The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

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

Japanese Translator Cathy Hirano Interviewed

Cathy Hirano – translator of the “Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince, the second volume in Noriko Ogiwara’s Tales of the Magatama series, published by VIZ Media’s Haikasoru imprint”, is interviewed by Alexander O. Smith over at the Tokyo Translators Group site.

After graduating from ICU, I reviewed English YA books for possible Japanese publication and occasionally did J-E picture book translations as PR materials. This was a side job for Kayoko Yoneda, a friend from ICU and an editor at Fukutake Shoten. When the first Magatama book Sorairo magatama (English title: Dragon Sword and Wind Child) came out in 1988, Kayoko asked me to review it and write a summary. Farrar, Straus & Giroux read this and asked for a sample translation and then for the whole thing. It was my very first literature translation and it was very hard! There being no Internet at the time, I never heard how it fared; only that it went out of print. Years later, I was contacted by Masumi Washington at VIZ Media. She told me VIZ wanted to publish a retranslation as well as the second book in the series and asked if I would be willing to take on the task. Apparently,Dragon Sword and Wind Child, though long out of print, had acquired a solid fan following, demonstrated by the fact that the majority of library copies had been stolen and used books were listed at several hundred dollars on Amazon. It even had its own fan site developed by a teenager who loved the book and was sad it went out of print. She had the whole book typed and put online so that people could read it! You know, most publishers would shy away from a book that had already been published once and failed to survive. So I am extremely grateful to VIZ for recognizing the book’s value and for giving it a second chance and to the DSWC fans for keeping the flame alive. The knowledge that people were waiting to read Mirror Sword is what kept me going during some pretty rough patches. Readers have power!!! – read the full interview.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off on Japanese Translator Cathy Hirano Interviewed

Haikasoru Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince Giveaway

The Haikasoru blog is currently having a giveaway for  Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince by  Noriko Ogiwara and the contest mechanics piqued my interest:

…just write a little bit of what you think about this question:

When readers think “fantasy” they often think of stories taking place in a pseudo-medieval Europe. Is this just due to the facts of publishing—that’s what gets labeled fantasy, and it will change with audience tastes—or does it represent a problem by limiting the field of what can be successfully published?

It’s an apt question for this blog as well, don’t you think?

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Comments Off on Haikasoru Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince Giveaway

Philip K. Dick Special Citation Award Goes to Harmony by Project Itoh

The Philip K. Dick Special Citation Award goes to Haikasoru’s Harmony by Project Itoh (and translated by Alexander O. Smith). The Haikasoru Blog has coverage of the event, including a video.

April 26, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off on Philip K. Dick Special Citation Award Goes to Harmony by Project Itoh

Translating Genre from Japan (Haikasoru Week addendum)

Haikasoru Week is over, but as an addendum, why not check out, who have just run an interview with two of Haikasoru’s translators, Jim Hubbert and Cathy Hirano:

To give just one example, the word miya, which is used in both books, means “palace” according to the Japanese-English dictionary. That seems simple enough—but what image does the word palace conjure up in an English reader’s mind? It is much more likely to be the huge ornate stone palaces seen in Europe or Walt Disney’s version of Aladdin’s palace than the Japanese image of multiple single storied wooden buildings surrounded by walled gardens. As the translator, I have to consider how important this concept is to the story. Is it something English readers can just gloss over and still get maximum enjoyment out of the story or do I need to use a different word or even the Japanese word, or perhaps add description in suitable places?

Another frequent dilemma in the Magatama tales arises from the styles of speech that exist in Japanese. These different styles denote the speaker’s gender, position in society, place of origin, and relationship to the other party (parent/child, commoner/nobility, peer/peer, etc.). The Magatama tales include speech styles from peasants right up to the gods—each style so distinct that there is often no need in Japanese to mention who is speaking. This degree of distinction just doesn’t exist in English so once again I have to consider other means of conveying the same information. – read the interview!


March 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Translating Genre from Japan (Haikasoru Week addendum)

Haikasoru Week: And the winners are…

And we have winners!

