Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, March 29, 2015

2010: Apexology: Horror (Sizemore, Jason)

Grab bag of quality and horror sub-genres (3/5)


Jessup, Paul: “It Tasted Like the Sea” (2009, shortstory) – 4/5
As an obligation held to Josh in her times of weakness at the hand of her ex-husband, Cathy feels compelled to comfort Josh in his own time of need. His art gallery had been met with a poor review, resulting in his sulking and Cathy's comfort. His art, a misogynistic portrayal of amputated women's limbs and removed faces, gives Cathy the chills, but soon realizes that she has been ensnared in his artistic trap in which she copes in her own way.

Mamatas, Nick: “Summon, Bind, Banish” (2008, shortstory) – 3/5
Alich if a man of he early twentieth century and indulges himself in satanic/black magic rituals in which he sees himself as a dark lord of the magical underworld. Another man,more so a child, several decades later finds himself living in his mother's basement without any ambition for the future save for the glow of the black and white television, the memory of his grandmother, and extremist thoughts. However, they are both restrained by naivety and ineptitude.

Pagliassotti, Dru: “To Every Thing There is a Season”(novelette) – 2/5
The cherubic, available and becomingly Lady Camille is being wooed by Lord Douglas Marsh, but another man has come between them—a man of unknown intent, mysterious origin, and veiled allegiances. This darkly-complexioned and jeweled man wins favor of young Lady Camille though he's only the ambassador of Carcose, once called Corsica before Cthulhu's nebulous and dark presence took hold of Earth. Now, Douglas must fight back.

Kontis, Alethea & Branson, Ariell: “Life's a Beach” (shortstory) – 3/5
A young man spurned by his young love-interest, Eddie feels the bubbling hatred from the pit of his tormented mind. Free of all care once spurned, Eddie imbibes in his whimsical lust of vengeance while the gulls of the beachside scene witness and participate in the slaughter. He stabs the girls who spurned him, bashes the boy whose detached curiosity annoys him, impales the other boy who ridicule him—all the while, the birds circle and descend.

Ainsworth, Gill: “Kusatenda Uroyi” (shortstory) – 3/5
In Zimbabwe on ancestral pilgrimage to visit his distant grandmother's burial ground in the water waters of a distant waterfall, Martin Chapman is a black-skinned man in a black-skinned land, yet his accent, money, and intention give away his foreign origin. His request to visit the waterfall is rejected by a tour guide and a youth he hires turns him into a bloodied victim. Still, Martin's dream awakens him to this ancestral truth and he's determined, still, to visit the waterfall.

O'Neill, Gene: “Lottery” (shortstory) – 2/5
Marek clutches his beloved wife's hand in the Community Hall where everyone in the village has gathered to hear the single-named lottery draw of eligible females. Marek is dumbfounded by the announcement—his lover Krasna has been chosen and now he must lead her to the MedCenter to begin her transformation. Later, again clutching each other, they depart as she she is led for the final Transformation. At night, the couple meet again under different circumstances.

Kowel, Mary Robinette: “Cerbo en Vitra ujo” (2006, shortstory) – 3/5
As Grete prunes her garden in an orbital in the sky, her boyfriend Kaj visits her to deliver his news: he's been accepted to attend school down on Earth at Fairview Academy. Once he departs, Grete's longing for him grows until she tries to contact him without any success. She tracks the biopattern of his iris to a wealthy orbital, where a woman own Kaj's eyes. His fingerprints, too, belong to another person, who has Kaj's hands... his surname happens to be Fairview.

Burstein, Michael A.: “The Spider in the Hairdo” (1997, shortstory) – 4/5
Thick of waist and low of self-esteem, Peggy is a high school girl whose daily life is plagued by bullying and torment. She is chosen as a host for a desperate refugee spider that has landed on Earth after its own planet had died. The spider impels her to have a beehive hairdo so that it can lay its eggs in her skull undisturbed buts keeps telling and reaffirming her that the style will make her popular. When the spider is discovered, she vows revenge.

Hasson, Guy: “The Dark Side” (novelette) – 4/5
He met Sharon at the 7-11 or did she try to sell him insurance in his apartment? Had she killed him, had he killed her, or had they jumped off the roof one after another to splatter on the concrete? Obsessed with death and the promises of the afterlife, he commits suicide again and again for the power of choice: living in any of diverged pasts or future of his life, where his father lives or dies, where he kills or is killed.

Sardina, Martel: “With the Beating of Their Wings” (shortstory) – 4/5
Kalden is laid on a stone alter in the mountains of Tibet after his death. As a youth, all of his childhood questions about death were answered save one lingering mystery: who he will be reincarnated as. After his body is ritually butchered and fed to the awaiting vultures, his journey to reincarnation begins. With his being inside he culture, the same vulture lays an egg, and another woman consumes that egg and mothers a daughter, who Kalden becomes. Unaware of this, she yearns to be a butcher though its forbidden.

Riley, Thomas: “Enough to Make a Devil” (novelette) – 3/5
James Rees is a fractured mind according to everyone who has crossed his path, including the dozens of women he killed. Compelled by the evil of a dimensional demon, an embodiment of evil as much as God is said to be pure good, Yog-Sothoth compels James to kill since he had discovered the temporal weakness in the ghost town of Dunwich. His old case worker visits him, shares his haunting visions, and feels the evil of the newest psychologist.

