The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Short Story Highlight: “A to Z Theory” By Toh EnJoe (Japan)

Strange Horizons have published A to Z Theory by Japanese author Toh EnJoe, Translated from the Japanese by Terry Gallagher. The story is part of the book is Self-Reference ENGINE by EnJoe, published by Haikasoru.

The Aharonov-Bohm-Curry-Davidson-Eigen-Feigenbaum-Germann-Hamilton-Israel-Jacobson-Kauffman-Lindenbaum-Milnor-Novak-Oppenheimer-Packard-Q-Riemann-Stokes-Tirelson-Ulam-Varadhan-Watts-Xavier-Y.S.-Zurek Theorem—called the A to Z Theorem for short—was, for a brief period about three centuries ago, in some sense the most important theorem in the world.

In some sense. Or possibly in all senses.

Nowadays, this amazing theorem is held to be incorrect, in terms of even elementary mathematics. Hardly anybody ever even thinks about it anymore, because it’s just plain wrong.

At a certain instant, on a certain day, in a certain month, in a certain year, twenty-six mathematicians simultaneously thought of this simple but beautiful theorem, affirmed it would be the ultimate theorem that would make their names immortal, wrote papers to the best of their abilities, and all submitted their papers to the same academic journal at roughly the same time.

The separate submissions from writers from A to Z arrived over the course of a few days, and the editor, looking at these virtually identical manuscripts, first checked his calendar. Even allowing for a full measure of variability and a wide deductive scope, there was no way they could all have been written on April 1. And so the editor was left perplexed as to what sort of day he might be experiencing.

Had twenty-six of the world’s top mathematicians suddenly formed a conspiracy that each was now seeking to lead? Or was some strange person, with an excess of time and money, playing some prank involving these twenty-six? At any rate, the editor was sure somebody was trying to put one over on him. – continue reading!

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off

Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge!

Released today in the States is Japanese author Yoko Ogawa‘s new collection, Revenge - check out the blurb – and the trailer – below!
Sinister forces collide—and unite a host of desperate characters—in this eerie cycle of interwoven tales from Yoko Ogawa, the critically acclaimed author of The Housekeeper and the Professor.
An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Elsewhere, an accomplished surgeon is approached by a cabaret singer, whose beautiful appearance belies the grotesque condition of her heart. And while the surgeon’s jealous lover vows to kill him, a violent envy also stirs in the soul of a lonely craftsman. Desire meets with impulse and erupts, attracting the attention of the surgeon’s neighbor—who is drawn to a decaying residence that is now home to instruments of human torture. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in an ominous and darkly beautiful web.

Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge is a master class in the macabre that will haunt you to the last page.

January 29, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Recommendation: Death Sentences by Kawamata Chiaki

I recently received a review copy of Japanese author Kawamata Chiaki‘s classic 1984 novel, Death Sentences, translated by Thomas Lamarre and Kazuko Y. Behrens and published by the University of Minnesota Press.

I’ve been raving about this book on Twitter recently. It’s absolutely fantastic – a mixture of Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and Surrealism: the story of a surrealist poem that creates a drug-like effect on its readers, as it travels from 1940s Paris to a 1980s Japan, and culminating in a futuristic Mars. The comparison to Ringu, I think, can be unfortunate – it reminds me to some extent of the language virus in Snow Crash or Pontypool, but done in a unique fashion (not to mention predating both).

The novel is available in paperback, hardcover and for the kindle, though as it is from a small university press the prices for hardcover and kindle are both quite high. Still, this is as close to a masterpiece as one can hope to find. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough – one of the single most exciting novels I read this year, and I recommend it without reservations.