I’d like to thank everyone who entered the competition this week, and everyone who’s visited the blog to check out our Haikasoru Week. I’m very pleased with the turnout, and hope we can feature another publisher highlight soon. In the meantime, the next Author Week is just around the corner!

As before, I used a random number generator to pick up the winners.

And the winners – of current Philip K. Dick Award nominee Harmony, by Project Itoh, generously donated by Haikasoru – are!

Jason Mathaisson, Joey, Pavel Itzkov and Rob Haines.

An e-mail has been sent to the winners.

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off on Haikasoru Week: And the winners are…

Editorial: On Japanese SF, by Nick Mamatas (Haikasoru Week)

On Japanese SF

By Nick Mamatas

In Issui Ogawa’s The Next Continent, the “war on terror” is a political afterthought thanks to an American retreat from the Middle East; Japanese businesspeople see themselves as a counterweight to Western globalization; and engineers can do anything from building undersea vacation spots to constructing a wedding chapel on the moon.  Environmental problems have been solved or mitigated, capitalists aren’t all ruthless, and the state is neither utterly incompetent nor a single piece of legislation away from tyranny. Societies that work are a radical vision in today’s Western science fiction, but they’re refreshingly common in Japan.

Japanese science fiction has any number of futures to choose from. In the world of Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata, private property is so valued that a vending machine in a hotel hallway is given precedence over a human life. In Chōhei Kambayashi’s Yukikaze series, the fighter pilot hero is out solely for himself in his war against the alien JAM. His motto isn’t “Death before dishonor,” it’s “Not my problem.”  In Jyouji Hayashi’s The Ouroboros Wave both individualism and strict hierarchies have been supplanted by a kind of corporate mutualism. Though we can talk about the typical themes and plots of Japanese SF, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no single Japanese future, no ubiquitous theme.

I am often asked what differentiates Japanese SF from its Western parent.  Frankly, with a few name changes, in many cases there is no difference at all. Japanese SF authors grew up reading US and UK SF and have fully embraced the idiom. But some traits stand out.

Japanese SF often builds scenes in ways that are reminiscent of the manga panel as opposed to the motion picture.  So flashbacks operate a bit differently, comical characters appear in otherwise serious scenes, and conversations don’t necessarily happen in what a Western reader would perceive as “real time.” Backgrounds are often sketched out in the boldest of strokes—the famous professor, the dying sun! On the other hand, scenes will always be given as many pages as they need to complete the story, which is suggestive of the serial nature of both manga and the Japanese bunkoban paperback.

Japanese SF is far more likely to feature a teenage girl as a protagonist than Western SF.

Japanese hard SF doesn’t foreground the “hard SF attitude” described by Kathryn Cramer as “a love of hardware for its own sake—and the hard-nosed Ayn Rand voice that we now identify as libertarian.”  Though this isn’t to say that stories with a libertarian theme are unknown; Project Itoh’s Harmony, a Utopian satire about universal healthcare, certainly qualifies.

Japanese SF tends to be short. Most of the longer books we’ve published via Haikasoru were available as two, or even three, volumes in Japan. These volumes are released serially—sometimes a month apart, and occasionally even a week apart. (I think this compares favorably to the Western method of waiting for initial sales figures. How many trilogies are missing a final concluding volume?) An exception is Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s existentialist epic Loups-Garous, which was an oddity for being quite long and published in a single volume in Japan.

And most importantly at of all, in Japanese SF, the future is Japanese. I remember a conversation I had with someone when I first starting working for Haikasoru. “Isn’t it funny,” he said, “that all these future alien invasions and catastrophes and discoveries are supposed to happen on a little archipelago?”

“As opposed to happening on a continent largely empty of anything save corn fields and SUVs?” I asked him. “And not even the whole continent—just the middle bit!”  Science fiction has many futures; it’s about time Western readers were exposed to a few of those visions of which they may not otherwise conceive. At Haikasoru, we’re just trying to do our part in creating a truly international future.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 8 Comments

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