Sizemore, Jason: “Flash of Light” (2007, shortstory) – 2/5
A veteran of the 2043 start of the American-Asian war, Gerald Malcolm Linden is a wounded man with a wounded state of mind. The initial fracture of his psyche is a result of his failure in the Pacific arena where thousands of men died under his direction. The chasm of his mental wound is spread to fester when the government refuses to allow him to draw pension. His two kids hide in a closet as he takes his wife aside and shoots her in the head.

Tidhar, Lavie: “Transylvania Mission” (2004, shortstory) – 2/5
Between Hungary and Romania, a band of displaced Jews hides from the Nazi army. Their overseer/leader/commander, The Rat, is a changeling of the animal of his namesake. He learns that the Nazis are crossing the border, but their jeeps aren't the only threat—the Gestapo's army of Wolfkommado are in tote. The Rat's status and form intrigue the Nazis as they move on toward Bran Castle, where Dracula is rumored.

Adkins, Mari: “Inside Looking Out” (shortstory) – 3/5
Call it kinship or a telepathic bond, something pleasantly eerie exists between Erin and Devon. Devon used to call upon her to conjure dark magic, but today he needs help finding the bodies of two teenagers. To assist his investigation, Erin enters the ghostly realm and uses her faultless intuition to locate the two bound and charred corpses. Erin physically follows Devon to the murder scene, where she senses something else eerie, then sinister.

Taber, Deb: “Powered” (2006, shortstory) – 4/5
A generation heirloom of sorts is handed down to Cassie—a table-saw. Prior to her current ownership of the saw, the machine belonged to Mama Marie, who lives with Cassie and advises her on how to handle the beast of a machine. Mama Marie has bodily proof in a scar that the machine can act up, but Cassie doesn't understand the temperament of the saw until she pulls the plug on it.

Burrow, B. J.: “Disturbing Things” (shortstory) – 3/5
Jack wants to involve himself in every gruesome accident he passes, thinking he should do something. His fiancé Maggie urges him to continue on their way and shrugs off her own urge to rubberneck. On the way to her family's house, Maggie warns him that an unpleasant childhood experience will be mentioned at the evening's dinner party, where Father Harris is the guest. His story spins Jack's head, but his accusation spins his life.

Brozek, Jennifer: “Eulogy for Muffin” (shortstory) – 3/5
A group of children from two families mourns the death of their respective pet: a cat and a ferret. Sharon considers the death to be an act from a menacing fox, but the other mother, Kathy, is more keen on things. The children's seemingly spontaneous need for a ritualburial, eulogy, and reverence to a God named Moccus and his heaven Annwfn is actually more real than Sharon knows, and the children are most eager to share.

Engstrom, Elizabeth: “Hands of Heritage” (shortstory) – 3/5
Originally from Amsterdam but currently residing in England, Abraham Van Helsing is a sought after man when it comes to the tracking and killing of vampires. He catches word of a recent convert, tracks her down, and makes her confess the name of the person who turned her before driving a stake through her heart. Abraham is astonished that his long dead father is the vampire in question, an event which releases a torrent of represses childhood angst.

Anwar, M. Zak & Anwar, O. M. R.: “The Junkyard God” (shortstory) – 4/5
Living in the trash heap of the Depositors, tribes of Junkyardies eek out their survival while living in fear of the Dogs. Some as big as vans, these patrolling, marauding, and murdering monstrosities of flesh and metal kill the tribes' people at will, but there is one family name dedicated to banishing these creatures—Ironspear. The young Lirk Ironspear decides to tackle a recent menace to Enannco Disposal Unit 39 to prove his worth.

Friel, Fran: “Bessie Green's Thumb” (shortstory) – 4/5
A widow without any recourse to spending her time, Bessie accepts the responsibility of looking after a tomato plant. As the plant wilts in her apartment, she looks upon the adjacent vacant lot and remembers the hippies conjuring Pam for whatever reason. After she places the tomato plant in the soil of the garden and accidentally spills blood onto the same soil, the garden soon grows lush. The community is enlivened and motivated while her appearance seems to be getting younger. It seems Pan might have been called forth after all.

Pelland, Jennifer: “Big Sister/Little Sister” (2003, shortstory) – 5/5
Born as twins but far from equals, Big Sister was born able-bodied while Little Sister was a pathetic, feeble emotional drain. Big Sister's mother never let her forget that Little Sister could never enjoy the same freedom as she, so before her death, their mother grafted the head of Little Sister on to the torso of Big Sister so that they could experience the world together. Given that Big Sister has always resented her status, she plans ways to hurt and silence her sister.

Monday, February 23, 2015

1975: Nightmare Blue (Dozois, Gardner & Effinger, George Alec)

Soulless collaboration driven by action alone (2/5)

Two names: one well-known editor, the other a well-known author; one synonymous with Asimov magazine and “best-of” anthologies, the other forever linked to hard-boiled detective stories in a seedy arabesque atmosphere (When Gravity Fails [1987], A Fire in the Sun [1989], and The Exile Kiss [1991]). On the face of it, the collaboration is unusual; granted, they are both authors, a cooperative effort to produce a novel seemed unlikely. They’re both Hugo and Nebula Award nominees, but the dual effort of the authors doesn’t produce anything wholly distinct, nothing tangible from Dozois's inclusion but Effinger imparts an investigative overlay… which begs the questions the obvious question: Why? Perhaps because it was Dozois's first novel?—one of only three.

