Wednesday, January 18, 2012

10 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights

 
SF is a genre that is open to so many interpretations, and then once you start to explore the genre further you discover that there exists  further sub genres to it, 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights, is a novel whose scope takes in thousands of years, and fictionally  links together some sizable enigmas in it's path. Originally published in 1967, and then again in a revised edition in 1973, the novel must stand as being one of the earliest examples of Japanese SF in translation, the current edition in Japan is published by Hayakawa  Publishing, who also publish a large selection of classic SF titles in Japanese translation. The novel opens at the creation of the earth, the cosmic event is described in prose full of scientific terminology, which continues sporadically throughout the rest of the novel, passages of text journey over thousands, millions of years of evolution, the tide of time going in and out, Mitsuse layers the time periods arriving at what the reader presumes will be the permanent setting of the novel. In three chapters we are introduced to the main characters through historical episodes related to them, Plato travelling through  the remote town of Elcasia, the period of events are meant to be those of his writing Timaeus and Critias and his fascination for the doomed civilisation of Atlantis.
 
The novel is dotted with descriptions of domed buildings and of objects made from curious unknown materials, whilst in Elcasia Plato comes into contact with the strange building material of glaes and also the material orichalcum, and speaks with the suzerain, a strange oracle like entity, the room in which Plato and his servant stay in is fitted with electric lights, which at first terrifies then rouses their curiosity. At night during a sandstorm Plato is overcome by a vision that he is Orionae witnessing the end of Atlantis. The setting of the second chapter takes us to the besieged city of Sakya and the scene of Siddartha's departure from the city at the beginning of his spiritual quest. Accompanied with his Brahmins the journey begins to take on a celestial path, Siddartha encounters the warring Asura and the malevolent Maitreya, whose identity and origins are clouded with uncertainty. The third of the introductory chapters arrives at the trial and crucifiction of Jesus Christ, with Pilate being harangued into sentencing the Nazarene to death, in much of these chapters Mitsuse is setting the scene, re-illustrating the stories that we are familiar with, (or partially familiar with), but at the same time ending them with a hint or a clue of the novel's real plot.
 
The novel is published by Haikasoru and translated by Alexander O.Smith and Elye J. Alexander and comes with an afterword from Mitsuse from the 1973 edition and also a commentary from Mamoru Oshii who recounts meeting the author. Reading the novel is like discovering a classic episode from Japanese SF history, Ryu Mitsuse was one of the first SF writers to be translated into English. The novel's scope is gargantuan but as it progresses Mitsuse refocuses the action into following the main characters as they hunt down and try to decipher the cause and motive of the destruction they encounter  in a bout of civilisation hopping, the clues pointing to the Planetary Development Committee, although who is controlling the organisation?. Siddartha finds himself in a destroyed city which he discovers is the remains of Tokyo of 2092 and encounters some survivors,  much of the last half takes place within the landscapes of destroyed civilisations, the characters travel through thousands of years, their abilities and the appearance of their armies are somewhat suddenly introduced to the reader, but this is the way in which things happen in the world of anime and manga, (Mitsuse's Andromeda series was illustrated by manga artist Keiko Takemiya), and it lends the novel a great sense of cinematic immediacy.

An excerpt is at Haikasoru's page.   






4 comments:

Parrish Lantern said...

I think it is one of the early ones & is considered to be one of the
pinnacles of Japanese Sci Fi, but Kobo Abe's Inter ice Age 4 was the first Novel to be translated(1970), although the first short story was Bokko-chan by Shinichi Hoshi in 1963. My source for this info is The Best Japanese Science Fiction's introduction, which I love for its description of Kobo Abe as a mainstream writer. Have this book & want to read it soon, great post, will read again when I've read the book.

me. said...

I've been thinking of reading another Abe soon, either The Box Man or The Ruined Map, Inter Ice Age 4 is a brillant novel. The Best Japanese Fiction is an interesting collection too. Looking forward to your thoughts on the Mitsuse.

Parrish Lantern said...

Have both of those Abe's waiting to read, adored Face of another & the short story Flood, will get round to inter ice age at some point, as he is an author whose complete works I want to read.

me. said...

Abe is definitely required reading!