Dense in pages and science with soft impact (3/5)
This is the last book in my trove of from Kurodahan; it’s also the densest of the bounty, which includes the Japanese novels Aphrodite and Administrator, the Japanese collections Speculative Japan 1 and 2, as well as the Serbian themed-collection The Library. The last book of the speculative bunch—Crystal Silence—can also be described as hard science fiction, which is a delineation from much of Japanese science fiction that tends to teem with sub-dermal layers of pulsing culture or warm analogy; on one finger, I can name the one story what deviates from the norm: Koshu Tani’s “Q-Cruiser Basilisk” (1984). Crystal Silence feels as straight forward as many western science fictions of similar ilk: heavy on the science content with a number of token stereotypes to round it out.
Crystal Silence seems to be Fujisaki’s first Japanese publications in fiction, be it of short or long work. The novel is also the only translated work written by the author.
A transnational distrust has been brewing on Mars since its initial colonization, but now that an ancient and biological artifact has been discovered in the ice mines of the north pole, tensions are at an all-time high and distrust is running deep. Saya Askai is a bio-archeologist in Japan, who studies the Jomon period of ancient Japan, yet is recruited to Mars to study the ancient organism. The relation is vague but she accepts while leaving her beau Keren beyond on Earth. Little does she know, Keren is actually a pawn—yet becoming a greater threat like a rook, queen, or knight—in a bigger scheme dictated by Wild West, which is a weapons manufacture with an interest in keeping humans—on Earth and on Mars—in a perpetual state of warfare. When bombs burst and bullets fly, Saya is trapped on Mars at the same time mysterious forces begin to envelop the habitations of each nation. As the forces progress, so too do Keren’s awareness of his powers and Saya’s vulnerability.
Mars is presented in the typical fashion in which countries have their own colonies (
India, China, Australia,
to name a few). The first-tier nations—those who actually colonized Mars
first—have access to richer resources and tend to passively strangle the
second-tier nations—those who came after the rush. Two chokepoints are under
strict control: the orbital platform and the ice fields on Mars’ northern pole,
where the stage is set in the novel, Japan
Because of these tensions among the tiers, military power is brought in to maintain the peace but also to act as a layer of defense. When these same power-suited soldiers act on the offense at the northern pole, tensions become strained beyond their usual stress, which is only hampered by the mysterious and intangible domes that seem as if they are constricted the space around her colony. People and supplies can be sent through these domes, but what is there cannot leave: drive as they may, they never reach the dome’s periphery.
Soon it’s discovered that the domes have something in common with another post-husk-finding at the pole: the crystal flowers that alter their weight and fragility. Though this seems impossible by the nature of physics, the flowers are mere curiosities at best. It takes everyone a while—which is surprising—to connect the flowers, the domes, and the husks; obviously, something funny—and only one man is laughing—is happening on Mars and no one knows what may result. But that same laughing man is also the one who hopes to gain most from the confusion, friction, and fright.
The initial connection between the alien biological husks and the ancient yet earthly work performed by Saya is so tenuous, so unlikely that it really fails to hold together through the hundreds of pages. Even at the conclusion, I felt that the connection was never solidly made, so it began to flatten out even among the action of the closing scenes. Further, the reason for the husks’ existence where they are and how they’re placed isn’t explained satisfactorily, either.
While the majority of the novel occurs on Mars, the most progressive past of the novel is Keren’s cyberpunk-esque escapades through information systems on Earth, on Mars, and in the Wile West corporation. Through Saya’s eyes, Keren is merely a boy longing after her, but Keren sees the world through very different lenses, lenses that no human could ever quite comprehend. His association with Wild West goes deeper than revenge; it goes further than his yen for Wild West’s destructions, too, as he has put it upon himself to save two of the most important things in his life: Saya and humanity.
So, to conclude, the novel starts off with a shallow and tenuous correlation between an ancient Earth people with the hollow remains of what seems to be alien food, then it swells to become a Mars-based strife between warring nations and incomprehensible alien technology, and in the background looms some cyber warfare between in an individual and a corporate, between planets, and, later, within something even more incomprehensible.
Fujisaki’s Crystal Silence is a welcome addition to the very limited family of hard Japanese science fiction outside of manga or anime; however, what it boasts in speculation outweighs any nuances, metaphors, or analogies about whatever may lie under the dense husk of its hard science fiction. For those who enjoy the romp of action on Mars and cyberspace, this may be for you.