“The Whale that Sang on the Milky Way Network ” (short story) by Mariko Ohara
English Publication History: Speculative Japan 2 (Kurodahan Press, 2011)
Original: Japanese (銀河ネットワークで歌を歌ったクジラ), 1984
Translated by Nancy H. Ross, 2011
Synopsis: The backwater planet of Hulftvahl is home to petty grudges, simple puppy love, and limited aspirations. Most of the youth find themselves plants roots on the same planet or flung far abroad with Space Command. Though adventure and exotic ways of life are distant from their everyday lives, The Gardus Show occasionally brings them a tatse of both. Young Joshua and his crush watch Whale on stage; impressed with the sight, they seek friendship with the giant, only to learn about their own urbaneness.
Pre-analysis: I’m a small town boy. I understand small town aspirations, also known as a lack of horizon or well, this is good enough for me. Call it the lack of opportunity or the leash of abidance, the apathy of a small town bent of zero-growth doesn’t exactly inspire the banally jaded townies. Kegs in a cornfield are a source of excitement as are stealing ceramic dwarves, shooting bottle rockets at each other, and discovering new items in the frozen foods aisle. Love here is complacency, finding someone who won’t murder you in your sleep or insist on wearing matching outfits while shopping together. If two things are simple, they are so-called aspirations and so-called love.
Analysis: Joshua and Ligarde are young, naïve and, conforming to all small town clichés, stuck in the rut in which they were born. Both of them see a chance to discover something otherworldly by befriending Whale. The Whale’s extraordinary story and its promise of interstellar travel titillate the couple’s backwater minds. Whale’s lonely existence amid interstellar vacuum pulls the strings of sympathy from their hearts. After they conspire to publicize Whale’s existence on the Milky Network, they find themselves as small town folk on a larger scene, yet still stuck in their small town ways.
Even the most exotic of circumstances and the blessing of the most exotic of characters have difficulty penetrating the mental complacency of the small town mind.