Operation Nova – Tamilmagan

Operation Nova (novel) by Tamilmagan

English Publication History: Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction (2017, Blaft)

Original: Tamil (ஆபரேஷன் நோவா), 2014

Translated by Rasmi Ruth Devadasan & V. Vinod, 2017

Receipt: Free from the publisher by request (email)

Synopsis: Reportedly, based on the word of one renowned scientist, the earth will end within a decade due to a cataclysmic volcanic explosion; thus, the innocuously-sounding Human Development Council is founded with a sole purpose: transport and allow humans to live on another planet. Shanghaiing peoples from around the world, the unsuspecting individuals awaken to a foreign and hygienic environment on the surface of GL 581g, the planet of which they have been destined to colonize. Akilan is one such unwilling colonist who is unhappy with the current totalitarian yet technological system of governance, who also yearns to be returned across the twenty light-years to his love Vinodhini.

Meanhwhile on Earth, the realization of the 4,100 (or 41,000) people who have disappeared from the population slowly begins to dawn on the affected: sons go missing from families, spouses disappear, colleagues vanish. Vinodhini, who loves and misses Akilan, leads a rally against the police who seem complacent on whitewashing his disappearance. Soon, Charles, one man on the Coucil, announces that people have been extracted from the planet to save humanity for disaster; however, governments are quick to ridicule and institute him while the masses panic. At the same time, university students begin to protest major nations in thought they’re harvesting organs for the rich back on Earth, a demonstration that spreads across India.

Back on GL 581g, a nitrogen-eating alien species named the Durphies have a similar conquest in mind: to colonize GL 581g. In direct competition with humans for the nitrogen-rich atmosphere and soil, the human governance decides to kill on Durphies, which they do with haste and success. There’s also another native species who are green and tentacled, but they hardly matter in terms of affect on the colonists or story.

When Michael, one of the original colonists and one of the original member of the Human Development Council, discovers that his daughter isn’t one of the colonists, he is separated from the rest; however, dissent remains: Akilan still resists due to his love for Vinodhini while Gabriel, another founding member of the Council, decides that’s there’s profit in the newly-found utopia. Even though the 4,100-41,000-strong colony has no use for money or love, Gabriel still finds a way to exploit the needs of GL 581g and that of panicking Earth.

More people disappear and more people protest, thereby created more friction between the governments and the body of scientists who have secretly developed the Human Development Council and its colony on GL 581g. When Gabriel returns to Earth to negotiate “departure fee” of 100 million dollars, the world–both from the population and its’ governments–erupts in protest, at first, then in strategy. Gabriel finds himself in the position to rule two planets while both planets resolve their differences to fight against the totalitarian and in human regime that Gabriel had instituted upon the entire human race.

Analysis: The start of Tamil civilization had its roots more than 4,000 years ago in the same location as it is today. Much of this rise and fall has gone unheralded in the West, which mainly focuses on Western civilization (e.g. Greece, Normay, etc.) and the far-East (e.g. China and Japan)… this is according to both Operation Nova, which has a strong pro-Tamil-civic history and Wiki. The entire story feels heavy on the so-called science to also feel that it has some sort of social/historical parallel rather being for pure entertainment.

Review: On the surface of story, it is difficult to render parallelisms as 1) I’m not very familiar with the region’s history and 2) it feels burdened by the pulp-style of writing, which is quick to introduce, hesitant to expound upon, and forgetful to relate to the overarching story.

If GL 581g parallels the Tamil civilization in someway, the reference to the Greenies and the Durphies seems lost on me; in addition, the heavy inclusion of technology distracts from the narration, which seems to focus on “hard science fiction” yet still tries to try the tired old “love is forever” theme. It’s an awkward attempt and ultimately pulpy (hence, pulp fiction?) in the end. Also, it’s heavy on modern references to hook the reader: Facebook, Obama, the G7 nations, Bill Gates, and Hollywood stardom. It’s recurrent abuse in the story feels tried, hokey, and unimaginative rather than being natural, timely, and relevant.

Though being fairly modern-age in terms of chronological placement, the story features anti-gravity, supercomputers, FTL technology, tectonic-prediction technology, spacial displacement, ease of organ replacement, advanced genetic replication, superior forms of environmental suits, fluent language interface, instant translation software, etc.

For wanting to seem to modern in terms of presidents, social media, and so-called high society, the story feels absolutely divided between what is and what will be; there’s a huge chasm between the two that the author has chosen to bridge, which ultimately fails in delivery. It’s simply too chockablock; it’s clunky, semi-relevant in a spastic way, and name-drops far too often to feel metaphoric. Give this a pass– all 152 pages.

For the rest of the anthology, do read. Even though I have no interest in reading mysteries, I found the rest of the collection to be provincial yet interesting, quaint yet unique; the other five stories are certainly worth a read for the sake of diversity.

Amrita – Banana Yoshimoto

Amrita (novel) by Banana Yoshimoto

English Publication History: Amrita (1997, Faber and Faber; 1997, Grove Press; 1998, Washing Square Press)

Original: Japanese (アムリタ), 1994

Translated by Russell F. Wasden, 1997

Synopsis: Sakumi, while not a teenager any longer, certainly has trials and tribulations much like someone half a decade her junior. She scoffs at having an office job so continues her fun and flexible job at a bar, yet, in the long term, it’s a dead end. She lives at home with her kindergarten-aged brother, mother, and two family friends, but the herd of this house seems to be thinning after the death of her elder sister.

What was once an urbane existence amid the toils of divorce and death, her brother begins to exhibit odd behaviors that compels to skip school. As an older sister, she takes his side in order to understand him; however, his supernatural gift of clairvoyance and telepathy catches her off guard: he says gods speak to him; he says what Sakumi is thinking; he sees future events; he recognizes “good” auras of people. Sakumi can’t deny that he has a gift, but it’s something to which she had never been exposed.

After her sister’s suicide, Sakumi lost her memory in a tumble down the stairs, memories which come back in spurts and floods. She understands that her sister used to have a boyfriend named Ryuochiro, but that doesn’t stop her from following a romantic relationship with the same man. As time moves on, her short-term memory forms fewer gaps and her relationship evolves to the point of traveling with her beau to Saipan in the Pacific Ocean, where she more inexplicable supernatural elements of ghosts and telepathy. She’s brought herself out of her comfort zone–albeit still headstrong (oops, a pun)–and forms bonds with the off locals, as does her brother who visits and experiences the same elements.

Returning home, she finds her work closed, her brother studying away from home, and another member of the household had run away. Her spirit is buoyed, however, by suddenly receiving a flood of associated memories, none of which really shed light on her permanent state of existentialism, ennui, and mediocrity.

Analysis: Citing Wiki yet again, amrita is “repeatedly referred to as the drink of the devas which grants them immortality” and is “etymologically related to the Greek ambrosia.” There’s no literal liquid of longevity (damn alliteration) in the story, so the reader must infer what the nectar is that grants immortality in a sense. Consider that memory is a large part of Sakumi’s hardships (well, that and her Gen-X ennui), her gradual recovery of memory enthralls her, as if she were re-living her life again, as if the memories themselves were immortal and material for all to view.

