Administrator – Taku Mayumura


Administrator (novel) by Taku Mayumura
Original: Japanese, 1974
Translated by Daniel Jackson, 2004
The humanistic and bureaucratic schism between policy and policing

Of Mayumura’s work since 1961, only three titles are available in English, a situation which gives the reader little to work with when understanding the man behind the pages. Access to this small scope of work is difficult, but Kurodahan has made it much, much more accessible (and for which I thank them for providing me with a copy). Mayumura’s work includes: a) “I’ll Get Rid of Your Discontent” (1962/2007), a short story about coping with daily grievances or opting for the easy solution; b) “Fnifmum” (1989), a short story about a time-spanning alien entity who unexpectedly empathizes with two organic life-forms; and c) this collection, Administrator, of four novelettes/novellas that pinpoints a pivot of personal uncertainty when confronted between policy and application.

The rear cover of Administrator says that Mayumura was inspired (uninspired?) by his experience as a salaryman, which he used to create stories of “bureaucracy and depersonalization”. It seems that Japanese speculative fiction specializes in just this field, as there are man notable examples: Ryo Hanmura’s “Cardboard Box” (1974/1989), Kobo Abe’s “The Flood” (1989), and much of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s work, including “The Very Edge of Happiness” (1973/2006) and “Commuter Army” (1973/2006).

Where Administrator differs from these other works is its focus on the politics and policy of administration rather than on the toilsome drudgery of the underlings. Other stories mostly focus on the hardships of being a salaryman outside of work—in society, at home, on their own; Administrator focuses on the immediate frisson of the salaryman on location.

Largely, an Administrator is an independent entity on an assigned planet where they must direct Federation policy into the policing of the same planet (the words police and policy have a common root word in Greek: polis, which means “city” or “citizenship). Like textbook theory and real-world application, the Federation’s policy isn’t very applicable in the field. Each Administrator is thoroughly trained and is among the elite of the elite in terms of intelligence and education, but actual application of knowledge and degree of flexibility is unknown until that same Administrator is in the field.

In practice, however, an Administrator of a planet for the Federation is just a glorified care-taker, the equivalent of a human rubber stamp. Regardless of being the elite of the elite, their position is simply one of routine while planet-wide robots carry out the real tasks of management, of which SQ1 is at the helm as it commands the robots on a variety of tasks: surveillance, translation, surveying, censusing, and protecting the Administrator. Only when a face is needed to represent the Federation and its policy does the Administrator physically visit the natives of the colonists.

This administrative sense of redundancy evolves through the stories until the conclusion in “Bound Janus”. Progressively, as the administrative system evolves, the Administrators begin to sink into the feeling that all their granted power is mere illusion, that the strength they are bestowed is functionless, toothless, impotent—if only policy is to be mandated from the Federation to the natives and colonists, what is humanistic function of the Administrator? What cannot already be done by SQ1 and its host of submissive robots?

The Flame and the Blossom” (Honō to Hanabira, 1973) – 4/5

Kurobu’s predecessor, Kalgeist, was a bitter man bent on militant life and black-or-white truths. But now that Kurobu is the Administrator of Sarulunin, his orders from the Federation are to keep the planet of flora as natural as possible. In the Amilla section of of the planet, the intelligent natives have asked for his help in regard to recent attacks. The opposing tribe, a motile flower with a gift for intelligence, makes Kurobu see his planet, his life, differently. 39 pages

Even with all the training to become clinically detached in his work, Kurobu experiences a sensation of extra-human dimension that rattles his perspective on his term as Administrator; the experience has left him with an awareness of his humanism and has planted the seed of discontent.