Rear cover synopsis:
“What was Nightmare Blue?

The alien Aensalords had developed it. They alone knew is source. But already its effects were visible on Earth—in stark, raving eyes of the hopelessly addicted…

Two agents set out to find that source: Jaeger, the last private detective in a peaceful world of the future … and Corcail Sendijen, the lobster-like alien enslaved by the Aensas.

Not only Earth’s fate was at stake. The Aensas had bigger plans. If Jaeger and Sendijen could not stop them, they would use the most horrifying drug ever known to destroy the universe!”

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Things got off to a rocky start between the humans and the Aensas around Mars; Hostilities were engaged, ships were destroyed, and lives were lost, yet, according to the common man, some common ground was found. The enigmatic alien race was given a plot of land in Germany with which they could do as they please, the only stipulations were something about minerals and secrecy.

The reader gets two perspectives on the Aensa aliens: one perspective from the inside of the enclave through the eyes of a tentacled alien spy and another from the hired hand of a human.

The tentacled alien spy, Corcail Sendijen knows the diabolic method of their extrasolar conquests, their heartless dominance of numerous systems, and he knows first-hand of their brutal use of slaves. He's planted himself in the enclave to understand the secrets of their control over Earth. His compatriots are aboard Aensa ships orbiting Earth, awaiting the signal to attack their overseers. Corcail's mental prowess comes with years of training so that he's able to influence minds and read intent. The target of his inquiry is the deep tunnels with curious ruts.

The craftily penetrating investigator, Karl Jaeger, also wants to learn the secrets of the Aensa stronghold; however, he's a hired-hand and his employers are keen to learn about the towering castle. As the last private investigator, Jaeger is in high demand from wealthy clients with nebulous intentions—Jaeger just does what he's told depending on how much he's paid. His luxurious office houses a private scientist who provides Jaeger with some savvy tech. But it's not quite perfect yet.

What transpires through the two converging narratives is the secret with which the Aensa are able to dominate entire species through their guile. They are able to manipulate the wills of the leaders or simply quash those who stand in their way in a painful, irrevocable way. The secret drug is known as Nightmare Blue and its addictive effects hold the injected victim in need of recurring doses, which are only supplied by the Aensa; without the recurring dose, a painful death ensues.

Corcail is a silent force within the Aensa castle/compound. He mimics stupidity like many of the other slaves which inhabit the castle and perform as their lords command. Using his powers of the mind, he establishes a series of on-command outbursts of violence from the other slaves with weaker mentalities. Meanwhile, Jaeger is piecing together the puzzle of Aensa's control over humanity, the destiny as a species, and their world. The more he discovers, the more his life is threatened, and the more he knows he must vanquish the infidels.

The Aensa are a neurotic race of aliens. They have a hierarchical social structure, similar to India's caste system, and they refuse to automate much of their industry, including that of Nightmare Blue. They have a thirst for control, for domination, for weakening the will of the individual and the race. Their physiology is that of a hunter: darkly clad, acutely sensed, and pinpointedly driven by the instinct to seek, maim, devour—though the primal instinct used to refer to eating flesh, the modern drive is the dominance of species on a galactic scale.

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This whole alien affair is mildly interesting and I set in the background of the more scintillating hard-boiled investigation of Jaeger. This plot is driven by chase scenes, gun fights, explosions, fist fights in a bathroom, etc.—it's all very action-oriented and feels more like an adventure novel which lacks any density other than the inertia of its action. It might all just be a pointless exercise in a collaboration, the fruit of which never grew.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2006: Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Tsutsui, Yasutaka)

Superlative collection of salarymen's struggle and author's originality (5/5)


I first read Tsutsui's work in Kurodahan's anthology Speculative Japan (2007) with his short story “Standing Woman” (1974/1981). Each time I read the story, a new layer of relevance or context is added; the work is interesting, unique, penetrating, and thoughtful. While researching Tsutsui's work, I came upon a collection of his—Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (2006)—that was entirely translated by the talented Andrew Driver. Nearly all the stories uphold the same four adjectives, making is a superlative piece of collected fiction, some of which is also science fiction.