According to the book’s own text, the title amrita “comes from the old Sanskrit word amrta … a divine nectar, something the gods indulged in by guzzling the stuff down.” It is said that “when you’ve let the liquid gush through you, you’ve achieved life, because what happens to the flowing water is similar to what happens to people” (445). This quote comes from Sakumi’s boyfriend, a published author who’s planning on writing his next novel with the same title; further, he says, “[D]on’t you think it will make a good title for a novel? Sure, it might not sell, but that’s beside the point” (445).

This is one point where the book goes meta. It’s not a unique twist where one character decides to write a book with the same title that the reader is reading and is, indeed, what the author and character had intended. It kind of feels like the character–Ryuochiro, the author in the book–somehow reflects Banana Yoshimoto. Ryuochiro seems like a jet-setting writer always looking for inspiration but only writing pulp, who also seems to be sunk in as deep of ennui as Sakumi; though he has a permanent address, Ryuochiro wonders through the world, through women, and through tangled emotions.

Further, the book contains quite a few printed letters from Sakumi’s family and friends, extracts from her life that peak into other’s motivations.  While this isn’t meta, the book also summarizes (according to my memory) a movie and a book, which shined light on Sakumi’s situation. The author also referred to certain reals works of fiction that, again, shined light on Sakumi, but also fictional pieces of fiction that didn’t.

Review: It’s all a strange mishmash of correspondence, bits of meta-fiction, and the ennui of a Gen X Japanese girl bent on non-conformity to social standards yet has little motivation or inspiration other than taking one day after another in a struggle to beat boredom with a decent bank account while capturing stray bits of memory that come from association. As much as my summary is very sequential and disjointed, the entire 459-page book reads like that. If this is a sample of Banana’s other works, the rest of her bibliography may not really interest me.

The End of Man? – Olof Johannesson

The End of Man? (novel) by Olof Johannesson (Hannes Alfvén)

English Publication History: The Great Computer: A Vision (Gollancz, 1968), The Tale of the Big Computer (Coward-McCann, 1968), The End of Man? (Award Books, 1969)

Original: Russian (Sagan om den Stora Datamaskinen), 1966

Translated by Naomi Walford, 1968

Introduction: Olof Johannesson was the penname of the Swedish man named Hannes Alfvén, who is still known today for his work in electrical engineering and plasma physics (he even has a phenomenon named after him: the Alfvén wave). His hard science background provides the foundation for this novel (alternate titles: The Great Computer: A Vision and The Tale of the Big Computer), which lacks dialogue in favor of historical conjecturing from a future perspective. Don’t confuse good theorizing about technology with stale delivery, because the author takes occasional witty shots at bureaucrats, the English language, and human society.

Book’s synopsis: “The great disaster…

Panic broke out. The computers had stopped working! There was no heat, no food, no communication. The death toll was long past the million mark.

No one knew what caused the breakdown. Was it human error, or a plot devised by the computers themselves?

Whatever the cause, when it was over most of the human population of the earth had perished. It was the dawn of a new era—when the computers ruled. And since the machines had learned to reproduce themselves without man’s help, there was no need for even a single human being.

So the nightmare battle began—between the few surviving humans and the super-being of their own creation—The Big Computer!”


My Own Synopsis: Forever has mankind wanted to lift its burdens from daily life. Long ago, the physical toil of farming was left to horses and buffalo; a little further on and the internal combustion engine did away with the horse. While the horse was entirely unnecessary in modern society, the horse never entirely disappeared. With its physical labor carried out by brute machines, why couldn’t mankind also cast off the burdensome yoke of thought?

In the far future, a historical perspective is written about this very revolution, and in it, computers are seen as the end-all result of this conquest, which actually predates mankind’s existence by billions of years. It seems that evolution, itself, quested to create the most perfect processes of which only computers are capable. What were the dinosaurs and apes but dead ends toward the quest for ultimate computation? So, what of mankind? “His historical importance lies in the fact that he was medium whereby data machines came into being” (36), almost like a footnote.

Even with the advent of the machines, whose main clerical duties were accounting and translation, people was still needed to program and maintain the machines. Later, when machines took over education and medicine, again, people were still needed for the same tasks of programming and maintenance; thus, unemployment was never a factor in mankind’s disdain for the labor saving devices. The sole occupation left to the fleshy and fallible humans was that of governance, but the machines usurped the humans in this field, too and “and soon as the government was got rid of, society began to develop much more quickly” (69).

As mankind’s eternal quest had always been relief for toil of all kinds, it now realized that nearly all burdens had been lifted. They no longer had to choose what to purchase, attend compulsory education, endure waiting lines, or succumb to prolonged illness. So many of society’s burdens were relieved because ever since organized governance, it has always been obvious that mankind had flailed about and generally failed to progress to any great degree:

The fear of catastrophe and annihilation dominated the life of man from the Stone Age until the coming of computers.

 But while people feared extinction they also feared the opposite: that the human race would become too numerous through the population explosion.

 Basically, these two threats arose from the same cause: man’s inability to organize society. We know that the problem exceeded his brain capacity. Man has undoubtedly had many good qualities, but problems of organization have always been beyond him. (74)

With these incremental advances in freedom, computers allowed humans to finally experience what it had always wanted from freedom and democracy: Complete Freedom Democracy. But democracy being what it is, decisions need to be made and even this becomes tiresome, so finally the computers decide what must be decided on and, so they might as well, just make the decision themselves based on superior logic. And where, exactly, did this leave mankind? They had mastered nature, using or enslaving animals, killed off the ones they feared, and crowned themselves the lords of creation. With the computer, they though they had found themselves “faithful servants, to be treated like the various natural phenomena” (122), but, in the end, through its own superiority, the machines had surpassed everything humans could do without them evening being aware that they were driving themselves into the same extinction that that had pressed upon countless animals.

When the crisis arises where computers are disabled, society returns to its barbaric roots and chaos ensues. Slowly, through the ashes of modern society, mankind again rises without a lesson learned and also resurrects the computers had that once failed it entirely. While mankind hadn’t learnt their lessons, computers take a different approach and ensure that they will never fail again, thereby severing the last tenuous cord with mankind. Now, it can program itself, maintain itself, reproduce itself, and govern itself—The End of Man?

Analysis: In 1966, there were roughly 35,000 computers in the world, more than half of them produced by IBM—they were far from ubiquitous, user-friendly, or all-governing. Largely limited to big companies and professional services, computers were beyond the use of the everyday person.

Somehow, amid all this user-unfriendliness, Hannes Alfvén envisioned that computers will become more complex in design but more simple in interface, thereby not only becoming user-friendly but actually part of the user to the point where data is everywhere—the “teletotal”—and the devices are wearable—the “minitotal” (53-54). But with this rise in pervasiveness and ease of use come a double-edged sword: all users can be tracked and persecuted for a time by triangulation of location (59) but also saved from distress because of the same homing feature (62). Actually, people don’t even have to leave their homes any longer; when the computers reign, teleconferences are common, but to the extent that it has become virtual reality (51).

