“Having a Laugh” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)
Original: Japanese (世界はゴ冗談), 2015
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017
Synopsis: The sun’s magnetic field affects the sunspots, which in turn affects the solar wind which, on earth, jams phone signals, misdirects whales, frazzles satellites, and cripples electronic navigation; however, none of this has a direct human effect, unless you count that one errant plane in Dubai. One office worker, upon waking up with a headache of their own and a work-related headache, proceeds with their average day, only to be perpetually frustrated by all their faltering gadgets and the respective yet mis-assigned voices for each; labor-saving devices aren’t so user-friendly after all.
Analysis: The sun is about 4.6 billion years old yet it keeps on ticking. For all it’s worth to us, it will continue ticking as it does for another 4.6 billions years or so. It takes what it had been given–its currency of hydrogen–and toils relentlessly toward its retirement as a red giant. It knows nothing of holidays or family, only of dedication to its process. It works. Work is its life. It doesn’t burn out because it’s dedicated. It’s the salaryman of the solar system.
Now, with humanity progressing beyond the cave and farm for the so-called modern lifestyle, we are living during the sun’s middle-ages–it has gone over the hill. The grand old sun appears to be churning out its production, spending its salary of hydrogen, and continuing to live on; however, beyond that luminescent and roiling boil of flame, could there lie a troubled soul? Though this salaryman shows no external signs of wear, is his could crushing beneath of weight of his toil? Humans take yet never give in return.
On our homely planet of Earth, though technological progress has been swift, it has also been merciless to the same species who produced it. We are held by the fluttering whims of technological innovation; what is invented is thus produced, sold, and pawed off only to be used and cast aside for the next cycle of consumption. We abuse progress, take it for granted much as we pay little heed to Earth’s gasps of pain in its patient rearing of its prized genetic spawn; regardless, we never heed what needs to be heeded; we take from progress what we want and, rather than return the favor, simply chuck it aside for what’s bigger, better, etc.
As the sun begins its middle-aged revolt, sunspots flare. As humans use and disuse technology, its own temper flares. From where does the golden watch of retirement come from and, in its giving, to where does it lead?
Review: Though only thirteen pages, it’s not a very linear story. The first five pages feel like three somewhat connected events to the solar flares but run together without a break, making it read oddly. The overall story abruptly transitions to short dinner party and a dream sequence about a prince for two pages. The last section–the remaining eight pages–is a descent into frustration from faltering electronic devices experienced by an office worker.
It doesn’t present itself tidily enough. That dream sequence really throws the story for a loop after the awkward seams at the start. The longer conclusion about failing technology is fun and ties together somewhat with what was presented at the beginning–what the effects of the solar flares–but, overall, it’s oddly disjointed and requires a bit of subjective mental gymnastics to piece it together. So, what I’ve presented myself in the analysis is the result of my own mental gymnastics.