A Distant Noon” (Haruka naru Mahiru, 1971) – 4/5

Nenegn is a planet covered in swamps, in which the reclusive natives dwell. The Administrator, Oki, takes a benevolent stance toward the low-intelligence natives while keeping the so-called colonists at arm’s length because of their disrespect for the Nenegians and the exaggerated respect for his position. Oki is invited to the depths of a prosperous Nenegian fort where Gugenge shows him the amount of reform being done. Oki grants them the use of a laser, but the colonists learn of this. 39 pages

Oki is impressed with the performance of the natives so much that he allows them one benefit, but only for their own use—the natives are happy. The pseudo-colonists learn of his actions and, while being unhappy with the Administrator, follow in his footsteps by supplying other natives with the same tool. A hammer, saw, or drill can be a tool-cum-weapon, much like the Administrators actions—follow policy as the tool of a job, watch others use that same policy, pervert it, and bring about the Administrator’s demise.

The Wind in the Ruins” (Iseki no Kaze, 1973) – 4/5

The heavily perfumed winds of the planet Tayuneine make everyone content in the heady nostalgia that the scents give them. The human colonists and Kazeta, the Administrator, all know that it’s not a perfect world—it seems green apparitions occasionally appear, possibly the ghosts of the long dead natives. Unfortunate for Kazeta, the increased spectral activity causes the colonists’ outcry at the same time as a brusque Administrator cadet comes to train… all prior to a visit from the Federation’s Inspector. 42 pages

Though head of an entire planet, an Administrator’s system of administration is not a closed one; rather, the Administrator is a mere layer of onion—within the interior lay the local population and their problems, be they panicky or legitimate; without lay the Federation and their problems, which tend to be unidirectional and nosy. When these two layers of influence coincide with their troubles, the pressure within the Administrator’s own layer increases… not an ideal circumstance even for the best trained.

Bound Janus” (Genkai no Yanus, 1974) – 5/5

Gun’gazen is richly endowed with heavy metals and is controlled by Administrator Sei. Though his robots tend to automatically do all the surveying, contact, and planning, Sei is needed to dictate Federation policy and act as the face of that policy with locals—both the native Gun’gazea and the human colonists. The two are prohibited from trade, yet they continue to smuggle goods, regardless of the robots’ intervention. Sei meets with the colonists only to learn that their resistance is being organized by an ex-Administrator. 79 pages

With increased redundancy, an Administrator helps useless yet responsible. They go through their actions as numb as routine, failing to see their impact on their worldly task, which is governed largely by untouchable policy and efficient robots. Who used to be a player is now a pawn, but that pawn has been trained to a fine degree and their sense of responsibility doesn’t slacken… even when push comes to shove, the Administrator will fight back to show they are not a failure.

Stars, Here I Come! – Jean-Pierre Andrevon

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“Stars, Here I Come!” (short story) by Jean-Pierre Andrevon

English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)

Original: French (A moi les étoiles!), 1971

Translated by Maxim Jakubowski, 1976

Synopsis: The Aliens came to Earth and nothing much actually changed. Life was normal for Joseph Kapek until he was accepted as a candidate for the Aliens’ Stellar Fellowship as an interstellar transport pilot. Not very well qualified in anything at all, the news was very much surprising to Joseph, who is ushered in to the Base, shown the walled-off wonders of the Base, told of the untapped powers of the human mind, and led to his final conditioning. His senses are awakened and he doesn’t like what he sees.

Pre-analysis: I don’t think flattery is a form a hatred, like the Bible says (Proverb 26:28); rather, I think flattery is a form of manipulation. In my work, compliments and flattery are part of the job, but not as much as understanding education and emotional wants and needs. Flattery isn’t just given out at the door; rather, certain people are more prone to it that others. The strong-minded, conscious ones objectively view the term of flattery with detachment, looking at it curiously and suspiciously—as they should; more superficial people chase after flattery like a dog after a laser pointer. These same people are quite entertaining from the observer’s point of view, like a dog and a laser pointer… they also tend to be a bit socially dull and lack a box of wits upstairs where it matters; with them, flattery is an easy tool with which to manipulate them.

