The Living Intestine – Juza Unno

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“The Living Intestine” (short story) by Juza Unno

English Publication History: Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 1: Selected Stories] (2018)

Original: Japanese (生きている腸), 1976

Translated by J. D. Wisgo, 2018

Receipt: Free from the translator

Synopsis: Ryuji has an odd yet productive relationship with Professor Kumamoto, productive in the sense that the doctor can provide Ryuji with whatever he needs… and for this favor, he needs 100 centimeters of intestine from the prison where the doctor works. It squirms suspended in fluid, but Ryuji has plans to ween it from its liquid womb to the open air. As it feeds on sugar water and begs for more, he theorizes that intestines might be intelligent. He names the intestinal segment Chiko and takes it as a pet, yet he plans to announce his discovery to the scientific community. To celebrate, he takes a week’s leave, follows up with the doctor, and eagerly returns home to Chiko’s warm embrace.

Analysis: Objects of mere attention can become objects of dear affection (quote me, that’s original). A few examples: 1) I don’t like kids much, but after teaching a few of the ankle-biters in solo lessons, they grew on me to the point where I felt avuncular; 2) I chose to write about international school mission statements for my graduate thesis, which turned into a passion for context, readability, and succinctness; 3) I decided to give Olaf Stapleton’s Last and First Men (1930) novel a lengthy review, and the longer I wrote it, the more I loved the book.

In “The Living Intestine,” the focus of objective inquiry is given to a tepid and subjective admiration. Little does Ryuji know, the admiration is mutual, but to what extent, he is unprepared.

Review: By far, this is my favorite story from the first volume of short stories, perhaps because of its topic of body horror.

Horror is a genre laden with the supernatural. I’ve read a few widely-liked horror novels but have always been turned off by the whole demon angle of most stories—it’s not scary or even mildly interesting. I knew one thing though: I loved stories that transform, mutate, or infect humans… and I found that sub-genre to be called “body horror”. (SFPotpourri)

The story may first have been published in 1976, but Juza Unno passed away in 1949, so it must have been written well before then. Given its purported age, it still maintains a vintage horror element that transcends decades, and will do so for probable centuries. I’m certain that, if read by horror editors or given greater exposure, this story could see widespread appreciation for not only body horror, but also of Japanese horror, for Juza Unno himself, and for J.D. Wisgo, the translator who has brought this little gem from obscurity.

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Mysterious Spacial Rift – Juza Unno

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“Mysterious Spacial Rift” (short story) by Juza Unno

English Publication History: Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 1: Selected Stories] (2018)

Original: Japanese (不思議なる空間断層), 1935

Translated by J. D. Wisgo, 2018

Receipt: Free from the translator

Synopsis: Hachiro conveys to a friend of a dream in which he enters a long hallway, opens a door with a golden knob, stares into a large mirror, sits in a chair, raises a gun and kills a woman who he thinks is his friend’s salacious wife. In the end he realized he was only dreaming and woke up. But Hachiro found himself in the dream again, and like other recurring dreams, he follows through the motions: entering, staring, sitting, and shooting… only a few details seem skewed, including his victim, when he’s then arrested for the crime of murder; thence, he dreams of his trial, a wise judge, his sentence, and his death walk. Still, he doesn’t waken.

Analysis: Upon waking, dreams either cling to the mind with pasty fingers or remain hidden until an association is made much later. Just today, I read of metal birds in Brian Adliss’s Barefoot in the Head which evoked my shooting clay pigeons from a dream last night… only one image without a place, time, emotion, or companion. Sometimes, dreams are mere snapshots, a shard of association from a broken dreamscape. Other times, you wake up with a gushing recollection, where cause and effect cascade from tiers of action and emotion; you can follow its richness from beginning to end.

There are also times when nightmares strike, hardship ensures and the dreamer yearns for an end, begs the question of Is this a dream? Rarely does the dreamer realize the ethereal nature of the hardship, but relief is oh-so-welcome upon waking. When real-life horror or betrayal manifests itself, we often think to ourselves Surely, I’m dreaming. We pinch ourselves, shake our heads, check a digital clock (see Part 1, a trick I use), but reality stubbornly refuses to warp, wisp, and wither like smoke.

Hachiro is having one of the latter nightmares, one with recalcitrant inertia seeking the lowest energy state: his misery.

Review: This is a nifty story. I always enjoy stories with dreams, which is good food for thought in terms of meta-fiction, dream interpretation, and psychology. The later part of the story tends to taper with a gushing monologue (yet again, which seems to be a common trait in the author’s stories) from the judge. This, too, provides food for thought, but could have been better integrated, perhaps evening tapering off early to give a more open-ended conclusion.

Four-Dimensional Man – Juza Unno

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“Four-Dimensional Man” (short story) by Juza Unno

English Publication History: Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 1: Selected Stories] (2018)

Original: Japanese (第四次元の男), 1940

Translated by J. D. Wisgo, 2018

Receipt: Free from the translator

Synopsis: Late at night in Tokyo, a man walks alone without a car for time, passers-by, or intention. His meanderings lead him to Toyama fields where he hears an approaching couple; as their mutual course takes them to certain collision, the man assumes they can move around him, only they shoulder in to him and remark what a strange thing had happened. The man can’t believe what happened and sulks not only in his loneliness but invisibility… but it happens again in the same pattern. He soon convinces himself that he be invisible at times. His friend offers little advice or sympathy while his neighbor conducts a “face reading”, from which he purports that the man isn’t who he seems to be: not a three-dimensional, but something more.

