing the pregnancy, they decide to send a member to the native camp, but they have always been rejected because of their poor manners, which run counter to their own—the natives glorify the act of sex while the humans consider it a taboo. They person they need is,

the kind of person who has no metaphysical conception of the sex act, but who at the same time has an endless supply of powerful philanthropic urges towards the sex act itself …. Someone who’s happy to have sexual intercourse with any partner, no matter who. (202)

They look to Yohachi—the degenerate pervert, the libidinous lecher, the licentious deviant, the corrupt copulater—to be able to integrate seamlessly into the native camp, partake in their various ways of coitus, and learn the secret of the suspect plant’s impregnation of their camp’s female.

So, regardless of any society’s taboos, the taboos are part of life—everyone know what they are and, in private, these are unveiled within the secret lives of many. As mentioned before, there is also a history is social traditions, customs, etc.; this history serves a purpose even if it’s less applicable to today’s modern world. In “Salmonella Men”, the scientists’ knowledge of the “open sexuality” taboo is what brings about the solution and they use the weakness of one man—Yohachi—to bring fruition to the conclusion.

While taboos are part of our society, we all harbor knowledge of them and use them to our benefit when we feel the need. Bare in mind that, while sex is a social taboo in many societies, that doesn’t stop advertisers from using watered down sex to sell a product. Taboos can be a weapon or a tool.

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Bad for the Heart – Yasutaka Tsutsui

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“Bad for the Heart” (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, 1972
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006

Synopsis: Suda is host to an illness of the heart; whether his is a physical or mental symptom depends on who you ask. Regardless of many doctors’ opinions, he trusts the one doctor’s diagnosis that it’s mental strain; thereby, he alters his lifestyle to suit the prognosis. His wife nags and nags, giving him palpitations; his work has assigned him to a remote island, giving him further palpitations. Now, his wife will spend eight months with him there and his meds haven’t arrive yet.

Analysis: As I’m not a religious person, I’m not a proponent of the power of prayer. Nor do I superficially subscribe to the common mantra of “mind over matter”; that expression has become so watered down that it basically means that same thing as the power of prayer. On a personal level, I’d like to take into considering two statements of weakness which encourage me to push through the worse of life:

1. “Pain is a signal from weak point.”

2. “Most common illnesses are psychosomatic.”

The first statement is an obvious statement—if something hurts, then something is wrong. Take this notion beyond the physical truth: If my head aches, have I not followed the path of logic? If my stomach aches, have I not followed the path of intuition? If my heart aches, have I not followed the path of emotion? This may border on mysticism and phony transcendental realms without support from the scientific method, but it’s something that guides my thoughts on a conscious basis.

Now, in any populated area where you ride public transportation, you’ll see scores of sick individuals any any time of the day, of the week, or of the season—illness seems to have infiltrated the ranks of the lemmings of the urban population. Also note, most of these office workers, toilers of corporate overlords, are slightly overweight and probably hold down mediocre job titles with a respective mediocre salary. But what ails them? Are the multiplicity of viruses of “the cold” the culprit? Or is the mentality of their “lemming-ness” the true origin of their pathetic state?

A very old but mind-tingling study from 1958 once suggested that some aspects of the common cold are psychological. These psychosomatic symptoms of the cold are similar to the results of actual sadness, grief, and depression. If these physical symptoms can manifest themselves from an internal lack of something, what other common ailments are a result of some common lack?

Now take Suda, the victim of “Bad for the Heart”. While most doctors disagree with his self-diagnosis, one doctor supports his theory of physical-cum-mental anguish. The treatment for his illness of the heart—if it were actual, the pill would cure him; if it were psychosomatic, the pills would still cure him—are simple pills. Regardless of Suda’s knowledge of his own weak condition, he still goes ahead with plans which may hamper his recovery.

If his illness is psychosomatic, if his treatment is psychosomatic, don’t you think his action which lead to his death are psychosomatic, too? Can suicide be a purely mental effort?

The Last Smoker – Yasutaka Tsutsui

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“The Last Smoker” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)

Original: Japanese, 1987
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006

Synopsis: A well respected and widely published writer is irked by a reporter’s business card that reads “Thank You For Not Smoking”. As a chain smoker himself, he denies them the literary interviews and becomes the butt of growing scorn over everyone who smokes. Tobacco smokers become persecuted, then ostracized and, finally, they are lynched and burned. The writer remains one of the last smokers still standing in a smoker’s haven.