Analysis: The Aliens’ Stellar Fellowship seems to be congenial with their human counterparts on Earth, but some of their intentions are veiled. Pointedly, their recruitment for the position of “interstellar transport pilot” is filled with formality, exclusiveness, and flattery. Their government-level relationship seems formal, candid, and healthy as the aliens have been given their own land and facilities. Unfortunately, they aren’t so felicitous towards all of mankind. Through the failing mind of one man, the reader experiences the series of gimmicks that were used to snare the man into becoming the honored position of “interstellar transport pilot”. The title hold high expectation for him, but the aliens, too, have high expectations for him.

Seeing the aliens’ chicanery of enlisting “interstellar transport pilots”, one must look at all other matters between them and the humans. If they could be so manipulative to to prey on a feeble-minded mind to take this position, are they also capable of higher forms of manipulation toward mankind on the social level, on the level of the destiny of the species? From the Human Resources perspective, if you see a company using shady tactics with their customers or employees, the reverse it also probably true. Manipulation is a diseased mindset of an organization, so when something seems too good to be true, take the offering with a grain of salt… or be smart enough to observe the situation objectively.

Wings in the Night – Nathalie Henneberg

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“Wings in the Night” (novelette) by Nathalie Henneberg

English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)

Original: French (Des ailes, dans la nui…), 1962

Translated by Maxim Jakubowski, 1976

Synopsis: Representing the Service for War Reparations and Recuperations, a naive girl, who dreams of a Parisian life for her art evaluation, takes a train ride to the dark swamps of a Polish national park where a castle has an intriguing history. Felicia Ferrari meets her at the station, Krasek ushers them to the castle far away, and the very elderly Rachel sees to their needs. There for the yet-to-be-seen bounty of paintings, the castle offers an odd history, conflicting accounts, and bizarre dimensional coincidences.

Pre-analysis: What’s mainly known about WWII is just that—the war. Behind the actual military engagements lay heaps of untold stories of civilian victimization at the hands of both the Allies and the Axis, the lasting ecological damage of shelling and gassing, or the looting/pillaging/robbing of estates, banks, and museums. Though murder may be the ugly face of war, underneath its mask of death sits the silent sins of thousands bent on greed, lust, and numerous other transgressions.

Away from the arena of death and destruction of central Europe, the fringes of the war in eastern Europe offer a comparative safe-haven, where it’s ripe for tantalizing rumors of hidden loot. Combine this with the mythic lore of eastern European castles, isolated and haunted in their ramshackle estates, and the plot is fertile with possibilities.

Analysis: This story is more horror/fantasy than science fiction, as the book claims to represent. In the introduction, Jakubowski even says that the story is “on the very borderline of fantasy” (257). This is the longest story in the collection, one that doesn’t mesh well with any of the others, and is tagged on to the back of the collection. The author had nineteen other stories from 1958 to 1971 to choose from. It seems a poor example of an author’s work because it feels awkward among the other stories in the collection, like Jakubowski’s own story in the collection that he edited. Nathalie Henneberg is known for her works of fantasy rather than science fiction, like her husband. Perhaps an inclusion from her husband’s work may have been more appropriate, but at the same time his work doesn’t sounds very progressive in thought.

The Leap – Tony Cartano

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“The Leap” (short story) by Tony Cartano

English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)

Original: French (Le saut), 1975

Translated by Maxim Jakubowski, 1976

Synopsis: A researcher into some forbidden realms of knowledge discovers a long-buried intellectual secret that threatens many—mainly meddlers and businessmen. The pursuit drives him and his team into hiding in order to continue their research, but eventually he’s tracked down by the knavish cronies of a powerful businessman. Dedicated to his intellectual knowledge and landmark discovery, the researcher doesn’t give in to pain through torture so that he may become a martyr.

Pre-analysis: What kind of people have a bias against good ideas? When the ideas are small and have little impact on, say, a procedural level of a small business, there are nine so-called “hidden traps” in decision making. Most often, ideas are pooh-poohed from the start because of the “Comfort Trap”—a bias toward alternative—or the “Recognition Trap”—a placing a high value on that which is familiar. This is a common administrative tool for assessing decisions, but when applied to not just good ideas, but a great, ground-breaking idea that had far-reaching implications on a societal level… does it still apply? Sadly, the theory flies out the window, giving way to one of the most basic Christian tenements: greed, of the seven sins.