The most insightful of the stories (i.e., “Rumours About Me”, “The Very Edge of Happiness”, “Commuter Army”, and “Bad for the Heart”) are specifically about the life and trouble of salarymen. These capture of the essence of the modern urban life of the common working man, the man who earns a decent living in an otherwise indecent world—that of the corporate world, the slow grindstone of morale driven by the gears of money and so-called progress. I love these stories and “The Very Edge of Happiness” has vaulted itself onto the top ten stories (non-novel) of all-time:


This review (about 5,500 word in total [you've been warned]) of the collection Salmonella Men on Planet Porno includes the following stories:

  • The Dabba Dabba Tree”
  • Rumours About Me”
  • Don't Laugh”
  • Farmer Airlines”
  • Bear's Wood Main Line”
  • The Very Edge of Happiness”
  • Commuter Army”
  • Hello, Hello, Hello!”
  • The World is Tilting”
  • Bravo Herr Mozart!”
  • The Last Smoker”
  • Bad for the Heart”
  • Salmonella Men on Planet Porno”
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The Dabba Dabba Tree (1973/20006, short story) – 4/5
Synopsis: A husband and wife find themselves frustrated by an awkward inactive sex life until one their father’s gifts them with the Dabba Dabba Tree. Set near the bed, when asleep, each live a vivid dream where they experience sexual freedom; they imbibe in their lust knowing it’s only a dream. The dream state is a dangerous haven for others as they are mere figments, but soon their neighbor claims his own tree and covets the man’s wife.

Analysis: No one has ever said that consistency is the spice of life, nor have they said that familiarity breeds excitement. Likewise, the husband and wife in “The Dabba Dabba Tree” have found themselves stuck in the rut of marital gridlock. Their passions have drained and the husk of a salaryman and a housewife remain, both of whom the light of inquisitiveness hasn’t shined for a while.

Bound by expectations and consequences, many of our everyday choices reflect a rational, complacent mind meandering through familiar routine. As humans are so-called creatures of habit, this cycle is difficult to break but the breaks are exactly what is needed so that we don’t become stagnant and complacent. The odd conical tree featured in the story is given to the couple by one of their fathers, a member of their history who wants a grandchild and understands the schism of marital stagnation. The gift: a deviation from the norm.

As the tree at their bedside is a deviation from the sleep time norm, so too are their dreams a deviation from their realities. Both husband and wife imbibe in their nighttime reveries of passions, only to wake and realize they’re being intimate, yet they both wish to return to their dreams—an indication that their ethereal fantasies trump their shared reality.

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Rumours About Me (1972/2006, short story) – 4/5
Synopsis: As a common office worker in Shinjuku, Tsutomu Morishita is shocked to learn that his daily routine and insignificant transgressions have become major news on TV, on the radio, and in print. Every details of his life, aside from this vented frustration at the media, is somehow published for all to see, especially his attempts at dating the office girl named Akiko. As a nobody who has unwillingly become a somebody, Tsutomu must stop this.

Pre-analysis: Though the short story is more than thirty-five years old, it has relevance to the modern times in regard to responsibility in journalism. Chapters in textbooks have been written about this; entire books and meta-news stories have covered this, but Tsutsui’s story hits the sweet spot on this little-dabbled-with theme for speculative fiction.

Analysis: We’re all the center of our little, personal universes (unless you’re totally in love and have someone else as the center of your universe, then you’re really a lucky chap). Our dalliances, milestones, and routines are the passing tickertape of what we call our lives—we alone are the readers of that tickertape and think others would have little interest in our undecipherable lives.

When the live of a salaryman nobody instantly becomes a salaryman somebody, his first reaction is frustration rather than exultation as he is the unwilling specimen of the carnivorous news media. He tries to go about his daily routine, but as soon as his actions pass through time, the media picks up on every nuance; people change their manner around him, yet he strives to keep his life balanced—an over-conscious balancing. Like paparazzi, he discovers them under his floorboards, in the closet, and in the gap of the recessed ceiling.

Every detail of his life exposed save one, he finds it odd that the news won’t report it when he confronts them. His frustration with the meddling and the exposure drives him to directly confront the editors. Hostile silence? Pinched closure? Amicable agreement? The man ruminates the possible conclusions but one thing is certain: he can’t live his life under the microscope of the media.

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Don’t Laugh (1975/2006, short story) – 3/5
Synopsis: The gravity of Saita’s dilemma sounded serious and sincere over the phone, so his friend rushes over to his house to console him. Actually, Saita has invented another machine, adding one more to his growing list of patents. But when Saita breaks the news that his invention is a time machine, the duo break into a fit of hysterical laughter while looking at and, later, using the same contraption.

Analysis: This is an odd little story and the shortest story of the entire collection. Though only seven pages long in my e-book edition (oh how I wish I could track down a print copy!), it has sixteen lines of “Wahahahahaha!” Their canned and projected laughter is such an steady part of the story that the reader, too, smiles at the curious unfolding of the story.

The man’s initial burst of laughter, even after a warning to not laugh while he himself was giggling, is at Saita’s news that he had invented a time machine. Through the man’s suppressed snort, Saita laughs first and soon fits of laughter flow through the story. While the man inspects the machine with Saita, all the while laughing their heads off and clenching their stomachs in pain, the machine actually does transport them back in time a minutes.

While it seems linear enough, the truncated ending feels like an uncompleted Kafka story, left open to interpretation. As they travel those few minutes back in time, they witness themselves through the floorboards above: Saita paces, the man walks in, a short conversation ensues, and they burst out in amusement. They suppress their laughter as to not to disturb their prior selves below. Will, then, a time loop establish itself? Will they meet themselves and proceed with further laughter?