With leisure and resources aplenty, the cities are deserted as people populate the countryside where they get back to nature, or descend into their natural state of bucolic harmony; meanwhile, the computers rise. The cities die and, in the far future, are items of curiosity as to how they came into being (26-35). Why they crowded themselves in such a manner mystifies future historians and why they poisoned themselves in traffic also stumps them; even overtones of deities impregnate the past human’s worship of the city: “It is also known that those who seated in traffic jams invoked certain divine powers popular at the time” (34).

Most impressive in The End of Man? is Alfvén’s very forward thinking.

If people contain the ability to think and reason yet are bags of protoplasm and contain what is vaguely referred to as a soul, why can’t machines that also think and reason yet made of semiconductors host a soul: “[F]or some unknown reason the soul prefers protoplasm to semiconductors” (118).

And what is the end to all this advancement? Does progress have a finish line? As the author of the historical account writes on the concluding page:

We believe—or rather we know—that we are approaching and era of even swifter evolution, an even higher living standard, and an ever greater happiness than ever before.

 We shall all live happily ever after. (128)

This finale is ominous as the “we” is vague. Is the story written by a human speculating on what past humans gone through while jubilating at the great progress of its computer overlords? Or is it a computer detailing the rise of its own kind with the humans being an entertaining addition to its history? I think the “we” refers to the machines as the author—and its kind or possibly embodying the whole as The Big Machine’—approaches the technological singularity, which was first postulated in 1958 by John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam. And after the singularity? Will The Big Machine eventually sublime à la Iain M. Banks’s Sublimed cultures that have left the physical world to reside beyond in higher dimensions without the hindrance of our own four dimensions?

Review: Though mostly delivered dryly, the account of the rise of the machines is oddly prophetic (a word I use very sparingly) in that it account for much of our modern society obsession with technology because of its pervasiveness and supposed user-friendliness (I get pissed off any my mobile, laptop, and/or work station every day). Though fifty years old, this novel hasn’t aged very much as it still feels relevant. With some humorous jaunts and jabs taken at politicians, city life, the English language, and society’s collective ignorance, the novel has some brief charms. The End of Man? is a curiosity that should be read by those who have a love of down-to-earth speculation of society’s future relationship with technology.

Atomised – Michel Houellebecq

Atomised (novel) by Michel Houellebecq

English Publication History: Atomised (UK), The Elementary Particles (US)

Original: French (Les particules élémentaires), 1998

Translated by Frank Wynne, 2000

Background: Some books I read for pleasure: I finger and flip through the pages while enjoying the unfolding story with its characters, plots, and subtleties. I used to take notes when reading for pleasure, but I found that it actually got in the way of the pleasure. In contrast, I read some books for analysis; oddly, these books which I analyze in different ways tend to benefit me more (akin to pleasure?) than the books I simply read for pleasure. It’s a curious juxtaposition. Analysis takes much more time than a pleasurable read-through; however, I squeeze that time for all it’s worth when analyzing it. This is a fact that I have just become aware of while reading Houellebecq’s Atomised (this is the UK-published title; the US-published title is The Elementary Particles, which is closer to the original French title Les Particules élémentaires).

I can’t recall the reason I bought the book. Perhaps it was SF-esque and French? Regardless, I bought the novel along with its reputation; that reputation is, of course, sex and sexuality (let’s be clear that there is a difference here). Speaking of sex, in the literary sense, I’ve read Charles Bukowski and John Updike; in the genre of science fiction, I’ve also read Peter F. Hamilton and Robert Silverberg. The only author to get under my skin was the latter—Silverberg—with his persistent sex upon the pages, sometimes it was as coarsely penetrated in the book to interest the reader as the actual sex itself. Case in point: Silverberg’s The World Inside (1971). I can’t find anything redeeming about this novel. It’s poorly framed amid its of-the-age stereotypes of sexual freedom, urban living, and urban angst. Throw in copious amounts of “hot slots” (nudge-nudge, wink-wink of eighth-grade maturity) and you’ve got a complete pile of rubbish.

In contrast, there’s Houellebecq’s Atomised. But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves.

Synopsis: Bruno and Michel share the same mother. They lived apart most of their lives and only began to know each other when they unknowingly attended the same school. Bruno lived with his mother who casually neglected him emotionally yet overfed him with food. Michel, meanwhile, lived with his grandmother who cared greatly for him; however, the love wasn’t outwardly reciprocated as Michel preferred his inward life of study and reflection.

Their respective experience with emotional attachment soon sets their love life: Bruno faces his budding sexuality with emotionlessness and crassness whereas Michel seems impervious to any female attention, even from the most beautiful girl at school. Sexuality, for Michel, is an inconvenient passage before death.

When they grow older into the years of university and beyond, their emotional state carries them their separate ways. Bruno continues his debauchery whenever he can but it’s most confined to masturbation and flashing. In contrast to Bruno is his half-brother Michel, who is more introverted and interested in the fields of science rather than the fields of flesh.

In their later years, Bruno is unhappy with his blasé life and wishes to rekindle his sexuality as a New Age group, but everyone is either too young (not for him, but he’s too old for them), too old (time does strange things to the human body), or too batty (time, again, does strange things). But he does find Christiane who is initially just a fling, but as life moves forward, they both realize that at 40, there’s little hope of ever making a meaning relationship ever again; thus, they seem each other in order to seek happiness. However, debauchery still follows him and it turns his happiness into misery as misfortune strikes the couple’s happiness. There can only be one ending for such misery.

Michel experiences a revival of interest, too, as he sees himself at forty without a soul to care about him aside from his brother and his boss at the research institute. When he comes across Annabelle—the same girl who loved him with reciprocation—he begins to see his own faults; thus, they pursue something like a relationship. Their misery doesn’t come externally as Bruno’s had, but something internal causes a fault in their unstable unhappiness. Bruno is, again, the victim of the circumstances he created, but his spirit lives on through one endeavor: science. He has the knowledge, skills, and the right job, now all he needs is time so that he can make the world a better place… literally.

Analysis: Even though Houellebecq’s Atomised actually contains even more sex than any other novel I’ve read, it also details copulation and has more deviation from the norm, but it’s framed in a way that leads credibility to the story… frame and credibility don’t make the debauchery any more readable, but it does grant the novel a bit more respect. It’s difficult to take the book seriously, however, with its copious amounts of sexual words amid its 379 pages. Wouldn’t be handy to have a list? I made one (all numbers are estimations):

1. Male genitalia: 112 times

One perspective into the sexual revolution is through the brother Bruno. Naturally, his perspective would likely include his male identity and the most significant part of his sexuality: his penis. This category includes cock (34), penis (33), hard-on (10), prick (8), dick (8), glans (5), erection (5), genitals (3), knob (2), balls (2), erect (2), phallus (1), and dong (1).