The blurb:

Japan, 1980s: A special police squad is tracking down one of the “afflicted” to recover the “stuff.” Although the operation seems like a drug bust, the “stuff” is actually some kind of text. Death Sentences—a work of science fiction that shares its conceit with the major motion picture The Ring—tells the story of a mysterious surrealist poem, penned in the 1940s, which, through low-tech circulation across time, kills its readers, including Arshile Gorky and Antonin Artaud, before sparking a wave of suicides after its publication in 1980s Japan. Mixing elements of Japanese hard-boiled detective story, horror, and science fiction, the novel ranges across time and space, from the Left Bank of Paris to the planet Mars.

Paris, 1948: André Breton anxiously awaits a young poet, Who May. He recalls their earlier encounter in New York City and the mysterious effects of reading Who May’s poem “Other World.” Upon meeting, Who May gives Breton another poem, “Mirror,” an even more unsettling work. Breton shares it with his fellow surrealists. Before Breton can discuss the poem with him, Who May vanishes. Who May contacts Breton about a third poem, “The Gold of Time,” and then slips into a coma and dies (or enters another dimension). Copies of the poem are mailed to all of Who May’s friends—Breton, Gorky, Paul Éluard, Marcel Duchamp, and other famous surrealists and dadaists. Thus begins the “magic poem plague.”

Death Sentences is the first novel by the popular and critically acclaimed science fiction author Kawamata Chiaki to be published in English. Released in Japan in 1984 as Genshi-gari (Hunting the magic poems), Death Sentences was a best seller and won the Japan Science Fiction Grand Prize. With echoes of such classic sci-fi works as George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip, Death Sentences is a fascinating mind-bender with a style all its own.

 

October 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

2012 Seiun nominees announced

From Science Fiction Awards Watch, here are the 2012 Seiun nominees:

Japanese Novel

  • Tengoku to Chikoku
  • Yakusoku no Hakobune (Ark of Promises)
  • Kanzennaru Binagaryuu no Hi
  • Hikari o Wasureta Sei de (Star of Forgotten Light)
  • Kitsune no Tsuki (Fox Moon)
  • Genocide

Japanese Short Story

  • “Space Kinyuudou”
  • “Ushinawareta Wakusei no Isan” (“Legacy of the Lost Planet”)
  • “Utau Sensuikan to Piapia Douga”
  • “Zero Nendai no Rinkaiten” (“The Critical Point of Era Zero”)
  • “Kore wa Pen Desu” (“This is a Pen”)
  • “Saikou no Sofu” (“The Ultimate Empress’s Grandfather”)

Foreign Novel

  • The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The City and the City, China Miéville
  • The Chronoliths, Robert Charles Wilson
  • Dhalgren, Samuel Delaney
  • Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
  • Millennium People, James Ballard

Foreign Short Story

  • “The Pelican Bar”, Karen Joy Fowler
  • “The Lifecycle of Software Objects”, Ted Chiang
  • “The Gambler”, Paolo Bacigalupi
  • “The People of Sand and Slag”, Paolo Bacigalupi
  • “Troika”, Alastair Reynolds
  • “The Little Goddess”, Ian McDonald

Media

  • Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
  • Paul
  • Mawaru Penguin Drum (The Turning Penguin Drum)
  • Steins;Gate
  • Tiger & Bunny
  • Real Steel

Comics

  • Bokura no Yoake (Our Daybreak) volume 2
  • Kidou Senshi GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN (Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin)
  • Igyuutachi ni Yoru to Sekai wa…
  • Mirai Nikki (Future Diary) volume 12
  • Halcyon Ranch volume 2
  • Gaidenrou
  • Excel Saga volume 27

Art

  • Katsuyuki Hoshino
  • Katsuya Terada
  • Koushi Suzuki
  • Mikio Masuda
  • Kairi Yura
  • Kenichiro Tomiyasu
  • Pablo Uchida
  • Daisuke Nishijima
  • Naoyuki Katou
  • Naohiro Washio

Nonfiction

  • Kindai Nihon Kisoushousetsushi: Meiji Hen
  • Bradbury Nendaiki (The Bradbury Chronicles)
  • 3.11 no Mirai Nihon – SF – Souzouryoku (Future Japans of 3/11 – SF – Creativity) ["3/11" is shorthand for last year's earthquake and tsunami]
  • Ranshi Dokusha no SF Kougi (The Astigmatic Reader’s SF Lectures)
  • Azuma Hideo < Soutokushuu > — Bishoujo – SF – Fujouri Gyaku, Soshite Shissou (The Hideo Azuma Omnibus – Beautiful Girls – SF – Reversing Absurdity, Then Vanishing)

Open Category

No nominations, though there is a write-in option (as there is for all categories).