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Farmer Airlines (1974/2006, short story) – 4/5
Synopsis: Two men are on assignment for an unpopular men’s magazine doing a story on uninhabited islands in Japan. Their story takes them to Tit Island, home to terraced farms but without any permanent farmers. Taken to the island by boat before, the writer and his photographer become stranded on the island during a typhoon. They seek shelter in a lean-to hut and discover two drunken farmers and an ominously sounding airline service to the mainland.

Analysis: Friction between the journalist and the photographer had already started even before going to the uninhabited island, but when their matters go from strained to taut, the friction between themselves threatens to tear them apart. They are both city folk in obviously odd circumstances: on a terraced farm of an unpopulated island, thrashed by the winds of a typhoon without hope of rescue, and the only help they have are from two drunken farmers—not an ideal situation is any regard.

The journalist is the flexible type with an adaptive personality; he finds the country way backward but can find value in its simplicity and function. In contrast, the photographer is the finicky type with a resistive barrier of experience he finds the country way barbaric and only sees the negative, the disastrous, the inexplicable unnaturalness of their way of life.

The journalist is the active force in their rescue; reluctantly, he agrees to fly on the ramshackle airplane with the unqualified pilot and remains calm even when they fuel up at a roadside gas station. The photographer, however, is at his wits end through the entire journey and refuses to take the last flight to salvation. For the reports open-minded tactics at saving his own life, his efforts are unrewarded… which is more to say than for the photographer.

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Bear’s Wood Main Line (1974/2006, short story) – 3/5
Synopsis: On a personal quest for the best buckwheat noodles, one man takes a long train ride. On that ride, a kind fellow traveler informs him of a little known train line that could save him four hours of travel time. The Bear’s Wood Main Line seems to be owned and operated by the man’s clan but he’s evasive about their responsibilities to the Line. Atop the hill, the man’s family is hosting a wake, yet their giddy ways enliven his unparticipative state.

Analysis: The common notion of not talking to strangers on public transportation spans nations—it’s as true in America as it is for Thailand as it seems to also be true for Japan. With the exception of one notable bus journey sitting next to beautiful women (OMG, she had the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard but she also had the longest arm hair), conversations engaged upon a train usually meet with someone demanding something from me (my sandals), being awkwardly invited to the bathroom for a smoke (stale, hand-rolled Thai cigarettes), or being talked at for hours (much of it over my head).

The man who takes the train journey for the simple pleasure of perfect buckwheat noodles meets his fate when he speaks to a stranger on the train. The stranger’s advice seemed innocent enough—save a few hours of travel time—but the man’s first fault was accepting this advice. His second stumbling block was accepting an invitation to join the funeral festivities at the top of the hill, in which the family members performed a ridiculous song and dance. Everyone, including the man, were enraptured with laughter at the sight and sound of the dance. When everyone had their turn—each slightly altering the vowels to the song—the man felt he had to confidence to participate. This participation was his third fault which has long-reaching unforeseen consequences for him, the family, and the nation.

Therefore, decisions made on public transportation should never include the advice of strangers; otherwise, you may inadvertently place your entire country in peril. Listen to your mother: “Don’t talk to strangers.”

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The Very Edge of Happiness (1973/2006, short story) – 5/5
Synopsis: A life dedicated to his work, one man’s unfortunate outcome also sees him living with his mother, wife, and son. Usually tetchy, once a month, circumstances get the best of him and he treats both his wife and son abusively. His numbness is confirmed when he, and others, witness a mother beat her child to death in a bank. This emotional fatigue extends to a long holiday where car traffic and foot traffic wear all tempers and souls thin.

Brief Intermission: Along with Tsutsui’s “Commuter Army”, “Hello, Hello, Hello!”, and “Bad for the Heart”, this is the other short story based on the daily struggles of Japan’s symptomatic social pit of the salaryman. I’m a sucker for the salaryman-type stories: e.g., Ryo Hanmura’s “Cardboard Box” (1975/1980), Hiromi Kawakami’s “Mogera Wogura” (2002/2005), Mayumura Taku’s “I’ll Get Rid of Your Discontent” (1962/2007) from Kurodahan Press’s Speculative Japan (2007). But out of all them, “The Very Edge of Happiness” is the most powerful, the most visual, and the most gruesome. One of the very best short stories I have ever read!

Analysis: The inhumane pressures of work take their toll on one man. Though he has a family, no one would call him a “family man”, as he strikes his wife and places his baby son in a scalding bath. These instances of abuse don’t touch his conscious as he remains coolly and cruelly detached from any emotion. His systematic frustration, anger, and abuse boils over into a holiday in which everyone seems to be flocking to the same destination; slowly yet progressively, the masses of flesh press forward toward the sea. Over the roads, cars amass; through the trees, bodies press against each other; on the sand, only one direction remains as the momentum of the horde presses on; and now ankle-deep, hip-deep, and shoulder-deep in the water, something is amiss. All of this progression results in only forward momentum—bodies line the seabed and yet, the only way is forward.

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Commuter Army (1973/2006, novelette) – 4/5
Synopsis: A Japanese man is the branch manager for an arms manufacturer that has supplied five hundred rifles to the Galibian side of the non-Japanese war. To entice recruits, the Balibian army has hired part-time soldiers who can commute home after a battle…if they don’t die first. The manager is mildly interested, but gets thrown into the war so he can fix the rifles that his company produced, earning him a second salary as a non-combatant.