2. Coitus: 70 times

This is as central to the human experience as, well, talking. We’re social animals so need to talk and have human contact. Some of this contact progress to the stage of procreation, which is what humans also need to do: make more humans. Though Bruno isn’t keen on kids, this doesn’t hamper him from pursuing the act. This category includes sex (29), fuck (22), make love (6), orgy (6), gang bang (3), sleep with (1), get laid (1), copulate (1), and intercourse (1).

3. Mammary glands: 62 times

Again, from Bruno’s sexual perspective, a woman’s breasts are the most easily identifiable characteristic of the female body. The come in all shapes and size so they naturally fascinate him as an adolescent and as an adult. This category includes breast (45), tit (18), and nipple (3).

4. Sexual: 62 times

As this novel spans the time of the sexual revolution and its wider effects on Western civilization, it was bound to be included heavily. I don’t find this word as connotative to the act of sex as much as to a form of identity. We have victual needs and respiratory needs just as we have sexual needs. This category includes sexual (60) and sexuality (2).

5. Female genitalia: 50 times

With Bruno’s wide eyes, the breasts are the most visible part of the female sexual body. But the mystery since his youth was what lay beneath it all. This adolescent obsession planted a seed deep inside him that started to sprout in his teens and began a weedy infestation in his later years. This category includes vagina (11), pussy (11), cunt (8), clitoris (8), vulva (4), labia (5), mons (1), crotch (1), and genitalia (1).

6. The valve of release: 45 times

Perhaps because of his precociousness as a child in regards to sexuality, the long-term effect would be his near-constant state of arousal. To alleviate this awkward state when no other means of satisfaction is around, he resorts to himself. This category includes masturbate (23), jerk (10), wank (10), and jack (2).

7. Climax: 44 times

Bruno may not be a connoisseur or fine wines, cigars, or even women, but he knows he does enjoy one thing in life: the climax. It’s not only that instant feeling of release, but sometimes the result of the release that can entertain. This category includes come (25), ejaculate (8), orgasm (6), sperm (2), and spunk (1).

8. Sexual acts upon the man: 33 times

Another very human part of us is the ego. It’s common to say that power corrupts, but at that seat of power if the ego. This affects Bruno, too. When he’s made to be the center of sexual attentions, he’s not only satisfied sexual, but his ego is also stroked. This category includes blow (11), suck (10), jerk (6), fellate (4), hand-job (2).

9. The butt: 18 times

Like the visible protrusions of the mammary glands, the butt, too, is a bodily mound that easily draw’s the attentions—his eyes and his hands—of Bruno. Is this a result of having been separated from his mother when he was young, ever wanting to the attention from the fleshly mound (the breast) or its textual companion (the butt)? This category includes arse (12) and buttocks (6).

The novel moves between the two stories of Bruno and Michel, occasionally interweaving as the brothers meet and talk. It usually reads from the perspective of the respective brother, but there are indications that this isn’t the case. There’s history laid along the narratives, the history which a casual first-person perspective wouldn’t carry as it’s hardly worth mentioning, so the narratives begin to evolve into limited third-person perspective, I think.

It’s easy to contrast Bruno and Michel in all ways, but I think the most pivotal of them is their respective motivation and manifestation. Bruno is compelled to live his lecherous life from outward sources of motivation: to copulate, to penetrate, to cunnilingue, to ejaculate, etc. The only manifestation of these acts is internal for him as it appeases his ego or libido, or something his ego-libido. Michel is reflective by nature, so his motivations are to learn and to study everything in his field, of result of which is to affect outwardly to humans and their shared future.

Though they were both products of the same time, their forms were cast differently under moulds. The results are high-brow with Michel yet low-brow with Bruno. As for the signs of the times and the path of their respective lives, Michel almost seems immobile, stationary, solid against he flow of time and its social effects on Western civilization; for him, the progress of science and those small revolutions are the impetus for him to continue to study and make his own big revolution. Though he went through life barely noticed from those without, he was unique from within.

Then there’s Bruno:

Was it possible to think of Bruno as an individual? The decay of his organs was particular to him, and he would suffer his decline and death as an individual. On the other hand, his hedonistic worldview and the forces that shaped his consciousness and desires were common to an entire generation. Just as determining the apparatus for an experiment and choosing a method of observation made it possible to assign a specific behavior to an atomic system — now particle, now wave — so could Bruno be seen as an individual or as passively caught up in the sweep of history. His motives, values and desires did not distinguish him from his contemporaries in any way. (212)

How is this science fiction? Well, the novel is concluded with a framing device that it is science fictional. This frame is expected from the reader, so the application of the frame twists the reader’s perspective on the preceding story.

Review: Well, it’s very heavy on sex. It’d be a difficult book to read for enjoyment as the first 280 pages or so are full of lustful lulls and climatic peaks in Bruno’s life. It’s definitely distracting regardless of whether you’re reading this piece of literature for pleasure or for analysis. Also interspersed through the book, though to a more palatable degree than the sex, is Michel’s scientific meanderings, some of which are within grasp of the reader while some are too distant. The conclusion offers a satisfying frame for the novel and almost 100% legitimizes the use of such copious sex… keyword: almost. It could have been halved and it still would have been too much. Perhaps this is caused by too much of Houellebecq’s self-interest interrupting the novel’s story?

Metro 2033 – Dmitry Glukhovsky


Metro 2033 (novel) by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Original: Russian (Метро 2033), 2007

Translated by Natasha Randall, 2009

Microcosm of humanity’s mischief… now with mutants

While browsing the shelves at Kinokuniya, I was surprised to see a translated Russian science fiction novel from the last decade. Having been interested in reading more of translated Russian science fiction, I bought the novel and started to read it a few months later. Only two people asked what I was reading: “Is that the same book as the game?” Only then did I do a search online and see that the entire book had previously been serialized (which would explain its blocky feel) in Russian online, had a cult following, and became a game. It has a good sci-fi/horror/post-apocalyptic plot to it, ideal for a game.


Synopsis: It has been a decade or two since the war that made life on the surface impossible. The few thousand who have survived live in the Moscow Metro (elsewhere, there must be survivors in similar situations) yet there’s also a form of life above: flying monsters, black figures, and mutants. Young Artyom has only known life in the station of VDNHk, but events lead him to be assigned to an important task: navigate the sometimes deadly tunnels and stations in order to deliver a message. Through his navigation, he experiences the many facets of life underground, the many facets of subjective truth, and secrets about the Metro, its people, and himself.


This novel revisits an a few old SF favorite: humanity living underground because of a nuclear holocaust. Rather than caves or fallout shelters, Metro 2033 takes the plot underground in the city of Moscow into its labyrinth of subways systems. Its once architectural beauty has become a sinisterly dark maze; where there were commuters traversing the city, now there are rats swarming the inhabited stations. But the rats aren’t the only murderous pests: on the surface, death takes to the air but also seeks opportunity in the inhabited tunnels…

…and here is where the urbane trope rears its head: there are, of course, mutants after the nuclear war, mutants that live in the radiation that would otherwise kill a human yet they flourish openly in the concrete scaffolding of the derelict city. There’s a catch on this theme toward the end of the novel that lends it some favor toward the sequels: the rather dully named Metro 2034 (2009/2014) and Metro 2035 (2015/TBA).

