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.
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.
Cause it’s Wednesday!
New Chinese kung fu steampunk movie Kung Fu Zero.
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Jordan Ellinger. Jordan is a recent first place winner in the Writers of the Future Contest and is a Clarion West graduate. His work can be seen in Gotrek & Felix: The Anthology, Hammer & Bolter, and Story Portals. He has two graphic novels in various stages of development: The Seven with Luke Eidenschink and Causality with illustrator Joey Jordan. In his spare time, he helms Every Day Publishing, publisher of Every Day Fiction, Every Day Poets, Flash Fiction Chronicles, and Raygun Revival.
Don’t Move a Muscle, Mr. Liberty
The hat is everything.
Crumpled leather the colour of a fisherman’s tan, it sits on its head in the middle of the cobblestone plaza. It is a great fisher of men, my hat. It sweeps up passing tourists and holds them before me, their jowls hanging loose like gasping catfish as I ply my trade. At the end of my performance, my hat pulls back its hooks in the form of jangling change.
It is customary to bow lavishly for the kids, give ’em a show, but it’s as much for my sake as theirs. Being a human statue isn’t like being a juggler. It’s a high risk profession. Your blood doesn’t flow right. Your heart, it turns out, relies on minute muscle movements to help propel blood around your body, and if you remain perfectly still your fluids get sluggish. Veins get inflamed, muscles start to ache. Any normal job, you just lean on your other hip. Not me. Don’t move a muscle, Mr. Liberty.
That’s my gimmick. Bought a green suit from Value Village and painted my face with the kind of zinc you might have seen on a surfer’s nose back in the eighties. Lady Liberty carries a book commemorating Independence, but this is Canada, so the inscription on my cardboard replica reads JULY I, MDCCCLXVII. When a local notices this, they are often compelled to tip me. They tell themselves they’re being patriotic, but really it’s to show me they’re clever enough to spot the difference.
You’d think the torch would be a problem, but my arm only hurts for ten minutes and then it goes to sleep. I heard there was a yogi in India whose god told him to hold his left arm above his head. He did that for forty-three years until it shrivelled up and froze that way, but he said it brought him closer to God. I check my arm for shrivelling every night.
Sometimes I see a poser painting his face and wrapping himself in tin foil. Figure all it takes to be a human statue is the ability to remain perfectly still. This lasts for ten minutes, half an hour tops. Then the ache sets in.
The ache doesn’t bother me anymore. I tune it right out. I sing “Let It Be” by the Beatles in my head, over and over again like a mantra. I must have sung that song a hundred thousand times. I could quote you the lyrics two months after I die.
It feels like only fifteen minutes have gone by but it’s noon and the hat is starving. There’s a recession on, but honestly. I don’t ask much. The change from your pockets, the stuff you’re embarrassed to count out at the corner store. No need for a coin jar crowding the top of your dresser. Put it in the hat.
People flit by like schools of fish and the effect reminds me of Jimmy Wallace. Jimmy Wallace was an eleven year old in Nebraska who took a picture of the intersection outside his house every day at the exact same time until he was twenty-six. He compiled it into a montage that you can watch on YouTube. For nearly a third of the video, a young woman passes by on the other side of the street carrying an umbrella. Rain or shine, there she is — caught in a sunbeam, sheltering against the storm, picking her way through the snow.
Suddenly a single photo stretches out for seconds, a hiccup in the download, and there she is struggling with her umbrella. The street is more lake than asphalt, but awash in golden light. She’s caught in silhouette, mid-step, back hunched, hair falling in front of her eyes. A fly in amber. For that one moment it feels like you’re seeing right into her soul. And in the next picture she’s gone, never to return. Eaten up by the city.
A shout focuses my eyes and I realize that I haven’t bowed when a little girl dropped coins in the hat. I see the father with my peripheral vision. My peripheral vision is 20/20. I’ve got a sidelong glance Sherlock Holmes would envy.
He’s German from the accent, on the part of the tour where you’re encouraged to drop a few bills in the local shops, buy a sixty-five-dollar baseball cap. He’s angry but mute and indistinct. All I can hear is the way he deepens his voice when he pronounces certain vowels. I ignore him. He can’t touch the statue. There’s an unspoken agreement between performer and audience that holds him back even though he wants to slug me. Don’t touch the statue.
Still it’s nice to hear tourists talk, even to curse me out in a language I can’t understand. All locals ever talk about is the weather but the weather is always the same in Vancouver. Overcast with a chance of being pissed on. The sun isn’t out and I have no idea what time it is because I don’t wear a watch. The ticking hands would give me away.
