Monday 20 December 2010

The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories

Published in 1997 by Barricade Books this collection edited by John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg, brings together some intriguing short stories from authors not wholly associated with science-fiction, Morio Kita's story from 1973, The Empty Field includes a description of a crowd coming together in anticipation to watch a flying saucer make contact with earth, much of the story though concerns 'Youngman' as he navigates his way through an expansive void like place, The Empty Field of the title alludes to an undefined barren environment, and essentially the relationship between the man's kokoro and this desolate place, but there's a great sense of spiritual befreftness,Youngman is customised to the non-eventful life. A story rooted as much in the internal psyche as much as the extra terrestial. The most well known name here is Kobo Abe, his story is The Flood, translated by Lane Dunlop, I've read that this story was originally written by Abe in 1950, it's a surreal story which starts with a bored astronomer diverting his telescope from the heavens towards the earth and spots a worker making his way home from the factory, the astronomer is stunned to see the worker turn to liquid before his eyes and stranger still when the mercurial like liquid carries on making it's way over walls. Soon workers all over the world begin to liquefy, but things only begin to appear to get serious when the rich people begin to be affected, Abe works in an appearance from Noah into the ending of this short story in what called be seen as an early forerunner to his later novel The Ark Sakura. The brevity of some of these stories add to their effect as in Takashi Ishikawa's The Road to the Sea, a story only a few pages long which reads as if it were set in a  rural village until the reader comes to the final sentence to understand it's other worldly setting. Shinichi Hoshi has two stories selected, one concerning a robot girl created by the owner of a bar to attract customers, but his plan goes tragically wrong when one of his customers falls in love with her, the second story, He-y,Come on Ou-t! (1978) is one of my favourites in the collection, after a typhoon villagers notice that where the local shrine once stood now exists what appears to be a bottomless hole, one of them shouts down into the hole Hey,Come on Out! and then another villager throws down a pebble to see if he hears it land.Officials arrive to try to gauge how deep the hole is but without success, and leave with the advice 'Fill it!'. People begin to fill the hole and eventually it's arranged to deposit radioactive waste from power plants into the hole, then animals infected with unknown diseases, then boxes of classified documents,instead of dumping things at sea, the hole is used to get rid of any unwanted things that the inhabitants of the city want to get rid of, including criminals dumping incriminating evidence into it. The last paragraph starts with a seemingly unrelated scene of a builder on a building site thinking he hears someone above him shouting out 'Hey,Come on Out!', little after he sees a pebble falling past him.., Shinichi Hoshi is an author I hope to read more of in the near future. Cardboard Box is a metaphorical short story by Ryo Hanmura, narrated by a cardboard box, following it's literal search for life fulfillment, to dispel it's empty existence. 

The longest story is by Tetsu Yano who actually translated some of the collection's stories into English, The Legend of the Paper Spaceship is narrated by an unnamed serviceman recalling a village he was posted to during the war, quite a remote place he describes his memories of a naked woman who folded paper planes or spaceships and flew them at a place called Endworld Mere, a place that features a mythical lake were the elderly go to die. No one in the village could recollect the reason for the woman's nakedness,some think that she was traumatised during a family dispute, there are rumours that when she was a child a foreigner was trapped and killed in her house. Roaming naked she became the object of lust for the men of the village, the narrator observes the irony that someone regarded as the village idiot was in fact the person who held the most power over the men of the village. After time the woman (Osen) falls pregnant, the women of the village thinking that Osen wouldn't be able to look after the child plead with her to abort it, but Osen in her broken language refuses. The narrator notes hearing the songs that Osen sings as she plays with her paper planes/ spaceships, later in the story the narrator begins to come around to reasoning that maybe he had misheard what she had been singing, confusing the words, and what she was actually singing about was of some sort of craft that had landed, and that she wanted to go home. Osen gives birth to a son and names him Emon, during the story there are references to the myths surrounding the small community, and as Emon grows up we learn that he has psychic abilities, he tries to read his mothers thoughts but she remains a mystery to him, he comes to loathe the men that visit his mother, and begins to wonder about the identity of his father. The narrative is fantastically well balanced, leaving hints to the reader as to the possibility of involvement of the extra-terrestial, Emon one day suspects that his mother's insanity was just an act covering up a wholly different secret, and the narrator observes that during his time in the village he never met anyone else from the outside world, and that on occasions when he had tried to return to the village something has always seemed to intervene, stopping him from revisiting,his suspicions of a cover up are hinted at. Although this collection is I think out of print, it's well worth tracking out a copy.          

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