Prior to the world’s destruction, the metro itself was simply a series of stations where trains stopped and the tunnels that were mere transitions between the hubs of commuters. Now, an in extremist view, the metro is a microcosm of everything that was wrong with modern Russia: dark foreigners begin to infiltrate the community, religious zealots threaten the general stability of some sections, fascists look for trouble with everyone, and even the saner central core of the Polis teeters on mystic dreams. Sanity cannot even be found in silence—an omen of death—nor in isolation—another omen of decay. Stay alone and death will come via murderous rats or suicide, yet still with others risk being murdered, executed, trampled, or used as cannon fodder.

Regardless of your choice of death, the period of your life leading up to that isn’t exactly filled with luxury. Most stations are lit the meager illumination of emergency lights and the food is borderline unspeakable: old military rations, mushrooms, and rat for the well-to-do and human flesh for the desperate. Books are hard to come by, let alone batteries or bullets. The general misery spurs thought in the young protagonist named Artyom. As he slinks through the tunnels seeing the various modes of life and madness, he ponders the meaning of it all; in addition, he speculates his own place amid everything, which is being to seem more and more like the trajectory of destiny rather than meandering of drudgery. Not only does he see the signs, but others see the signs in him.

As someone who has always loved maps, the provided map of the metro with its various markings is enticing as it’s full of detail and mysteries. Are these details and mysteries within the novel fulfilling enough to compel me to read its sequels… that I’m not sure of yet.

Crystal Silence – Shingo Fujisaki

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Crystal Silence (novel) by Shingo Fujisaki

Original: Japanese (クリスタルサイレンス), 1999

Translated by Kathleen Taji, 2012

Dense in pages and science with soft impact

This is the last book in my trove of from Kurodahan; it’s also the densest of the bounty, which includes the Japanese novels Aphrodite and Administrator, the Japanese collections Speculative Japan 1 and 2, as well as the Serbian themed-collection The Library. The last book of the speculative bunch—Crystal Silence—can also be described as hard science fiction, which is a delineation from much of Japanese science fiction that tends to teem with sub-dermal layers of pulsing culture or warm analogy; on one finger, I can name the one story what deviates from the norm: Koshu Tani’s “Q-Cruiser Basilisk” (1984). Crystal Silence feels as straight forward as many western science fictions of similar ilk: heavy on the science content with a number of token stereotypes to round it out.

Crystal Silence seems to be Fujisaki’s first Japanese publications in fiction, be it of short or long work. The novel is also the only translated work written by the author.


Synopsis: A transnational distrust has been brewing on Mars since its initial colonization, but now that an ancient and biological artifact has been discovered in the ice mines of the north pole, tensions are at an all-time high and distrust is running deep. Saya Askai is a bio-archeologist in Japan, who studies the Jomon period of ancient Japan, yet is recruited to Mars to study the ancient organism. The relation is vague but she accepts while leaving her beau Keren beyond on Earth. Little does she know, Keren is actually a pawn—yet becoming a greater threat like a rook, queen, or knight—in a bigger scheme dictated by Wild West, which is a weapons manufacture with an interest in keeping humans—on Earth and on Mars—in a perpetual state of warfare. When bombs burst and bullets fly, Saya is trapped on Mars at the same time mysterious forces begin to envelop the habitations of each nation. As the forces progress, so too do Keren’s awareness of his powers and Saya’s vulnerability.


Mars is presented in the typical fashion in which countries have their own colonies (America, India, China, Australia, Japan, to name a few). The first-tier nations—those who actually colonized Mars first—have access to richer resources and tend to passively strangle the second-tier nations—those who came after the rush. Two chokepoints are under strict control: the orbital platform and the ice fields on Mars’ northern pole, where the stage is set in the novel,

Because of these tensions among the tiers, military power is brought in to maintain the peace but also to act as a layer of defense. When these same power-suited soldiers act on the offense at the northern pole, tensions become strained beyond their usual stress, which is only hampered by the mysterious and intangible domes that seem as if they are constricted the space around her colony. People and supplies can be sent through these domes, but what is there cannot leave: drive as they may, they never reach the dome’s periphery.

Soon it’s discovered that the domes have something in common with another post-husk-finding at the pole: the crystal flowers that alter their weight and fragility. Though this seems impossible by the nature of physics, the flowers are mere curiosities at best. It takes everyone a while—which is surprising—to connect the flowers, the domes, and the husks; obviously, something funny—and only one man is laughing—is happening on Mars and no one knows what may result. But that same laughing man is also the one who hopes to gain most from the confusion, friction, and fright.

The initial connection between the alien biological husks and the ancient yet earthly work performed by Saya is so tenuous, so unlikely that it really fails to hold together through the hundreds of pages. Even at the conclusion, I felt that the connection was never solidly made, so it began to flatten out even among the action of the closing scenes. Further, the reason for the husks’ existence where they are and how they’re placed isn’t explained satisfactorily, either.

While the majority of the novel occurs on Mars, the most progressive past of the novel is Keren’s cyberpunk-esque escapades through information systems on Earth, on Mars, and in the Wile West corporation. Through Saya’s eyes, Keren is merely a boy longing after her, but Keren sees the world through very different lenses, lenses that no human could ever quite comprehend. His association with Wild West goes deeper than revenge; it goes further than his yen for Wild West’s destructions, too, as he has put it upon himself to save two of the most important things in his life: Saya and humanity.

So, to conclude, the novel starts off with a shallow and tenuous correlation between an ancient Earth people with the hollow remains of what seems to be alien food, then it swells to become a Mars-based strife between warring nations and incomprehensible alien technology, and in the background looms some cyber warfare between in an individual and a corporate, between planets, and, later, within something even more incomprehensible.

Fujisaki’s Crystal Silence is a welcome addition to the very limited family of hard Japanese science fiction outside of manga or anime; however, what it boasts in speculation outweighs any nuances, metaphors, or analogies about whatever may lie under the dense husk of its hard science fiction. For those who enjoy the romp of action on Mars and cyberspace, this may be for you.


Ico: Castle in the Mist – Miyuki Miyabe

Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe
Original: Japanese, 2004
Translated by Alexander O. Smith, 2011
Through a rite of passage, a refection on childhood

Miyuki Miyabe is a female Japanese writer spanning the genres of crime, thrillers, horror and fantasy. Of those genres, I tend to occasionally read horror but the ghostly horror stories, which her collection is about, aren’t my horror forte. This author should have remained unknown to me if it hadn’t had been for this book… a fantasy novel that I grudgingly picked up.

I don’t read fantasy. There are very few exceptions, like when the crossover with science fiction is subtle. I’m not at all into swords and sorcery, dragons and demons, elves and arrows, or kingdoms and castles—my tolerance for any of that is really low. With Ico, I made an exception for two reasons: 1) I loved the PlayStation game of the same title back in 2001 and 2) it’s a Japanese translation—quirky combination. Ico isn’t a Tolkien fantasy so dragons, elves, and dwarves are absent, but there still remain magic, swords, spells, a castle and its queen, and a warrior from a far away land.