A half-dozen bills sit on a bed of silver coin and my hat is bulging a little. It looks like a lot of money, but really it’s only fifty bucks or so, and this is a Saturday in July. Prime tourist season. A half-circle of cyclopean picture-takers stand around me; some get quite close for fancy shots or silly poses, but they never get closer than the hat. That’s the barrier. Stay out.
I resist the urge to empty my hat into the beat-up rucksack I brought with me. Instead I focus on the sound of the cement factory behind me. Ocean Cement Ltd. is a relic from when Grandville Island was an industrial zone under one of the city’s main arteries. Now they keep the land because it’s close enough to downtown that their trucks save precious fuel. The Merchants’ Association and the art school on the other side of the island have turned its fence into a technicolor yawn, but if I turn my head, I can still see the cement towers that rise beyond.
I do not turn my head.
Instead I concentrate on the sounds behind me. The repetitive drum beat of gas guzzlers cruising the parking lot, crossing paved-over railway tracks. The puttering of pleasure craft out in the bay. A flickering sizzle as the giant neon sign advertising the Market clicks on and off. This must be how the blind live. In that direction I am blind.
Ever been in a serious staring contest? It’s tough until your eyes dry out and then you’re home free. You need a third party to mediate if it goes this far — and it rarely does — because sometimes your vision gets so blurry you can’t see if your opponent blinks. You have to remember to dab yourself with a couple of drops of Visine when it’s over or you can damage your corneas when you blink.
The hat is gone and it is very dark. The giant neon sign has just gone out and a white-clad cook is tipping a trash receptacle into a blue bin. There aren’t any nightclubs on this side of the island, but I can hear the faint beat of eighties music, mostly thumping bass, from somewhere behind me.
I mourn the hat.
While I was singing “Let It Be” in my head, I let it go. Someone just took it. I wonder where people will put their coins, but then I remember my rucksack. It’s behind me in the land of the blind, but I sense it there. They’ll feed the bag instead of the hat.
The thumping stops a few hours before dawn breaks. I didn’t notice that it was time to go home and now it’s time to start work again. There is a persistent itch between my shoulder blades where a fold of the T-shirt I wear under my suit jacket is irritating my embarrassingly hairy back but I can’t itch because the first tourists have begun to show up and they check for that. Instead I slowly clench and unclench my deltoids. I can do this imperceptibly because my Value Village suit is three sizes too big.
I have come to the conclusion that I would have detected even the most cunning hat thief. My peripheral vision is 20/20. The hat has been eaten by the city.
The day is not fruitful without my hat. Confused tourists (too many for a Sunday, is it Saturday again?) walk up to me looking for my hat, but when it’s not there they look for a plaque. Maybe it’s a real statue, honey. Otherwise why would he be out here without a hat?
I miss my hat.
I’d like to buy another one, but the store across the way sells them for sixty-five dollars, and without a hat I can never earn that much. It’s the classic Catch-22. Briefly, I wonder if Joseph Heller had a hat, but then conclude that he would have made enough money from his books not to need one.
It is getting cold and amber leaves drift lazily across the cobblestones. A slight wind has dusted the bay with whitecaps and the tourists have become locals. We are in danger of getting pissed on and some of them wrestle with their umbrellas.
My eyes have long since dried out. I make a mental note to buy Visine. The city has become a blur and is transformed. The line of brake lights passing over a distant bridge is a pulsing red artery bringing nourishment to the city. Condo high-rises have become teeth and cars slosh between them like saliva. The city is slowly digesting them.
I begin to wonder if I am a man pretending to be a statue or a statue pretending to be man. Chuang Tzu was confronted with a similar problem when he dreamed that he was a butterfly and then awoke to find himself a man. Could it not be that he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man? He concluded that the question was irrelevant. When he was the man, he would live as a man, and when he was the butterfly, he would live as a butterfly.
I feel my arm again when it snows. The extra weight is almost too much to bear and I dearly want to shake it off but they check for that. Instead I think of that yogi with his arm in the air, shrivelled up like an atrophied erection. I wonder if his god ever came to him. I imagine him sitting cross-legged on a dirt floor, ribs shading a concave belly. The fingers of his right hand covered in saffron, a sparse dinner bowl discarded nearby. The muscles on his left side are steel cable, his shoulder a lump of granite, but after forty-three years his arm is a tiny, misshapen thing. He meditates well into the night. All the fires have gone out in the village, the dogs have ceased their barking, the distant ocean surf has stilled. And there, in that perfect silence, enlightenment comes. He smiles with crooked teeth, and it is like dawn stealing over the Ganges.