Analysis: Most the narration of this story is done in straight-forward first-person perspective, but it’s the first 20% of it is directed at the reader. The narrator delays the start of the story in order to weed out those who would consider it absurd, thus only wanting to keep those who could understand or sympathize. Thereon, the narrator doesn’t refer back to the reader until the last paragraph where he offers advice to those who may experience something like the couples did in the Toyama fields: that bump you experience while walking could be another invisible person.

Framed this way, the narrator deserves our sympathy. First, he sulks while narrow-minded readers disbelieve and abandon him all the while buying time for a true circle of friends to hear his sob story. Second, he eventually seeks professional help for his loneliness and feeling of invisibility. Lastly, he offers advice to the that same circle of friends so that they may sympathize with whomever they accidentally run into. The narrator only wants to be understood, for pity to be thrown at him, and for people to consider others like him: invisible, lonely, and seeking.

Review: I cast the story in a better light than as it unfolds. There are two major hang-ups that really detract from the plight of sympathy: The first is the narrator’s vaguely vindictive attitude toward his invisibility. After he bumps into the first couple, he purposely sets about bumping into others. Why bumping and not another action, it’s not said. It seems a tad childish to test one’s invisibility this way. Secondly, there’s an info dump (a familiar theme from “The Theory of Planetary Colonization” and “The World in One Thousand Years”) from the doctor who laments on why the narrator is invisible at times. This culminates with the narrator emoting, “Wow, you’re a pretty amazing scientist,” which is another shade of scientist/professor worship from Golden Age science fiction.

The World in One Thousand Years – Juza Unno

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“The World in One Thousand Years” (short story) by Juza Unno

English Publication History: Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 1: Selected Stories] (2018)

Original: Japanese (千年後の世界), 1976 (?)

Translated by J. D. Wisgo, 2018

Receipt: Free from the translator

Synopsis: Dr. Furuhata wakes from his cryogenic slumber after 1,000 years. Now in the year 3600, the doctor is eager to know what has become of the world. Soon, a female scientist by the name of Chita–also naked as the day she was born–joins the doctor. He’s amazed to learn of medical advances that can replace organs and extend life; further, the wonders of infinite energy supply, urban transportation, and planetary emigration continue to titillate him. Of all wondrous things invented, war still seems to be a human preoccupation.

Analysis: Science takes the forefront, again–just as with “The Theory of Planetary Colonization“–with the narrator’s glowing, unabashed awe of progress; however, more importantly, there’s another social indicator of progress that comes before all of the technology: Chita, the woman, is the Head of Archaeology at Khabarovsk College. This social stride in gender equality is played down, but it certainly starts the story of discovery with a curious slant. Compare this to the female journalist in “The Theory of Planetary Colonization” who was fooled into an interview and kidnapped, which shows her in the light of foolishness in contrast to the professor’s genius. That’s hardly the picture of gender equality presented in “The World in One Thousand Years”, which has a similar slant as the aforementioned story in that Venus is being colonized. Why, however, Chita is naked is never explained: a less inhibited society, a hygienic precaution to the doctor’s awakening, or simply a stab to stir male lust?

Review: Similar to “The Theory of Planetary Colonization,” this story is easily bisected two different ways: 1) the protagonist paired with a female counterpart and 2) moderate introduction to the story before an info dump. While the former story is more linear and exultant about progress with a cheeky surprise conclusion, the story at hand has a slightly deeper but unexplored hue of complexity, which could either be offhanded flamboyance or repressed creativity. Due to it not being explored more fully, this story will have a similar chunky feel to it as “The Theory of Planetary Colonization”. It might be interesting to see this story in chronological sequence to other stories to see if this theme of gender is more notable.

The Theory of Planetary Colonization – Juza Unno

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“The Theory of Planetary Colonization” (short story) by Juza Unno

English Publication History: Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 1: Selected Stories] (2018)

Original: Japanese (遊星植民説), 1932

Translated by J. D. Wisgo, 2018

Receipt: Free from the translator

Synopsis: A young journalist is sent by her editor to interview an eccentric professor who has a interesting theory. Using her beauty and charm, the journalist hopes for a successful interview so that she can be rewarded by her boss, a promise with which she can woo her suitor. The rooftop office of the professor proves to be the first stroke of oddity that she experiences; however, his long diatribe about the future of humanity is inspirational. Little does she know that the professor is more eager to start his grand experiment that she had first thought.

Analysis: The first third of the nineteenth century saw Japan’s imperialism spread through Asia: Taiwan, Manchuria, Korea, Micronesia. As Japan flexed its imperial and militaristic muscle, morale among its citizens must have been high with visions of cultural greatness in parallel to its victories. When those visions begin to peer out from isolation, the eyes move from the simple horizon to the treetops, to the sky and beyond to the moon, the stars.

Review: With an ear for science and a eye peeled to the sky, here, Juza waxes without restraint as to what further victories await mankind; as a result, the torrent of enthusiasm for science and progression mars the story somewhat. It reads very much like similar Golden Age science fiction that idolize the role of eccentric scientists and the unfounded theories and escapades of the same scientist. In the end, there’s very little meat to the story aside from the gristle of wide-eyed wonder.