“Emanon: A Reminiscence” (short story) by Shinji Kajio
English Publication History: Speculative Japan 2 (Kurodahan Press, 2011)
Original: Japanese (おもいでエマノン , 2000)
Translated by Edward Lipsett, 2011
Synopsis: Scorned by age-long unrequited love, a young man steels himself against further pain from raw emotional wounds. On a 17-hour ferry ride, a beautiful girl befriends him. As they begin drinking beer together, she shares her “believe it or not” story. The man, being a fan of SF, takes her story to heart and analyzes it for relevance: Though her body is young, her mind contains the memory of three billion years of direct evolution. As he wakes, she is gone. Thirteen years later, their mutual memories of each other linger. 17 pages
Analysis: Before the age of social media, you never knew anyone virtually—everyone you knew was direct (family and friends) or indirect (friends of friends or distant relatives). If you wanted to find someone you didn’t know well, you either used the white pages or asked around. If you met someone in passing while on holiday or in transit, that person would likely be lost to you forever, leaving only the tenuous memory. When that person made an impression on you, the mark was indelible and the memory could remain vivid, regardless of never having met again (wouldn’t they love to know of that indelible imprint that has been carries around for years or decades?). It sucks to linger on what could have been, but only the human mind can attempt to grasp at the impossible.
Our ability to ponder what could have been has created the genre of SF—or what could be. The lonely man in the story is a fan a SF, so he knows all too well what could have been and what could be. After meeting Emanon (“no name” spelled backwards), he dwells on his stagnant longing for the girl. He mulls her unreal story of having the memory of three billion years of evolution and tactic knows one thing: she’s out there, she’s real, and he loves her. Yet, his longing has limited his mind from what could be to what should have been.
When, finally, the man meets Emanon again, she isn’t as he had expected and the impression he had made wasn’t as tenuous as he had expected: “[H]alf an hour or a few decades, it’s all the same … either is but an instant” (103).