“Q-Cruiser Basilisk” (novella) by Koshu Tani
English Publication History: Speculative Japan 2 (Kurodahan Press, 2011)
Original: Japanese (仮装巡洋艦バシリスク , 1984)
Translated by Simon Varnam, 2011
Synopsis: Aboard the Gurkha 107, Ozaki is just a lackey with a few of the other crew. When they get a call to intercept a fast-traveling object in the Sirius system, they discover the Basilisk, last seen in the year 2100. The mystery is how it came all the way to Sirius with its weak propulsion. As a lackey, Ozaki is volunteered to investigate the ship’s interior, where he finds a log. In this log, the ship’s demise during the war is chronicled as well as the captain’s bizarre experience outside of Sol’s system.
Pre-analysis: This is a hard-SF story that offers to simply tell its story in the most direct manner possible; while it may have the least overtones of emotion, theme, or moral, it does contain some elements that I identify as intrinsically Japanese. Usually, an overarching theme is obvious or subtle, yet it tends to percolate eventually. With “Q-Cruiser Basilisk”, I had to dig a few layers deep to find an appreciable theme and the one which I found is as noble as the others.
Analysis: As mentioned in the synopsis, Ozaki is just a simple lackey on the ship. When the ship approaches the mysterious derelict of Basilisk, the skipper—Ming—sends his lackey into the face of danger while he’s safely secured in his own ship. Ozaki knows his lowly place and so ventures into the dislocated and ancient craft to find about its origins. This is Ozaki’s story, but within the ghost ship of Basilisk, he finds another story.
A ghost ship, like the Flying Dutchman or the Basilisk, is a relic of the past. It’s an island into itself, a separated body untouched by the recent past. While some ghost ships are mere days, weeks, or months old, the Basilisk is an ancient relic some-150 years old. Its physicality is a relic, but so are the cultural norms that it used to carry with its living crew. The story that surfaces from a document found by Ozaki highlights that key cultural norms have changed in regards to hierarchical obligation.
Nils Hellner was the last survivor of his ship, he the Master and Commander. Early in his crew’s campaign to avoid capture, Nils had the judgment call to escape straight out into open space with suspended hope for rescue; sadly, for the crew, the judgment was flawed and their hopes quashed. As their hopelessness persists, they realize they need to maintain focus, so they continue to shoulder the yoke of duty as they stay busy taking measurements of space with various instruments. Eventually, they also realize that their individual lives mean very little and that their collective continuance must endure; therefore, sacrifices must be made. As Nils has relieved their crew of official duty, they make decisions based on honor rather than duty. By ones and twos, the crew off themselves through the airlock leaving Nils the singular soul on board; the remaining oxygen, provisions, and space are all his. With his enduring solitary life, the crew invested the shared hope for their story to be known.
As Ozaki finishes reading the Basilisk’s tale of heroism and sacrifice, the skipped of his own ship yanks them from their duty. They must abandon the derelict ship, forever leaving its story and solitary crew to drift through open naked space, its story never told, its sacrifices never shared. Instead of respecting the noble crew and their sacrificial efforts, Ozaki’s skipper decides to cut loose and fly off toward another emergency, one that reeks of self-interest, convenience, and egoism.