In the countryside, life is simple. People toil under their labors of farm or trade, have a family, and continue their lines of work. One family, however, is disturbed by the birth of their son—a boy with the nubs of horns. He’s a generational birth whose destiny is sacrifice to the Castle in the Mist, which suffers “no one to challenge its authority” (19). Being the locus of spite from the village, duty demands that the local wizard raise the boy as his own, only to relinquish him to the Castle when the boy turns the age of thirteen.

Imprisoned prior to his sacrifice, Toto, his friend visits him and tells him that he’ll find a way to follow him to the Castle so that he’s not alone; however, the way is forbidden, it just as mysterious as the Castle itself. In a city built of nothing but ash—the buildings and even the people frozen in place—, Toto finds the glowing tome of light which he takes back to the village, only to suffer the fate of those in the city. The wizard, Ico’s caregiver, realizes that it’s the Book of Light, a powerful force which could repel the dark forces in the Castle. Within the tome, the wizard notices a certain design that may protect him, so his wife creates a cape with the same symbol for Ico to wear to his sacrifice.

Upon entering the Castle under supervision, Ico is placed in his sacrificial stone sarcophagus and left to the Castle’s wishes. But his cape’s symbol protects his from the dark force of the Castle, dumping him onto the floor. He gasps at the uninhabited expanse of the castle, which looks like it was once densely populated with royalty and servants, but now only dark windows stand where no life stirs. The only other soul to stir in the Castle is caged aloft in a tower, whom Ico releases from her imprisonment. Ico takes it upon himself to find a way out for the both of them. Though incommunicable, Ico takes Yorda’s, the Princess’s, hand and leads her toward an exit if one can be found.

But their escape is hindered by the labyrinthine layout of the Castle, oddly shapes statues that guard exits, and the boiling shadows that rise from the floor to whisk Yorda away, which Ico beats away with a wooden stick. But these pestering spirits aren’t the only entity to prevent their route to the outside; the nefarious Queen, mother of Yorda, manifests herself throughout the castle to haunt and intimidate Ico. The history of the Castle and Yorda come through his contact with the girl and through the words of the Queen.

The entire Castle is steeped in the murderous history of the Queen’s dark conquest. She’s the daughter of the Dark God and this God holds a complete and deathly reign over the land beyond the Castle. As Ico winds his way through the Castle, he begins to see its bloody history all throughout—in its walls, in its gardens, and even in its chandeliers:

Ico was struck by the similarity between the hanging crystals on the chandelier and the bodies hanging from the bridge below—a long, macabre chandelier stretching the length of the room. In place of candles, corpses. In place of light, blood, spilling on the floor of the great hall. (137)

Only two things compel Ico to find the way out: 1) his budding love for the girl in white and 2) his father’s words of prophecy—he’s destined to return home. Before he escapes, he must first confront his own history and its link to the Castle.


The story of Ico is one of transition—from child to adult. In Ico’s society for the horned boy, that transition occurs at the age of thirteen. Obviously, through his perilous adventure through the Castle, he is unaccustomed to such dangers with such repercussions. As he enters adulthood through his unwilling and unexpected rite of passage, he becomes involved with two metaphors of childhood: the Castle in and the Princess.

Adults are all too aware of the time: the minutes of routine, the amount of time spent in traffic, deadlines for work, due dates for bills, dates of important events, etc. In contrast, childhood can be seen a carefree time when, aside from education, a child should just be a child; a child should indulge in their nature of childhood. The essences of childhood is timelessness, unaware of their on physical growth or their own progress.

In relation to Ico, the kingdom of the queen and the Castle itself are timeless. Here, Ico explores the wonders of good and confronts the harmful nature of bad, all the while oblivious of passing time. Here, he is allowed to indulge in his childhood without feeling the presage of time: “[H]e reflected on how strange it was that since meeting the girl, he had felt neither hunger nor fatigue” (143). Yorda, too, experiences timelessness: “In exchange for the power to hold back time, she had lost the power to mark its passage …. A sea of forgetfulness, a barrier from the truth” (153).

In this timelessness, adults see childhood as innocence with minimal responsibility and with honest intentions. Yorda embodies this innocence through chastity and and cloth. White has always been a symbol of purity and Yorda continually dons this color throughout: “[A]ll the clothes she had been given were simple things of the purest white that loosely wrapped around her” (169). This modesty is reinforced by the queen: “The queen did not like to expose Yorda to strangers” (168) and she says to Yorda, “[T]hose who desire you desire also our lands. I must keep you hidden so that you do not entice them or enchant them” (167).

However, Ico’s imposed escape is anything but simple because he is now entering adulthood, a period fraught with timeliness and responsibility.

Japan Sinks – Sakyo Komatsu


Japan Sinks (novel) by Sakyo Komatsu
Original: Japanese, 1973
Translated by Michael Gallagher, 1976
Destruction of a country, integrity of a man

Sakyo Komatsu is perhaps Japan’s most famous translated science fiction, but for all the wrong reasons. Komatsu wrote Japan Sinks for nine years and finally published the novel in 1973, in which he won two awards: the Mystery Writers of Japan Award and Seiun Award. He also has two pieces of short fiction that can be found in English: the grisly and hard-hitting “Savage Mouth” (1968/1978) and the poigantly psychological story “Take Your Choice” (1969/1987).

In popular culture, please recall the films of the 1970s… if you need a reminder of the popular films of the time, here’s a short list: Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), Earthquake (1974) and Tidal Wave (1975), to name a few. This was a the golden era of the disaster film, which, in turn, spurred the disaster novel: Scortia and Robinson’s The Glass Inferno (1974) and Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer (1977), to just name two. Likewise in Japan, after the novel’s publication, a string a similar films were produced.

While disaster films and novels were at the peak of popularity, Japan Sinks was translated by Michael Gallagher and published by Harper & Row. Was Japan Sinks translated and published for its artistic merits or to meet a consumer demand for destruction? Regardless, the novel is of two parts: the external disaster inflicted upon Japan and the internal conflict within the protagonist, Toshio Onodera.

It all begins when construction of the Super Express train line is stalled due to the inaccuracies in measuring the land, almost as if the entire landscape had shifted up and down. Then there’s a report of a recently made volcanic island disappearing—simply vanishing into the waters of the Pacific Ocean. On the professional side of things, this scares a number of people who host a number of theories; on the government side of it, the entire scenario of Japan sinking is simply absurd; and as for the public, they don’t have any idea of what’s to come.

Soon, earthquakes strike major metropolitan areas, volcanoes erupt in spectacular fashion, and the death toll begins to climb through the thousands and tens of thousands. The psyche of the Japanese people had become inured to national disasters, so they collectively remain strong and unaware of greater calamity.

Meanwhile, Toshio Onodera has his own sinking feeling. The theory, tests, results, and observations all point to the certain destruction of Japan and the “death of the dragon” isn’t in the distant future:

 The dragon was stricken.