Analysis: There are always conspiracy theories floating around about revolutionary technologies or inventions that could lift a common burden from society, but some big-company is actively combating the idea so that they remain in power of whatever field. These powerful titans of the corporate world maintain their grip on their respective field by, supposedly, quashing any new developments that challenge their dominance. Conspiracies or not—it’s not my place to say, but there’s certainly some believability behind it because we see greed all around us… we have the ability to scale simple everyday greed to global corporate conspiracy.

Most of these conspiracies are aimed at labor-saving devices or resource-saving methods, of which would have mere convenient impacts on our everyday lives. But what if that big something came along that could our existence better—something bigger and more logical than religion. If these common conspiracies are fringe knowledge met with skepticism, how would we confront a rumor like “Technological salvation is a possibility” or “Transcendence through technology can be a reality”? We’d probably pooh-pooh the idea—we would fall into the “Comfort Trap; that being, our current reality is just fine and any exotic offering of another reality would be too much of a change.

Delta – Christine Renard & Claude F. Cheinisse

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“Delta” (novelette) by Christine Renard & Claude F. Cheinisse

English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)

Original: French (Delta), 1968

Translated by Maxim Jakubowski, 1976

Synopsis: Elizabeth’s simple life as an orphan in her own aunt’s orphanage is broken by her innocent and desperate attempt to make friends. The people she befriends, however, are two Arcturians who do not share a bonhomous relationship with mankind. Her aunt kicks her out yet the two Arcturians—Imonea, whom she implies is a female, and the handsome Irveille, whom she implies is a male—take her under their metaphorical wing. She senses something odd in the triangle until the truth hurts someone.

Pre-analysis: I’m the second and last child my parents had. I’m the brother of a loud, demanding sister. So, I grew up well taken care of—being the baby—but often by myself—away from my sister. Lego’s, toy cars, army men, and Nintendo were all activities where I shut myself off from everything else. I really enjoyed time alone, I suppose. In grade school, my class only had twenty-five students. The smallness of the experience was comforting. Then came high school.

I hated high school: a sea of people, never a time to be alone, and cliques that people organized. I was a loner—still am—and just wanted to get through it. I didn’t take to this group or that group, I just maintained a small group of friends through it all and came out of it with a low GPA but with the knowledge that I was myself through it all. University was better—ah, the girls.

Analysis: Some loners don’t have an identity on which to ride through life, in which to have pride, or with which to flaunt for no reason other than “I am who I am”. Circumstances tend to batter them about, where they become vulnerable to society’s sub-cultures (i.e., goths, hippies, jocks, etc.). To the sheltered and those who lack identities, there are unseen dangers on the fringe.

Elizabeth is without a solid sense of self-identity. As she literally strays from her fixed place on the earth, and before she knows she has figuratively strayed, Elizabeth finds herself befriended by an unwelcome extraworldly race. As innocent as she is, she welcomes the friendship because she has no friends of her own; she doesn’t question the niceties or platitudes. However, those with unalterable and fixed ideas damn her actions as selfish, bordering on treasonous.

Continue her innocent ways, she starts to live under the man’s house and soon discovers that he has a partner. She accepts their generosity and companionship while totally ignorant of their alien social customs… then soon finds herself emotionally involved when she blunders into sensitive social territory. Still lacking identity yet feeling obliged to their generosity, she commits herself to their ways even though the layers of understands are deep and troublesome; regardless, she makes a decision to find herself through this awkward relationship, be it for better for for worse.

The Bubbles – Julia Verlanger

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“The Bubbles” (short story) by Julia Verlanger

English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)

Original: French (Les Bulles), 1956

Translated by Maxim Jakubowski, 1976

Synopsis: Sixteen years and two months ago, the bubbles descended to Earth with unknown origins and unknown intentions, but their actions were clear—kill all humans. As the bubbled burst above a human, they would either dissolve to their death or become an Other with multiple mutational appendages. Monica has witnessed this her entire life while secluded in her home with robot servants. With her parents dead, her only hope is the TV that has begun to broadcast a promise of resolution.