Analysis: The title itself is perfect in its simplicity and directness.
Q: Which came first: the corporation or the military?
A: The military.

Q: When the corporation evolved, from what did it evolve?
A: The military.

Q: From what is corporate governance structured?
A: The military.

In regards to the overarching organization of the corporation, structurally, the hierarchies are the same; motivationally, the directives are the same: infiltrate, dominate, and destroy. When a company cannot full the demand and/or depend upon its full-time (FT), well-benefitted staff, it turns toward Option B: the part-time (PT), less-benefitted staff and, as a result, the less-motivated and less-relied-upon staff. Upon the capitalist mantra: Where there’s a niche, there’s a need; where there’s a pitfall, there’s a profit; where there’s a placement, there’s a peon.

You enter the army as a private only to work your way up the ranks to become more disciplinary and regimental, only so that your subordinates do the same—the rule, the law, the governance. As a novice/private grows through the ranks, they become immune to the progressive dehumanization of the process. Where accuracy and lethality become paramount in the military arena, demographic specificity and growth become dominant in the corporate world; where, in the military, human lives are an indication of enemy loss or own loss, money, in the business world, comes as a profit or a loss. When the two spheres of influence intermesh—the militant world and the corporate world—circumstances become a bit dicey.

Soon, in the regional war outside of Japanese influence, there’s a local need for soldiers on the PT basis. As a Japanese non-combatant, the man considered himself outside qualification for being a PT soldier. He could have used to money but, when weighing the options, possible death by gunshot on a battlefield doesn’t seem all that appealing. When his company sells faulty rifles, he once again considers himself unqualified for the job of repair because of the pride of his hierarchical position in the company, yet someone must be sent to do the repairs. His superiors send him off to war as a non-combatant.

Regardless of his corporate position, he is sent to war. Regardless of his lowly status in the war, he is sent to the trenches. Here, “the trenches” take on a dual meaning: the frontline of the war effort and the frontline of his corporation’s activities. Whether on the frontline of his work or at war, his wife can still visit him to bring him lunch.

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Hello, Hello, Hello! (1974/2006, short story) – 4/5
Synopsis: Just a salaryman, one man and his wife casually save money for a home and retirement—eventually—, but are tempted by simple luxuries. As they discuss buying new clothes at the breakfast table, a man enters their home uninvited and announces himself to be from the bank’s Household Economy Consultants. Each time they face a monetary choice, he mysteriously pops into their home denouncing their activities and urges extreme frugalness.

Analysis: In a time—well, ever since rampant capitalism has been around—when we are urged to buy, buy, buy, there is rarely the voice of reasons that tells us to save, save, save. Even if money were saved in the bank, the interest rates in bank deposit accounts are atrociously low; saving money is just as good as wasting it. Investment, however, is a wise choice if a family is able to use their salaries toward a larger purchase… as they say, you need money to make money and not everyone has the free cash to make more cash.

So, people just end up stuffing money away in piddling bank accounts, saving it for a purchase of land and/or a house. Mortgages inflate rapidly with interest and cut into salaries, so it seems that accumulating money is the only way, but even that it uncertain when currencies devalue or markets crash or banks fold. Regardless, you count your pennies and spend your dollars.

In “Hello, Hello, Hello!”, their efforts to save money are hampered by whims of indulgence. Guilt weighs thinly until guilt manifests itself in the form of a Household Economy Consultant. Pennies are saved at the cost of happiness, an emotion which is also the goal of the same saving; but true to a bank’s loyalty to customers—or lack thereof—they see no progress in their saving as the man, who had told them to be so thrifty, disappears. The family of two aren’t the only ones stumped or victimizes by his disappearance.

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The World is Tilting (1989/2006, novelette) – 4/5
Synopsis: The city of Marine City is floating in the sea and uses pachinko balls as ballast, which were used in a checkerboard arrangement under the city at the mayor’s expressed command—Fedora Last. Now, after a typhoon, the island city tilts three degrees to the SSE—an obvious listing for a professor and engineer. Regardless of expert advice, the female mayor and her housewife retinue vehemently deny any such tilt, even as it passes twenty degrees.

Pre-analysis: “The World is Tilting” is a story that takes place entirely on a floating city named Marine City, which floats in the Pacific Ocean. When the very land beneath their feet begins to tilt, the heads of government turn a blind eye toward the oncoming dilemma with humorous and sad conclusions. On a similar note, Masaki Yamada’s novel Aphrodite also has a floating island city with the same name as the novel. This novel has a more somber tone with the head of government seeing the downward spiral of the city’s fate and takes steps to protract its lifespan accordingly.

It’s a popular fact that Tokyo-Yokohama has the world’s largest metropolitan population—around 37 million people, which is 11 million more than Seoul at #2. It’s not particularly dense when comparing it to such squalid cites as Dhaka or Jakarta; actually, the population density of the metro area is equal to that of Barcelona or Prague.

Analysis: But take Tokyo proper into consideration: the perpetual modernization, the rat race of salarymen, the twin bindings of constraint and conformity. When the city becomes cramped, the way of life becomes constrained, and friction builds, the only way out of the fiery cauldron of pressure is outward… outward to the countryside when the inevitable sprawl of metropolitan Tokyo will eventually probe with its grimy fingers or outward bound upon the ocean? If freedom from the strains of urban life is the aim, then the only direction is the ocean, where a city can float on its own buoyancy, live by its own rules, and contemplate its own navel if it very well pleases.