Analysis: Like election year in America, there tends to be a huge chasm between two distant sides when it comes to smoking: the die-hard smokers who claim freedom to smoke and the non-smokers who claim freedom from smoke. The opposing camps of “freedom” thought are staunch in their views… but like most views and opinions, there are extremists and zealots; in society, there are also extremist swings of view and zealous shifts of policy.

In “The Last Smoker”, what starts as a anthill of anger turns into a hill of fury then a mountain of pure hate. The anti-anything sentiment is often stirred not by the will of the people or their conscious, but by moneyed lobbies and moneyed media corporations (co-conspirators or bedfellows?). Public sentiment is stirred vigorously in “The Last Smoker” where open smokers are harassed, threatened, abused, tortured, demonized, then outright lynched. From open smokers to known smokers, the lynching continues while a band of smokers coalesces; their spirit of fight is subsumed by the whole and their stash of cigarettes becomes communal.

Tsutsui plays the absurdist role in “The Last Smoker” in the closing scenes of the story where an already extreme stance on the matter of smoking becomes something taken straight from the scene of a ridiculously gaudy Hollywood-esque finale but with sarcastic follow-through.

Bravo Herr Mozart! – Yasutaka Tsutsui

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“Bravo Herr Mozart!” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)

Original: Japanese, 1970
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006

Synopsis: With a random smattering of scattered data, a biographer pieces together a bizarre picture of Mozart’s life. Little known extrapolations include the fact he was born with only three fingers but later only had a single digit; he was born at the age of three and never had a mother; he once fancied Maria Antoinette but lost her; and become involved in an orgy in which he married the unfavorable of the three sisters.

Analysis: As the synopsis read, this is one odd short story, which isn’t even a story in most regards, yet there is a story—it’s not a story of cause and effect like most fiction, but it’s a very brief glimpse of factoids. I’m not even sure if this story has any reflection of societal pressures, Japanese culture, or other miscellaneous pertinent issues. It just places itself into the bizarro sub-sect of fiction.

As the synopsis reads, the story itself reads like a glued together mini-biography based on a grab bag selection of facts stitched together by nothing more than the intuition of a twisted mind. It’s a nonsensical look at his life (e.g., his ménage à trois with some Italian sisters), twisted in too many ways to number, and filled with absurdist humor (e.g., born with three fingers yet played with only one later in his life). It’s brief glimpses of humor are an odd contrast to the rest of the collection, each of which have morale, be it blatant or subtle.

Aphrodite – Masaki Yamada

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Aphrodite (novel) by Masaki Yamada
Original: Japanese, 1980 (Kodansha)
Translated by Daniel Jackson, 2004 (Kurodahan)
Lofty nostalgia versus the gravity of reality

Prior to last year, this novel had been on my to-buy for ages and ages, but I never found a Kurodahan book at any bookstore I ever shopped at on two continents or online. I was becoming desperate—I must have this book! My last resort to quenching my thirst for Japanese speculative fiction and finally procuring the books was to contact the publisher. Masaki Yamada’s novel Aphrodite was one book of many I received from Kurodahan Press after I politely inquired for nicely asked for begged on my hands and knees for translated Japanese SF. Edward Lipsett was kind enough to send me a Japanese SF care-package and I’ve been kind enough to give the books an honest review—and honestly, I love this stuff.

Rear cover synopsis:

“This is the story of Makita Yuichi, a youth who escapes the regimented world of Japanese society for the beauty and freedom of the island city Aphrodite. But as Yuichi grows and changes, we approach the true heroine of the work: the city Aphrodite—ever beautiful, ever filled with the limitless energy of creation. And as the global economy spirals downward, leaving Aphrodite a deserted slum slated for destruction, perhaps Yuichi is the only person who can save her…”

————

Yuichi was only seventeen years old when he decided to leave his family. Slotted in the pit of urban, social, and spiritual decay, he had nothing to call his own, nothing with which to coddle or idolize, only “drifting aimlessly through life like a rudder-less ship” (11). He left his family in that insane city of Tokyo and emigrated to the land of opportunity—the floating city of Aphrodite. Here, he fancies himself a type of James Dean and begins to become optimistic. Now he has a cause for which to live.