May 5, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off

The Future is… Japanese!

Nick Mamatas has announced the table of contents for new anthology The Future Is Japanese, published by Haikasoru, and collecting brand-new SF stories from a mix of Japanese and foreign writers.

Table of Contents:

“Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu

“The Sound of Breaking Up” by Felicity Savage

“Chitai Heiki Koronbīn” by David Moles

“The Indifference Engine” by Project Itoh

“The Sea of Trees” by Rachel Swirsky

“Endoastronomy” by Toh EnJoe

“In Plain Sight” by Pat Cadigan

“Golden Bread” by Issui Ogawa

“One Breath, One Stroke” by Catherynne M. Valente

“Whale Meat” by Ekaterina Sedia

“Mountain People, Ocean People” by  Hideyuki Kikuchi

“Goddess of Mercy” by Bruce Sterling

“Autogenic Dreaming: Interview with the Columns of Clouds” by TOBI Hirotaka

February 27, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Original Content: Interview with Sayuri Ueda, author of The Cage of Zeus (Haikasoru)

We’ve been offering original content throughout this relaunch week: today, Charles Tan interviews Japanese author Sayuri Ueda, whose novel The Cage of Zeus is published by Haikasoru (translated by Takami Nieda).

The Rounds are humans with the sex organs of both genders. Artificially created to test the limits of the human body in space, they are now a minority, despised and hunted by the terrorist group Vessel of Life. Aboard Jupiter-I, a space station orbiting the gas giant that shares its name, the Rounds have created their own society with a radically different view of gender and of life itself. Security chief Shirosaki keeps the peace between the Rounds and the typically gendered “Monaurals,” but when a terrorist strike hits the station, the balance of power and tolerance is at risk…and an entire people is targeted for genocide.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview.

How did you first get acquainted with science fiction?

I first read Sakyo Komatsu’s 1973 classic Japan Sinks when I was ten and was jolted by the experience. I was struck by how scientifically Japan’s sinking was explained、and it was through that novel that I discovered the existence of stories told from a scientific perspective. That was the moment I realized that you could render worlds on a much larger scale in science fiction than in regular fiction.

Around the same time, I had also read Rod Serling’s The Midnight Sun in a juvenile magazine and learned that humanity wouldn’t necessarily continue to flourish and prosper as it has. Even a slight disturbance in the sun can wipe out all of humanity. As you can imagine, this realization was a huge shock to a child.

What are some of the works that have inspired your writing?

I learned a lot about writing novels from the works of Yasutaka Tsutsui. In terms of science, emotional impact, satirical wit and sheer vision, or from any other standpoint for that matter, few writers can write as perfectly as Tsutsui can.

There are also many foreign science fiction books translated and released by publishers in Japan. I read Arthur C. Clarke, James Tiptree, Jr., William Gibson—everything from the classics to the latest releases—anything that captured my attention. I believe all of these works have influenced my writing in some form.

How did you come up with the character Karina Majella?

I saw a documentary about child soldiers on television. These children, about ten years old, were being trained to shoot sniper rifles and being sent off to war as a matter of course; I was deeply struck by their blank, impenetrable faces that revealed nothing of what they might have been feeling.

I remember wondering what these children might hope for if they should survive war. No matter how brilliant the ideology or how magnificent the new society that grown-ups end up creating, these child soldiers would see it all as nothing more than an illusion built on the bloodied corpses of the weak. This is how I came upon the initial seed for Karina.

