“Cross Section” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History: Bulleye! (2017, Kurodahan)
Original: Japanese (セクション), 1980
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017
Synopsis: A professor has created a device that casts a beam downward into geological strata in order to show its mineral content, a revolutionary concept, which he will show to the press at his own home. While the professor was developing this device, his wife felt ignored and thus took on many lovers who were only interested in her wealth, but when they threatened to blackmail her, she simply poisoned and disposed of them nearby.
Analysis: This story is only five pages long and alternates between 1) the professor’s explanation of the device and 2) the wife’s affairs. The professor is presented very objectively, perhaps reflecting his scientific fixation; meanwhile, his wife is presented subjectively, a much more human character as she’s prone to emotion.
The professor can be understood superficially, like knowing the terrain on the planet’s surface; in contrast, it’s the wife who has layers: love, spite, adventure, pride, and vengeance. With the flip of a switch, the professor will glimpse these layers in situ, a scientific triumph where his humanity failed.
Review: On the surface, this is a story based on science fiction and inertial horror. On a more human level, it’s one of contrast between the spouses’ respective needs. It’s short and concise, brief and direct. It’s not a gem amid the collection but it does sparkle by itself.