Escape from the complacent chaos of an organized city life into the budding chaos of a fledgling semi-anarchic city life. While visions of sugarplums and bucolic bliss may dance in the heads of the city's disfranchised, another reality awaits them on the opposing side of their chosen life—life elsewhere takes just as much effort and care to maintain as the city. As a city may teeter on the brink of disaster due to social inequality or natural disaster, strong central governance can overcome these urban hurdles.

Now take the “floating city” in the context of a salaryman: he's an island unto himself and he has many inner workings, but one priority is key: remain afloat, stay balances, don't flip. However, the nature of the salaryman is an unbalanced one; too much work, not enough play; too much pressure, not enough release; too much conformity, not enough individuality. While the salaryman's waking consciousness (the engineer and scholar) is aware of the dangerous tilting, the sub-conscious (the finicky mayor, Fedora Last) ignores the problem as just another common symptom of life in general.

From the demanded conformity to the institution comes the learned conformity of the mindset all-is-normal and nothing-to-see-here-folks. In the case of Marine City, this conformity and complacency is a recipe for disaster.

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Bravo Herr Mozart! (1970/2006, short story) – 2/5
Synopsis: With a random smattering of scattered data, a biographer pieces together a bizarre picture of Mozart’s life. Little known extrapolations include the fact he was born with only three fingers but later only had a single digit; he was born at the age of three and never had a mother; he once fancied Maria Antoinette but lost her; and become involved in an orgy in which he married the unfavorable of the three sisters.

Analysis: As the synopsis read, this is one odd short story, which isn't even a story in most regards, yet there is a story—it's not a story of cause and effect like most fiction, but it's a very brief glimpse of factoids. I'm not even sure if this story has any reflection of societal pressures, Japanese culture, or other miscellaneous pertinent issues. It just places itself into the bizarro sub-sect of fiction.

As the synopsis reads, the story itself reads like a glued together mini-biography based on a grab bag selection of facts stitched together by nothing more than the intuition of a twisted mind. It's a nonsensical look at his life (e.g., his menage a trois [or was it quatre?] with some Italian sisters), twisted in too many ways to number, and filled with absurdist humor (e.g., born with three fingers yet played with only one later in his life). It's brief glimpses of humor are an odd contrast to the rest of the collection, each of which have morale, be it blatant or subtle.

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The Last Smoker (1987/2006, short story) – 4/5
Synopsis: A well respected and widely published writer is irked by a reporter’s business card that reads “Thank You For Not Smoking”. As a chain smoker himself, he denies them the literary interviews and becomes the butt of growing scorn over everyone who smokes. Tobacco smokers become persecuted, then ostracized and, finally, they are lynched and burned. The writer remains one of the last smokers still standing in a smoker’s haven.

Analysis: Like election year in America, there tends to be a huge chasm between two distant sides when it comes to smoking: the die-hard smokers who claim freedom to smoke and the non-smokers who claim freedom from smoke. The opposing camps of “freedom” thought are staunch in their views... but like most views and opinions, there are extremists and zealots; in society, there are also extremist swings of view and zealous shifts of policy.

In “The Last Smoker”, what starts as a anthill of anger turns into a hill of fury then a mountain of pure hate. The anti-anything sentiment is often stirred not by the will of the people or their conscious, but by moneyed lobbies and moneyed media corporations (co-conspirators or bedfellows?). Public sentiment is stirred vigorously in “The Last Smoker” where open smokers are harassed, threatened, abused, tortured, demonized, then outright lynched. From open smokers to known smokers, the lynching continues while a band of smokers coalesces; their spirit of fight is subsumed by the whole and their stash of cigarettes becomes communal.

Tsutsui plays the absurdist role in “The Last Smoker” in the closing scenes of the story where an already extreme stance on the matter of smoking becomes something taken straight from the scene of a ridiculously gaudy Hollywood-esque finale but with sarcastic follow-through.

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Bad for the Heart (1972/2006, novelette) – 4/5
Synopsis: Suda is host to an illness of the heart; whether his is a physical or mental symptom depends on who you ask. Regardless of many doctors’ opinions, he trusts the one doctor’s diagnosis that it’s mental strain; thereby, he alters his lifestyle to suit the prognosis. His wife nags and nags, giving him palpitations; his work has assigned him to a remote island, giving him further palpitations. Now, his wife will spend eight months with him there and his meds haven’t arrive yet.

Analysis: As I'm not a religious person, I'm not a proponent of the power of prayer. Nor do I superficially subscribe to the common mantra of “mind over matter”; that expression has become so watered down that it basically means that same thing as the power of prayer. On a personal level, I'd like to take into considering two statements of weakness which encourage me to push through the worse of life:

1. “Pain is a signal from weak point.”
2. “Most common illnesses are psychosomatic.”