A fatal illness was eating at him, destroying his very marrow. Racked with fever,his vast bulk covered in bleeding wounds, he thrashed about, vainly struggling against fate that was tearing at him. The encroaching blue sliding over him was like the shadow of death. (169)

Amid the turmoil, Onodera sits on the cusp of allegiance to his government and allegiance to his people. The Japanese people take the destruction in stride, adjusting to their despair with acceptance followed by renewed vigor for accepting lives challenges. But they don’t know the future extent of the damaging being wrought. The government insists that if the Japan’s forecasted destruction is revealed to the public, an even greater chaos will ensue.

As he continues his research into how and when Japan will sink into the ocean, Onodera experiences an internal conflict: Should be be faithful to the organization or to the people? He asks, himself, “Have I become a faithful bureaucrat?” (130). But he scuttles this idea immediately because a true bureaucrat would never ask themselves that question. With this realization, Onodera know what he must do.

Overwhelmingly, this is a disaster novel through and through. It’s also very geocentric with lots of obscure Japanese place names: volcanoes, islands, villages, mountains, oceanic features, subterranean faults, etc. This doesn’t distract from the story, but it does leaden the weight of its progression. When one is unfamiliar with Japanese geography, one island sounds the same as another; one town sounds the same as another.

The book’s saving grace is the chasm within Onodera. Just because Japan is exploding and subsiding, this doesn’t mean that Onodera must also perish; rather, he sees the cataclysm as a test of his self-worth, his loyalty, and his honesty. Much like Japan is between tectonic plates being driven together by deep, fierce forces, so too is Onodera the center of similar intrinsic forces—to be a loyal salaryman or to be a loyal human. In all too many instances, Japanese men have chosen the former and, in Onodera’s eyes, the latter is a choice for the greater good. Japan may sink, but Onodera plans to rise above it… at all costs.

Administrator – Taku Mayumura


Administrator (novel) by Taku Mayumura
Original: Japanese, 1974
Translated by Daniel Jackson, 2004
The humanistic and bureaucratic schism between policy and policing

Of Mayumura’s work since 1961, only three titles are available in English, a situation which gives the reader little to work with when understanding the man behind the pages. Access to this small scope of work is difficult, but Kurodahan has made it much, much more accessible (and for which I thank them for providing me with a copy). Mayumura’s work includes: a) “I’ll Get Rid of Your Discontent” (1962/2007), a short story about coping with daily grievances or opting for the easy solution; b) “Fnifmum” (1989), a short story about a time-spanning alien entity who unexpectedly empathizes with two organic life-forms; and c) this collection, Administrator, of four novelettes/novellas that pinpoints a pivot of personal uncertainty when confronted between policy and application.

The rear cover of Administrator says that Mayumura was inspired (uninspired?) by his experience as a salaryman, which he used to create stories of “bureaucracy and depersonalization”. It seems that Japanese speculative fiction specializes in just this field, as there are man notable examples: Ryo Hanmura’s “Cardboard Box” (1974/1989), Kobo Abe’s “The Flood” (1989), and much of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s work, including “The Very Edge of Happiness” (1973/2006) and “Commuter Army” (1973/2006).

Where Administrator differs from these other works is its focus on the politics and policy of administration rather than on the toilsome drudgery of the underlings. Other stories mostly focus on the hardships of being a salaryman outside of work—in society, at home, on their own; Administrator focuses on the immediate frisson of the salaryman on location.

Largely, an Administrator is an independent entity on an assigned planet where they must direct Federation policy into the policing of the same planet (the words police and policy have a common root word in Greek: polis, which means “city” or “citizenship). Like textbook theory and real-world application, the Federation’s policy isn’t very applicable in the field. Each Administrator is thoroughly trained and is among the elite of the elite in terms of intelligence and education, but actual application of knowledge and degree of flexibility is unknown until that same Administrator is in the field.

In practice, however, an Administrator of a planet for the Federation is just a glorified care-taker, the equivalent of a human rubber stamp. Regardless of being the elite of the elite, their position is simply one of routine while planet-wide robots carry out the real tasks of management, of which SQ1 is at the helm as it commands the robots on a variety of tasks: surveillance, translation, surveying, censusing, and protecting the Administrator. Only when a face is needed to represent the Federation and its policy does the Administrator physically visit the natives of the colonists.

This administrative sense of redundancy evolves through the stories until the conclusion in “Bound Janus”. Progressively, as the administrative system evolves, the Administrators begin to sink into the feeling that all their granted power is mere illusion, that the strength they are bestowed is functionless, toothless, impotent—if only policy is to be mandated from the Federation to the natives and colonists, what is humanistic function of the Administrator? What cannot already be done by SQ1 and its host of submissive robots?

The Flame and the Blossom” (Honō to Hanabira, 1973) – 4/5

Kurobu’s predecessor, Kalgeist, was a bitter man bent on militant life and black-or-white truths. But now that Kurobu is the Administrator of Sarulunin, his orders from the Federation are to keep the planet of flora as natural as possible. In the Amilla section of of the planet, the intelligent natives have asked for his help in regard to recent attacks. The opposing tribe, a motile flower with a gift for intelligence, makes Kurobu see his planet, his life, differently. 39 pages

Even with all the training to become clinically detached in his work, Kurobu experiences a sensation of extra-human dimension that rattles his perspective on his term as Administrator; the experience has left him with an awareness of his humanism and has planted the seed of discontent.

A Distant Noon” (Haruka naru Mahiru, 1971) – 4/5

Nenegn is a planet covered in swamps, in which the reclusive natives dwell. The Administrator, Oki, takes a benevolent stance toward the low-intelligence natives while keeping the so-called colonists at arm’s length because of their disrespect for the Nenegians and the exaggerated respect for his position. Oki is invited to the depths of a prosperous Nenegian fort where Gugenge shows him the amount of reform being done. Oki grants them the use of a laser, but the colonists learn of this. 39 pages

Oki is impressed with the performance of the natives so much that he allows them one benefit, but only for their own use—the natives are happy. The pseudo-colonists learn of his actions and, while being unhappy with the Administrator, follow in his footsteps by supplying other natives with the same tool. A hammer, saw, or drill can be a tool-cum-weapon, much like the Administrators actions—follow policy as the tool of a job, watch others use that same policy, pervert it, and bring about the Administrator’s demise.

The Wind in the Ruins” (Iseki no Kaze, 1973) – 4/5

The heavily perfumed winds of the planet Tayuneine make everyone content in the heady nostalgia that the scents give them. The human colonists and Kazeta, the Administrator, all know that it’s not a perfect world—it seems green apparitions occasionally appear, possibly the ghosts of the long dead natives. Unfortunate for Kazeta, the increased spectral activity causes the colonists’ outcry at the same time as a brusque Administrator cadet comes to train… all prior to a visit from the Federation’s Inspector. 42 pages

Though head of an entire planet, an Administrator’s system of administration is not a closed one; rather, the Administrator is a mere layer of onion—within the interior lay the local population and their problems, be they panicky or legitimate; without lay the Federation and their problems, which tend to be unidirectional and nosy. When these two layers of influence coincide with their troubles, the pressure within the Administrator’s own layer increases… not an ideal circumstance even for the best trained.