I promise myself that when the ocean surf stills for me as it did for him, I will allow myself to move the twenty-six muscles it takes to smile. When they check for that, as they always do, they will discover only an empty pedestal without a plaque. Nearby, I hope, they will find my crumpled leather hat.
“Don’t Move a Muscle, Mr. Liberty” was first published in AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review.
The Booklist review says:
Sf is often set elsewhere than in its writer’s homeland and time, so the fact that stories in this Turkish newcomer’s first collection play out in Stalinist Siberia, ancient Persia, and Puerto Rico in 1493 and 1974 isn’t surprising. Nor, given the phenomenal spread of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, is the title story’s invocation of the Necronomicon, the unholy bible of Lovecraft’s universe. What’s impressive about these entirely this-world, mostly this-time tales is their mainstream feel, more like Bradbury’s and Vonnegut’s mid-twentieth-century work than most current sf hands essay. Every one of them could have run in the same venues (Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, etc.) and been adapted comfortably for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, let alone The Twilight Zone. Sound old hat? They are, thematically, being mostly drily paranoiac alien-invasion and apocalypse-mongering affairs, some of which employ pulpmeister Jim Thompson’s jape of killing the narrator at the end (in the postapocalyptic “The Last Battle,” a page before the end). Despite idiomatic glitches in the translation (e.g., “a large applause” rather than “a big hand”), excellent, intelligent entertainment.
Check it out!
Grasping for the wind has just posted a new interview with me about international speculative fiction and editing The Apex Book of World SF 2, with some comments from anthology contributors Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Silvia Moreno Garcia.
SFFWRTCHT: How long does it take you to edit and assemble these anthologies?
LT: A long time! If you think about it, The Apex Book of World SF came out in 2009, while The Apex Book of World SF 2 came out in 2012–that’s four years between volumes! There are all kinds of reasons for that sort of time difference–and a lot that has changed in SFF in general over that period–but a part of it is certainly that it takes time and patience to put together an anthology of this kind.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have plans to do more in the future? And what are outlets for readers intrigued by this to find more non-Western SF to read?
LT: Jason and I are very hopeful we get to do at least one more volume in the series. It depends on sales making it worthwhile for Apex, though. I’m keeping my eyes open and flagging interesting stories for consideration. We also have an idea for a separate–but very exciting– anthology with a more specific focus, which I hope we get to do. – read the full interview.
We featured one of Dean Francis Alfar‘s stories yesterday, and here’s another! From the latest issue of Expanded Horizons: Terminós:
Mr. Henares thinks about time
From the moment he opened his eyes in the morning to the instant before he fell asleep alone at night, Mr. Henares thought only about time.
He reflected about how time slowed down when he was engaged in an unpleasant activity, such as dyeing his thinning grey hair over the broken antique basin installed by his son-in-law Alvaro in his blue-tiled bathroom; and how time went faster during the rare instances when he felt happy, such as when his brace of grandchildren came for the cold weather holidays, their hypnotic music invariably loud and invigorating.
Mr. Henares recalled days when time did not move at all: waking up one morning convinced that it was the exact same day as the day before, watching the red display of his tableside clock blinking fruitlessly. The experience of the twin miércoles was to be repeated thrice more, adding jueves, viernes and sábado to his list of repeating days. He endured the repeated conversations and graceless routines, read the same stories in the newspapers and watched the same interviews on television.
Once, when he was a much younger man, Mr. Henares went back in time. The incident caught him completely unaware – he realized he was walking backwards and thinking thoughts in reverse. This unfortunate event flustered him so much that when it was suddenly over, he broke down in tears and resolved never to travel back in time if he could help it. – continue reading!
When the boy inevitably grew up, married and moved away with his own growing family, the toymaker decided to make a girl. He did it this time in secret, afraid of what his neighbors would think, fearing the potential unjust accusation of prurience when all he wanted was someone he could talk to, whose conversation would eradicate the heaviness of his solitude.
He worked at night, carving wood with his spotted hands by the feeble light of low and fat candles he favored from his youth, recalling how he watched his grandfather shape magic from wood and humming a song whose words he had long forgotten. He worked from midnight until just before dawn for five weeks, struggling with the impatience that old men with erratic memory suffer, losing himself in the methodology of his craft, shaving wood to reveal the delicate limbs and the small torso of his waiting daughter. Then at last he reached the part he liked best: shaping the girl’s face, determining the contour of her cheeks, the ridge of her brow, the curve of her chin, the hollow of her eyes. For her hair he chose the color of burnished bronze, planting and pulling the strands in and out of her hard scalp. For her eyes he selected the color of the bluest sky, fitting the glass spheres with a precision that only a master toymaker possessed. Just before he finished, he covered her polished nakedness in muslin and lace, cutting and sewing the sleeves and the hems and the ruffs, just as the sun came up.