The first statement is an obvious statement—if something hurts, then something is wrong. Take this notion beyond the physical truth: If my head aches, have I not followed the path of logic? If my stomach aches, have I not followed the path of intuition? If my heart aches, have I not followed the path of emotion? This may border on mysticism and phony transcendental realms without support from the scientific method, but it's something that guides my thoughts on a conscious basis.

Now, in any populated area where you ride public transportation, you'll see scores of sick individuals any any time of the day, of the week, or of the season—illness seems to have infiltrated the ranks of the lemmings of the urban population. Also note, most of these office workers, toilers of corporate overlords, are slightly overweight and probably hold down mediocre job titles with a respective mediocre salary. But what ails them? Are the multiplicity of viruses of “the cold” the culprit? Or is the mentality of their “lemming-ness” the true origin of their pathetic state?

A very old but mind-tingling study from 1958 once suggested that some aspects of the common cold are psychological. These psychosomatic symptoms of the cold are similar to the results of actual sadness, grief, and depression. If these physical symptoms can manifest themselves from an internal lack of something, what other common ailments are a result of some common lack?

Now take Suda, the victim of “Bad for the Heart”. While most doctors disagree with his self-diagnosis, one doctor supports his theory of physical-cum-mental anguish. The treatment for his illness of the heart—if it were actual, the pill would cure him; if it were psychosomatic, the pills would still cure him—are simple pills. Regardless of Suda's knowledge of his own weak condition, he still goes ahead with plans which may hamper his recovery.

If his illness is psychosomatic, if his treatment is psychosomatic, don't you think his action which lead to his death are psychosomatic, too? Can suicide be a purely mental effort?

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Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (1977/2006, novella) – 4/5
Synopsis: Dr. Suiko Shimazaki is pregnant on the planet named Nakamura, but she hasn’t been impregnated by a man; rather, the androspore of the native “widow’s incubus” has planted the seed of life in her. The research team is unwilling to bring the abomination to full term in six days’ time, so Yohachi must enter the humanoid camp nude to participate in their obscene activities—to learn the cure—but not before entering the libidinous jungle.

Pre-analysis Brainstorm: Modern society is a human invention; it's a man-made construct based on a long history of beliefs, premises, laws, superstitions, conquests, interventions, morals, norms, taboos, etc. Compare this with the animal kingdom where animals, too, have simple and complex relationships. In the animal world, the societies that developed are evolution necessities and change very little—no beliefs penetrate the society, nor the history of their laws, morals, etc. Aside from the million-year long process of evolution, their societies are stagnant but necessarily stable.

In a various (all?) human societies, taboos, in particular, remain a core part and remain stable regardless of whatever revolutions transpire. The sexual revolution in America brought sexuality to the forefront of social importance, but, even nowadays, the topic of sex is still considered a near-taboo topic of touchy conversations.

Analysis: In “Salmonella Men”, the Japanese society of the future still maintains the taboo subject of sex; however, the planet they are on is filled with nothing but sexing plants and sexing animals—the planet just screams sex. All around the scientific expedition, the flora and fauna go through the course of nature, a ravenously libidinous affair in which everything is a target of desire. A small number of them continually protest at the lewdness of the planet's life, damning it all obscene. Consider that the flora and fauna are going through their motions of evolutional necessity, so why should that be obscene? It's only obscene to the eyes of the humans, who have brought subjective views of what is right/wrong, just/unjust, or good/bad.

The topic of sex among the men of the scientific camp is less than taboo—they speak about the women as small conquests, yet the elderly doctors of the camp have the strongest subjectivity, which is counter-intuitive because, as academic and medical doctors, they should be the most objective, detached, and observant; yet, they consider “Planet Porno” to be a land of absurdity, obscenity, and indecency. When one woman becomes pregnant, not by one of the men but by one of those so-called obscene plants, it becomes apparent that the only solution to her troublesome and very pronounced pregnancy is to contact the natives--”They went around permanently naked” (196) and participated in frequent acts of debauchery right in the open without any sense of shame.

To learn the secret of stopping or reversing the pregnancy, they decide to send a member to the native camp, but they have always been rejected because of their poor manners, which run counter to their own—the natives glorify the act of sex while the humans consider it a taboo. They person they need is,

the kind of person who has no metaphysical conception of the sex act, but who at the same time has an endless supply of powerful philanthropic urges towards the sex act itself …. Someone who’s happy to have sexual intercourse with any partner, no matter who. (202)

They look to Yohachi—the degenerate pervert, the libidinous lecher, the licentious deviant, the corrupt copulater—to be able to integrate seamlessly into the native camp, partake in their various ways of coitus, and learn the secret of the suspect plant's impregnation of their camp's female.

So, regardless of any society's taboos, the taboos are part of life—everyone know what they are and, in private, these are unveiled within the secret lives of many. As mentioned before, there is also a history is social traditions, customs, etc.; this history serves a purpose even if it's less applicable to today's modern world. In “Salmonella Men”, the scientists' knowledge of the “open sexuality” taboo is what brings about the solution and they use the weakness of one man—Yohachi—to bring fruition to the conclusion.

While taboos are part of our society, we all harbor knowledge of them and use them to our benefit when we feel the need. Bare in mind that, while sex is a social taboo in many societies, that doesn't stop advertisers from using watered down sex to sell a product. Taboos can be a weapon or a tool.