Thursday, 30 June 2011

Inter Ice Age 4 by Abe Kobo

Abe's prose has a clinical eye to the detailing and psychology of his characters, the process of how he reveals the scenarios in his novels give them a very controlled momentum, Inter Ice Age 4/Dai Yon Kampyo-ki, one of his earliest novels from 1959 is no exception, perhaps the methodology of his medical training and his experiences in the theatre is shown in his novels. The translation from E. Dale Saunders has aged well, and the novel is complimented with fascinating illustrations from Abe's wife Abe Machi. Like The Face of Another/Tanin no kao, Inter Ice Age 4 has at it's center a scientific experiment, the after effects of it's consequences are uncertain. Inter Ice Age 4 cryptically opens with an underwater eruption, then moves to the scene of passengers on board a ship feeling a slight movement to the water's motion.  Professor Katsumi and his assistant Tanomogi have constructed a machine that can predict the future, at first Katsumi and Tanomogi input financial data and receive predictions about the state of the economy, they plan to showcase the machine using it to predict the next election, but the concerned organisers call it off. Katsumi becomes a celebrity; I anticipated all futures and dispatched villains left to right

As it's revealed that each nation has one of these machines a state of silent stale mate comes about with each side not wanting to upset the economic markets and political balance, the machines act as forecaster-come-spy. Katsumi's superiors begin to question the validity and results of the machine so Katsumi and Tanomogi organise a test cast, and a man chosen at random who they find seated in a restaurant is chosen as their guinea pig, they follow him to a woman's apartment but give up the pursuit. Reading the papers the following morning they discover that the man, (Tsuchida Susumu), had been murdered. Worrying that they maybe incriminated in the case, Katsumi and Tanomogi begin to go over their steps, Katsumi receives a mystery phone call from someone informing him that it will be dangerous to pursue the case, Katsumi recognises the voice from somewhere, but can't remember where. They ignore this call and  manage to obtain Tsuchida's body which they will examine using the machine, they manage to tap into Tsuchida's nervous system  observing through the view finder they see what he saw on the night of his murder, but it brings no results other than discovering the woman's name and also that she had an abortion and that the hospital paid 7000 yen to retain the foetus. Later Katsumi is chased by a man tagging him, theres a scuffle but he manages to make his way back to the laboratory where he discovers one of the assistants Wada Katsuko whose behaviour appears suspicious to Katsumi, she confesses that she and Tanomogi have started a relationship, also that she's willing to offer herself to be examined by the predicting machine. When Tanomogi arrives Katsumi suggests that they let the machine record their conversation for analysis, they find it has been recording already.

Katsumi discovers that his wife has also had an abortion although he discovers that she was drugged, when she came around she found that she had been given 7000 yen in change, she remembers a nurse with a mole on her cheek. The relationship between Katsumi and Tanomogi begins to strain, Katsumi begins to suspect that Tanomogi had in actual fact murdered Tsuchida and threatens to call the police, it's difficult to tell if Katsumi is serious or just testing how Tanomogi will react, Katsumi receives another threatening call. When the machine reports a fault whilst analysing data, Katsumi recognises the voice as the one that has been making the calls, that's your own voice that you programmed the machine with Tanomogi informs him. Another sub plot that emerges concerns Dr Yamamoto's laboratory, Dr Yamamoto is a leading figure in the predicting machine project, and Tanomogi begins to talk of seeing mammals with gills, at first mice and rabbits, then cows and pigs, eventually Katsumi is taken to Dr Yamamoto's submarine facility to view these experiments and discovers that humans are also being bred with gills. The reasons for Dr Yamamoto's breeding program become apparent when geological results show that due to global warming and the melting of the polar regions sea levels will rise, Dr Yamamoto's submarine project is a secret bid for the succession of the species. The novel ends seen from the perspective of an inhabitant of the underwater civilisation who goes in search of the remains of the world that was once lived above the waves, where music was heard through the air and not as vibrations through water.
Abe's sustained imaginative narratives weave unexpected correlations between the real world and the ones inhabited by his characters. A portion of the narratives between Katsumi and Tanomogi sees them discussing the implications of viewing the future, and while they pursue Tsuchida they contemplate how he would feel if he were to know that his whole life was suddenly about to be revealed to him. Abe devotes a postscript to this novel contemplating perceptions of the future and present further, I too, therefore, believe that I must understand the future not as something to be judged but something rather that sits in judgement on the present. Abe also views time as being continuous as opposed as being divided solely as present and future, this continuity is cut short for some of the characters in the novel, and Abe leaves it up to the reader and in a way to providence as to whether the novel can be read in hope or despair. 


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