Do you think it’s possible for humanity to establish a utopia?

Whether we are capable of establishing a utopian society is dependent on how humanity’s imagination. As long as we cannot overcome the discrimination and violence rooted in fear, the only thing humanity will be able to create is distopia. The reality is that we have continued to spill the blood of countless victims and the path toward a utopia is a very long one. However, humanity is a race that has never forgotten the spirit of advancement and progress. That alone might be our last hope.

One recurring theme in Japanese fiction is perceiving space as the future of humanity. Do you share in this belief?

Space is such an alluring world. I doubt we’ll ever give up the journey toward space and will continue to set its sights on faraway planets, no matter what the challenge.

But the future of humanity doesn’t lie in space alone. It’s hard for me to believe that a people that haven’t been able to find a future on Earth could ever forge a future in space. In fact, those two missions are one and the same. You could say that our readiness to embark into space is being tested in our daily lives and in the values of contemporary society.

What was the most challenging aspect in writing this novel?

I was mindful about crafting a science fiction story that would hold up, even for readers that weren’t necessarily interested in gender and sexuality issues. If readers are left with a kind of bitter feeling that they can’t shake, even if they’re not exactly interested in the thematic concerns of the book, then I would have to say the novel was a success.

How did you settle on the book’s title?

Zeus is a god in Greek mythology, an alternate name for the planet Jupiter, and the walls that stand in the way of humanity’s progress in space. This novel is about the humans who are held captive inside Zeus’ cage but are also imprisoned by the walls and boundaries they’ve put up themselves. One intention of this novel was to honestly convey the pain and anguish of these people, so I thought The Cage of Zeus was a fitting title. Unless we’re able to break out of this cage, we will never be able to create a new society. This, of course, is very difficult to achieve.

Did you ever imagine that your novel would be translated into English?

Not at all. Although we’re seeing more Japanese science fiction being translated now, those opportunities weren’t available when I’d written Zeus in 2004. The only writers being translated at the time were veterans who’d been working at their craft for decades, so there was absolutely no chance for a writer like me to be translated only a year after her debut novel.

In your opinion, what is it about science fiction that sets it apart from other genres?

That you can create a future—both temporal and spatial—on such a grand scale through a scientific lens. That you can take the seemingly impossible and render that into a possibility that humanity has the potential to realize. That you are free to write with unfettered imagination. That there are many opportunities available to young writers. That you are able to play out universal and enduring “what if” scenarios in the world of science fiction, even while dealing with contemporary themes.

I believe these distinctions are what continue to captivate the minds of science fiction writers and readers.

 

November 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Top Ten Japanese SF Novels

Over at SFWA, Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington list, and comment on, the list of all-time best Japanese SF, as voted on by readers of Japan’s SF Magazine in 2006.

1. Hyakuoku no hiru to senoku no yoru

     (Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights) by Ryu Mitsuse (1967)

An epic, cosmic adventure in the manner of Arthur C. Clarke, covering the evolution of humanity, the lives of Plato, Christ, and the Buddha, a future technodystopia, and the very heat death of the universe itself.  For pure “sensawunda,” it gets no better. Haikasoru will be releasing this book in its first English translation in November 2011. Longtime US SF readers may remember Ryu Mitsuse’s “The Sunset, 2217 A.D.,” which appeared in Frederik Pohl’s Best Science Fiction for 1972.

2. Hateshinaki nagare no hate ni

     (At the End of the Endless Stream) by Sakyo Komatsu (1966)

Thematically similar to Mitsuse’s epic, Komatsu’s story involves a young physicist shown an hourglass, the sand of which never stops flowing. Even stranger, the glass was discovered buried in a stratum associated with the Upper Cretaceous. The hourglass is key to a billion-year war in which humans are pawns…and then humans begin to vanish. Sakyo Komatsu was one of the grandmasters of Japanese SF—three of his books appear in this top ten list—sadly, he passed away in July 2011, at the age of eighty. - continue reading!