The toymaker straightened up and grimaced at the creak of his aching back and looked at his new daughter, reaching forward to gently put an errant lock back in place.
“Now we must be patient, you and I,” he told her. “If my son could come to life, then certainly so can you.”
With all the gentleness his trembling hands could muster, he lifted her from his worktable and set her down on the low shelf where the boy came to life one memorable night many years ago. He blinked once against the memory, then left to make four dainty pillows from the scraps of the materials of her dress, to arrange around her and arrest her fall should she awaken early. – continue reading.
Europa SF is a new portal for science fiction and fantasy news from all around Europe.
The Europa SF team is:
Ahrvid Engholm – Sweden
Antuza Genescu – Romania
Aleksandar Ziljak – Croatia
Cristian Tamas – Romania
Frank Beckers – Belgium
George Sotirhos – Greece
Jan van’t Ent – Holland
Juhan Habicht – Estonia
Lina Kulikauskienė – Lithuania
Marian Truta – Romania
Roberto Mendes – Portugal
SFmag.hu – Hungary
Sven Kloepping – Germany
From their editorial:
You are invited to take part in a project that we consider more than necessary: the building of a European platform dedicated to all SF communities in Europe.
Essentially, this is where things stand currently in Europe: we have no idea what other European communities do. This may sound a tad categorical, but we must admit that to take the pulse of the SF communities in our neighbouring countries is not an easy task to fulfil. What new authors have been published in one country or another? What SF&F events are taking place in one country or another? What conventions will be held on our continent in the near future? And so on…
On a personal level, through direct contacts, things may seem better. If we want to know what’s going on in a community from another country, we just send an email to someone we know there and wait for their reply. Then, the information received will reach a small circle of fans. Best case scenario, the person who has requested this information will write an article about it and post it on a site or publish it in a printed magazine in his or her country.
EUROPA SF wants to bring the members of the European fandom together to build a continental-scale data network. Editors, writers, fans, anyone with an interest in SF will be able to see what is happening in any European country and will inform, in turn, the entire SF community about their own major conventions.
Over at Locus Roundtable, Harry Markov discusses Angel G. Angelov‘s 1009 short story collection The Act of Walking on Water:
Despite my good intentions, I have never served as a connoisseur of international fiction, given I own a small tomb of books I’ve been building since I first started reading in English. English still possesses my imagination in its entirety and I have yet to oversaturate my yearning for books by English speaking authors. The sole and striking exception to my reading habits is the collection of short stories penned by the Bulgarian author Angel G. Angelov titled The Act of Walking on Water published in 2009.
Every title in my review remains an unsure effort on my part to translate asThe Act of Walking on Water has been published exclusively in Bulgarian without an official translation (I’m more than interested to help translate the collection and in my wildest dreams Jeff VanderMeer e-mails me to make this happen) and in one limited run, all stuff hipster dreams are made of. In short, Angelov’s work is essential, because it successfully blurs genre lines and is what I’d call a continuation of the ‘weird’ literary movement wrapped in the sexual throws of magical realism. It’s a bold claim based more on my emotional response to his imagery and treatment of each situation narrative-wise rather than any extensive back-reading and experience in both movements. – continue reading.
Chinese author Han Song will be interviewed by WSB editor Lavie Tidhar tonight in London, at 7pm.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction recently completed its entry on Han Song, as part of its ongoing project to expand international entries. It also has an entry on Apex Book of World SF 2 contributor, Chen Qiufan.
She traveled in Tibet and one day arrived at Doji lamasery. It was a small temple of Tibetan Buddhism now in a bleak, half-ruined state. What Caught her eye was a string of bronze wheels hung around the wall of the temple. They were called the Wheels of Samsara.
There was a total of one hundred and eight wheels, moving in the wind; they symbolized the eternal cycle of life and death; of everything. She quickly noticed that one of them was a strange colour of dark green, singling itself out from the others, which were yellow.
It was the thirty-sixth wheel when counted clockwise.
She touched the wheels one by one, and made a vow to Sakyamuni, the Great Buddha. Midway through a sudden gale began to blow and a heavy mist fell. She was scared and she ran back to the temple.
She stayed in the lamasery that night. – continue reading.