Mr. Caan is a world-renowned architect who designed and had Aphrodite constructed; he’s also a “sportsman, an international playboy, and … a wielder of vast political power” (13). It is this influential man—the mayor of the city of Aphrodite—whom Yuichi works for as a mere boat boy for the mayor’s rocket submersible. While Yuichi doesn’t exactly idolize Mr. Caan, the mayor is the personification and driving force of Aphrodite. Soon, however, Yuichi will find himself questions other citizen’s allegiance toward the city and it’s demigod mayor.

As much as Yuichi thinks that Aphrodite is a heaven of sorts for himself and all disfranchised, Mr. Caan says that the city was structured to always be somewhat incomplete because,

people can’t live in totally finished worlds. It is a city, and yet it isn’t it’s something else… People aren’t such high-class animals. They can’t live in a true utopia. An incomplete utopia—that’s the best environment of all. (42)

The some-200,000 residents of the floating city live in “highly-advanced welfare system” (27), quartered in the city’s regions: Herhead, the nautilus-shaped island’s pinnacle; Herself, the administrative and nerve center; and Herleg and Herhip sections for common residency. Down by the docks of the island, Yuichi tends to the expensive submersible with caged desire to experience the machine under his own control.

On a casual evening with his friends, he meets a beautiful girl; however, his friend, also a boatboy, also thinks she’s beautiful. This provides the ideal circumstance to test his ability to control the craft and control the direction of his own life. When a vortex of water disrupts the race and nearly kills them, Yuichi must accept his stupidity and must be confronted by the mayor-cum-boss Mr. Caan. Surprisingly, his punishment is absolved; surprisingly, his love interest is a lost cause; unsurprisingly, his life continues.

The prior events in 2018 mold Yuichi’s life into its future form of disappointment the outcome of his expectations and disconnectedness with the island’s social ethos. There seems to be going resistance toward Mr. Caan’s clutch over the floating island’s destiny—what was supposed to be unique outfit of sea civilization and exploration that could be employed by various nations has turned into one of a number of such floating islands. On Aphrodite’s horizon, three futures loom: one of military affiliation, one of industrial taint, and another of touristy irrelevance.

Regardless of the expressed concern by many, Yuichi maintain his allegiance to Mr. Caan. Considering that the island is of his own design and destiny, he feels that Mr. Caan knows best about all decisions, even though Mr. Caan had some previous poor decisions in his personal life. Whether in 2023 or 2028, Yuichi keeps to his hope as an 18-year-old that Aphrodite will blossom in its own way. Flows of nostalgia engulf Yuichi as the sentiment around him regresses: “[F]ear was rooted deep inside himself, and that was why he was scared to look at reality, instead fleeing into nostalgia” (94).

While Aphrodite is on the brink of disastrous uncertainty regarding its future as a seafaring city of welfare and camaraderie, the cusp of reality encroaches upon Yuichi and soon the cusp broadens into a crack, a crevice, an expanding chasm of doubt. This doubt plagues him; the years of lost love and lost hope age him immediately when reality sinks in: Aphrodite isn’t perfect and is no longer viable. Having lost his love, hope, and passion, Yuichi departs in 2028 only to return on the eve of Aprhodite’s destruction many years later—though still a young man then in appearance, his experiences have aged him greatly.

————

The syrupy nostalgia of Yuichi is a common sentiment among those with sheltered hopes. His dreams aren’t exactly shattered because his motivation for moving to the island was simply one of living simply; in this, he achieves his goal to a fault. He has incubated his hope for so long on a personal basis that he hasn’t developed additional hopes or shared his life. From 18 to 28 years of age, he remains detached from popular opinion. When turmoil effervesces from the cracks in society, Yuichi remains coldly subjective in the sense that he doesn’t understand the negativity and as someone who loves Aphrodite, the negativity must not exist.

Like the island upon the sea is, at first, an independent entity free from outside influence, so too is Yuichi. As Aphrodite’s independence is being dissolved and its importance diminished, Yuichi too is quickly becoming prone to the sentiments of others—his long-incubated personal hope begins to feel the chilly persuasion of the population.  When he realizes his loss, his precarious hope is teetering high upon a cliff with only reality to assist its plunge.

Aphrodite is an introspective foray into escapism and caged hope in conflict with reality. Yamada paints a dualistic portrait of a solitary man with his solitary dreams on a solitary island… but when the latter-most is encroached upon by outside influences, the former two become tainted and diseased—if the dream is not amputated, the death of the individual would quickly follow.