Analysis: Grown up isolated aside from her parents and automated servitors, Monica grows up a hermit shut off from the world by the force of circumstance. Her knowledge of the world outside comes from two sources: 1) what her father has told her and 2) what she can see from the window. Though her deep humanistic intuitions plays afoul with her judgment sometimes, these two sources of knowledge tend to agree with one another. Actually directly experiencing the truth behind the armored door is much too dangerous according to the facts she understands, but these are not facts she knows.

Regardless of the eerie images she views from the window, she is content with her sheltered life and her limited knowledge of the outside world. When unforeseen external knowledge intrudes upon her hermetic yet fragile world, her reality suddenly teeters between hope and disbelief. It isn’t hope which is her danger, but the false sense of resolution that is a contrast with her collected knowledge of how her world operates—inside is safe, outside is fatal.

Consider our own personal banks of knowledge; we have knowledge taught to us and we have knowledge experienced. These are always, whether we know it or not, always in silent conflict. But there do come times when immediate truths are reveled to us in the form of an aha! moment, in a dream, or an epiphany. These can radically change our perspective on life or any any given matter—for better or for worse.

Thomas – Dominique Douay

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“Thomas” (novelette) by Dominique Douay

English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)

Original: French (Thomas), 1974

Translated by Beth Blish, 1976

Synopsis: Alduce huddles down with Thomas as they observe a figure approach from the concave horizon. Alduce’s simple male fantasies are awakened with the coming of the dull yet beautiful girl. Ever unsatisfied with their location, they continue to trek only to come back to the same point in their seemingly closed universe. All of this is observed with clinical interest by Georges the human physician and Psychan the machine, who thinks Thomas isn’t who he seems to be. 28 pages

Pre-analysis: There are many situations in social life that reflect different facets of our personality. We’re all dynamic in that sense—able to adapt our outward personalities to fit a friendly atmosphere or ones of uncertainty, hostility, awkwardness, or flirtatiousness. Like chameleons, we change and react; we act and adjust; we either integrate or segregate ourselves.

Much of this adaptation is done unconsciously. We can feel the change in ourselves, so we can choose to control it, too—for example, rather than feel fear in strange circumstances, we can choose to feel playful. But lying under all these masks of outward emotion and often faux personalities, there sits out true self—the unseen hand that guides our wants and needs. If you subscribe to Freudianisms, this id is the “the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends” and goes beyond simple wants and needs, but it is also the steam train locomotive of our libido. Choo choo.

Regardless of internal/external pressures or intrinsic/extrinsic motivations, all of our actions are governed by who we are—there not one iota of id within ourselves that is someone else, that is otherworldly, that is alien… even barbarous reactions to extreme circumstances are part of ourselves.

Analysis: Georges and Psychan observe the closed-universe mind of Alduce in an attempt to understand his unconscious motivations. Psychan ignored Occum’s Razor when it comes to the diagnosis while Georges concludes that Psychan, the machine, is actually crazier than the man whom they’re clinically observing. The machine diagnostician thinks that Thomas isn’t a figment of Alduce’s id, that that past of his dreamscape is actually in interloper. Georges deems this insanity in itself, until Thomas begins to react to their observations, altering the closed-universe, and spelling relative danger for the mentality of the patient and the reality of the doctors.

Figments of personality in the unconscious state can span the range of the urbane, the excitable, the reproachable, the repugnant, the demanding, the libidinous—all aspects probably resides within ourselves, even the saints walking among us. Though Thomas’s motives lay outside of Alduce’s own, the blueprint for Thomas is probably already available within his mind. We all have our own Thomas lurking within us, a Thomas with both internal and real-world ramifications. Name this facet of our id anyway you like—be it Doubting Thomas or any other caricature—but there certainly lurks that anonymous agent of our fears.