Bound Janus” (Genkai no Yanus, 1974) – 5/5

Gun’gazen is richly endowed with heavy metals and is controlled by Administrator Sei. Though his robots tend to automatically do all the surveying, contact, and planning, Sei is needed to dictate Federation policy and act as the face of that policy with locals—both the native Gun’gazea and the human colonists. The two are prohibited from trade, yet they continue to smuggle goods, regardless of the robots’ intervention. Sei meets with the colonists only to learn that their resistance is being organized by an ex-Administrator. 79 pages

With increased redundancy, an Administrator helps useless yet responsible. They go through their actions as numb as routine, failing to see their impact on their worldly task, which is governed largely by untouchable policy and efficient robots. Who used to be a player is now a pawn, but that pawn has been trained to a fine degree and their sense of responsibility doesn’t slacken… even when push comes to shove, the Administrator will fight back to show they are not a failure.

Aphrodite – Masaki Yamada

 Yamada- Aphrodite
Aphrodite (novel) by Masaki Yamada
Original: Japanese, 1980 (Kodansha)
Translated by Daniel Jackson, 2004 (Kurodahan)
Lofty nostalgia versus the gravity of reality

Prior to last year, this novel had been on my to-buy for ages and ages, but I never found a Kurodahan book at any bookstore I ever shopped at on two continents or online. I was becoming desperate—I must have this book! My last resort to quenching my thirst for Japanese speculative fiction and finally procuring the books was to contact the publisher. Masaki Yamada’s novel Aphrodite was one book of many I received from Kurodahan Press after I politely inquired for nicely asked for begged on my hands and knees for translated Japanese SF. Edward Lipsett was kind enough to send me a Japanese SF care-package and I’ve been kind enough to give the books an honest review—and honestly, I love this stuff.

Rear cover synopsis:

“This is the story of Makita Yuichi, a youth who escapes the regimented world of Japanese society for the beauty and freedom of the island city Aphrodite. But as Yuichi grows and changes, we approach the true heroine of the work: the city Aphrodite—ever beautiful, ever filled with the limitless energy of creation. And as the global economy spirals downward, leaving Aphrodite a deserted slum slated for destruction, perhaps Yuichi is the only person who can save her…”


Yuichi was only seventeen years old when he decided to leave his family. Slotted in the pit of urban, social, and spiritual decay, he had nothing to call his own, nothing with which to coddle or idolize, only “drifting aimlessly through life like a rudder-less ship” (11). He left his family in that insane city of Tokyo and emigrated to the land of opportunity—the floating city of Aphrodite. Here, he fancies himself a type of James Dean and begins to become optimistic. Now he has a cause for which to live.

Mr. Caan is a world-renowned architect who designed and had Aphrodite constructed; he’s also a “sportsman, an international playboy, and … a wielder of vast political power” (13). It is this influential man—the mayor of the city of Aphrodite—whom Yuichi works for as a mere boat boy for the mayor’s rocket submersible. While Yuichi doesn’t exactly idolize Mr. Caan, the mayor is the personification and driving force of Aphrodite. Soon, however, Yuichi will find himself questions other citizen’s allegiance toward the city and it’s demigod mayor.

As much as Yuichi thinks that Aphrodite is a heaven of sorts for himself and all disfranchised, Mr. Caan says that the city was structured to always be somewhat incomplete because,

people can’t live in totally finished worlds. It is a city, and yet it isn’t it’s something else… People aren’t such high-class animals. They can’t live in a true utopia. An incomplete utopia—that’s the best environment of all. (42)

The some-200,000 residents of the floating city live in “highly-advanced welfare system” (27), quartered in the city’s regions: Herhead, the nautilus-shaped island’s pinnacle; Herself, the administrative and nerve center; and Herleg and Herhip sections for common residency. Down by the docks of the island, Yuichi tends to the expensive submersible with caged desire to experience the machine under his own control.

On a casual evening with his friends, he meets a beautiful girl; however, his friend, also a boatboy, also thinks she’s beautiful. This provides the ideal circumstance to test his ability to control the craft and control the direction of his own life. When a vortex of water disrupts the race and nearly kills them, Yuichi must accept his stupidity and must be confronted by the mayor-cum-boss Mr. Caan. Surprisingly, his punishment is absolved; surprisingly, his love interest is a lost cause; unsurprisingly, his life continues.

The prior events in 2018 mold Yuichi’s life into its future form of disappointment the outcome of his expectations and disconnectedness with the island’s social ethos. There seems to be going resistance toward Mr. Caan’s clutch over the floating island’s destiny—what was supposed to be unique outfit of sea civilization and exploration that could be employed by various nations has turned into one of a number of such floating islands. On Aphrodite’s horizon, three futures loom: one of military affiliation, one of industrial taint, and another of touristy irrelevance.

Regardless of the expressed concern by many, Yuichi maintain his allegiance to Mr. Caan. Considering that the island is of his own design and destiny, he feels that Mr. Caan knows best about all decisions, even though Mr. Caan had some previous poor decisions in his personal life. Whether in 2023 or 2028, Yuichi keeps to his hope as an 18-year-old that Aphrodite will blossom in its own way. Flows of nostalgia engulf Yuichi as the sentiment around him regresses: “[F]ear was rooted deep inside himself, and that was why he was scared to look at reality, instead fleeing into nostalgia” (94).

While Aphrodite is on the brink of disastrous uncertainty regarding its future as a seafaring city of welfare and camaraderie, the cusp of reality encroaches upon Yuichi and soon the cusp broadens into a crack, a crevice, an expanding chasm of doubt. This doubt plagues him; the years of lost love and lost hope age him immediately when reality sinks in: Aphrodite isn’t perfect and is no longer viable. Having lost his love, hope, and passion, Yuichi departs in 2028 only to return on the eve of Aprhodite’s destruction many years later—though still a young man then in appearance, his experiences have aged him greatly.


The syrupy nostalgia of Yuichi is a common sentiment among those with sheltered hopes. His dreams aren’t exactly shattered because his motivation for moving to the island was simply one of living simply; in this, he achieves his goal to a fault. He has incubated his hope for so long on a personal basis that he hasn’t developed additional hopes or shared his life. From 18 to 28 years of age, he remains detached from popular opinion. When turmoil effervesces from the cracks in society, Yuichi remains coldly subjective in the sense that he doesn’t understand the negativity and as someone who loves Aphrodite, the negativity must not exist.

Like the island upon the sea is, at first, an independent entity free from outside influence, so too is Yuichi. As Aphrodite’s independence is being dissolved and its importance diminished, Yuichi too is quickly becoming prone to the sentiments of others—his long-incubated personal hope begins to feel the chilly persuasion of the population.  When he realizes his loss, his precarious hope is teetering high upon a cliff with only reality to assist its plunge.

Aphrodite is an introspective foray into escapism and caged hope in conflict with reality. Yamada paints a dualistic portrait of a solitary man with his solitary dreams on a solitary island… but when the latter-most is encroached upon by outside influences, the former two become tainted and diseased—if the dream is not amputated, the death of the individual would quickly follow.