September 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

Monday Original Content: Brittain Barber reviews Ogawa Issui’s The Lord of the Sands of Time

The Lord of the Sands of Time

Ogawa Issui

 Reviewed by Brittain Barber

I am going to go ahead and assume that no readers out there are currently wondering what would happen if aliens invaded ancient Japan, or how time traveling cyborgs would fight them off. Even if the cyborgs had been skipping through time in an effort to block the xenocidal menace and were aided by a snippy, AI-controlled spaceship, this is probably not a question that keeps people up at night. Ogawa, on the other hand, has let the scenario occupy his Seiun Award winning brain long enough to unleash The Lord of the Sands of Time on an unsuspecting populace; Haikasoru then chose this as one of its four launch titles.

I was initially planning on categorizing this book under Alternate History, but have changed my mind. I think that The Lord of the Sands of Time fits better into Historical Fantasy, despite technically being science fiction. I made this executive decision because Alt History tends to take time travel (or whatever) as the point of departure for an exploration of how technology, usually of the military variety, would change the target milieu. Ogawa, on the other hand, is much more interested in how the time travel affects his characters than what might happen when a visitor from the future suddenly starts modernizing Yayoi Period Japan. (And by “Yayoi,” I mean Japan in the 3rd Century BC, not “yaoi” boy love manga. I made myself look stupid in front of an anime crowd by mixing these terms up.)

The novel starts in Japan, when Princess Himiko and her retainer are attacked by aliens. Himiko appears to have been a real person, though details are sketchy. (I think we can safely assume, however, that she was never attacked by aliens.) She is promptly saved by the heroically named Orville, in the guise of “Messenger O.” Orville, it turns out, is a cyborg from the future, constructed to travel back in time and fight against aliens bent on the destruction of humanity.  As Messenger O, he has been strategically maneuvering the Japanese (Yamatai, at the time – Japan as a country was several hundred years away) into a position where they can effectively fight when the aliens appear in force. When he saves Himiko, Orville steps out of the shadows and begins the battle in earnest. (He also puts himself in a position to score with a Japanese princess, but that appears to be a tertiary motive at most.)

Full disclosure time: I don’t generally like time travel stories. Like my other pet peeve, ESP, time travel opens up a stadium-sized can of worms that authors rarely deal with in a skillful manner.  Had this not been written by a Japanese author, I probably would have skipped it. Instead, since my goal is to get through every Haikasoru title in the public library, I snapped it up.

For the most part, Ogawa didn’t let me down. He takes his time travel, chooses his side (multiverses generated when realities splinter at decision points vs. static and basically unalterable time flow), and lets the consequences play themselves out. Despite the implications of unleashing technology centuries early in Japan, the focus of the story remains on Orville and Himiko. In the latter’s case, she is forced from being a figurehead into real leadership as the people rally around her to repulse the alien invaders. Orville is the Wandering Man O’ Woe, who has fought the aliens (and lost) across the centuries. He carries terrible burdens, of course, like impossible love and the knowledge that humanity is, by and large, too petty and shortsighted to ever win this war. I suppose that I would be woeful myself, if I had spent 400 years fighting a losing battle with aliens who somewhat inexplicably want to crush Earth across the time streams.

As far as things I liked, the main setting is right up there. I am a sucker for Olde Nippon and the Yayoi Period is a new and exciting place for me. Much like Western stories, where Middle Ages stuff is easy to come by but other historical eras are comparatively untapped, very little outside of Tokugawa or Warring States Period Japan makes its way into fiction. Yamatai was a welcome place to spend a few hours. I also enjoyed the strategic implications of time travel. The forces of good and evil would ebb and flow in a time stream based on the effects of their actions on other time streams. For example, victory for the good guys meant that more cyborgs came from the future to help out, while defeat caused people to wink out of existence as their home time stream was destroyed. This sort of thing can rapidly descend into chaos, but Ogawa manages to keep things under control, perhaps simply by not thinking too much about it. Finally, the characters are likeable and sympathetic. Like other Japanese fiction I have read, there is a melancholic undercurrent that tugs the heart strings a bit and gets the reader cheering for a happy ending. I have said this before, but Japanese SF often seems to be more about people than ideas. This may just be a humanist streak that attracts the Haikasoru higher ups and leads to a skewed selection, but I have seen it in other publications as well.

In the negative column, the book is most likely a translation of a “light novel.” These are roughly analogous to YA fiction here, though it often has as much to do with length as thematic content. The trade paperback is pricey for just being a couple hundred pages, but that is only relevant to book buyers, not library patrons like myself. Price aside, the book is short, and Ogawa skips lightly over the surface of several questions that could easily be explored more thoroughly. Lord doesn’t feel incomplete or rushed, but more story probably wouldn’t have hurt. The end is also a bit abrupt for my taste. While Ogawa sets up the reasons for this early in the book, his deus ex machina pulls the rug out a bit from under the themes of self-sacrifice and brooding inevitability that slowly build through the story. It keeps the book from being a total downer and makes sense, but is somewhat lacking in narrative grace.

And so, at last, the final recommendation.The Lord of the Sands of Time gets my qualified approval. It is not essential, nor is it life altering, but it is creative and interesting. If nothing else, it answers the question posed at the beginning of this review; I don’t know of any other book that does. Ogawa makes very reasonable demands on the reader’s time, so with the right expectations, this is a worthy couple of hours spent in ancient Japan.

Brittain writes for the Two Dudes in an Attic blog – which you should check out!

September 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off

2011 Seiun Award Winners

Locus reports on the 2011 Seiun Award winners:

Winners of the 2011 Seiun Awards, the Japanese equivalent to the Hugos, were announced at Donbura Con L, the 50th Japanese Science Fiction Convention, Sept 3-4, 2011.

  • Japanese Novel: Kyonen wa Ii Toshi ni Narudarou (Last Year Was Probably a Good Year), Yamamoto Hiroshi
  • Japanese Short Story: “Arisuma-oo no Aishita Mamono” (“King Arisuma’s Beloved Demon”), Ogawa Issui
  • Foreign Novel: Eifelheim, Michael Flynn
  • Foreign Short Story: “Carry the Moon in My Pocket”, James Lovegrove
  • Media: District 9
  • Comics: Hagane no Renkinjutsushi (Fullmetal Alchemist), Arakawa Hiromu
  • Art: Naoyuki Katou
  • Non-fiction: Sa wa saiensu no sa (Sa is for Science), Tsukasa Shikano
  • Open category: Hayabusa (MUSES-C) space probe

September 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Locus Reports Death of Japanese Author Sakyo Komatsu (1931-2011)

From Locus:

Japanese science fiction writer, screenwriter, and essayist “Sakyo Komatsu”, (Minoru Komatsu), 80, died in Osaka of pneumonia on Tuesday July 26, 2011.

Komatsu authored the disaster novel Japan Sinks! (1973), which inspired two live-action movies and a television series. The Komatsu Sakyo Anime Gekijo anime TV series was also inspired by his stories. Komatsu’s work has sold millions of copies; he has won the Nihon SF Taisho award, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan, and the Seiun Award. His stories “Take Your Choice” and “The Savage Mouth” have been translated into English and anthologized. He has also written manga as Minoru Mori.

Komatsu was born January 28, 1931 in Osaka. He took a degree in Italian literature in 1954 from Kyoto University, and worked as a magazine editor, factory foreman, and comedy scriptwriter before turning to writing science fiction. He published fanzine fiction starting in 1952, then wrote for genre magazines and Japanese newspapers. Many of his works have been adapted as anime, TV, and movies.

For more information, see the Encyclopedia of SF and Anime News Network. A full obituary will appear in the September issue of Locus.

August 3, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off

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