Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, September 27, 2015

2011: Speculative Japan 2 (Kobayashi, Yasumi & Ogawa, Issui)

A readers’ pick of favorites, so much new and diverse (5/5)

The first collection of Japanese speculative fiction—before speculative fiction was a nomenclature—was back in 1989: Martin H. Greenberg and John L. Apostolou’s The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (which was entirely translated by Grania Davis and Judith Merril). Eight years had to pass before it was republished in 1997 without any new material added. The world would have to wait another decade for another collection to materialize in order to sate the appetites of readers who like speculative Japanese fiction.

In 2007, Kurodahan Press released Speculative Japan (edited by Gene van Troyer and Grania Davis), which includes five stories from the former collection. Kurodahan’s collection had ten new stories and opened a door of fascination to the microcosm of speculative literature in Japan. Out of the total fifteen stories, I loved eight of them so much I gave them five stars; each had a story, an impact, and a depth that left the mind tingling.

Teasingly, Kurodahan took four years to release the second book in the now running series: Speculative Fiction 2 (2011). With this collection, all thirteen stories had never before been published and all but one author had never before been included in either of the prior publications (Shinji Kajio is in both of Kurodahan’s collections). That means there are twelve new authors! And as a bonus, each story is translated by a different translator, too. This gives the collection a broad range of content via the authors and style via the translators.

With Speculative Fiction 2, though I haven’t been as generous with the 5-star ratings as with the first collection, you really can’t fault the collection for having (in my opinion) only two under-4-star stories. My three favorites are (1) Issui Ogawa’s “Old Vohl’s Planet” for its combination of hard science with alien identity and a human message; (2) Shinji Kajio’s “Emanon: A Reminiscence” for its speculative shattering of the emotional barrier of what could be to what should have been; and (3) Yasumi Kobayashi’s “The Man Who Watched the Sea” for its combination of the other two stories: hard science, love, and endurance.

If you’re an eager reader of similar stories, then you’ll be satisfied to know that Speculative Japan 3 was published in 2012… with more on the way, as Edward Lipsett, one of the founding members of Kurodahan Press, has told me. I actually emailed him last year requesting translated Japanese fiction in exchange for honest reviews. Bless his heart, he sent me a boxful of booty which I am now only beginning to finish amid all of my other reading. If you’d like to review a copy of any of Kurodahan’s publications, just shoot him a message; I’m sure he’ll be receptive and appreciative.

Aside: All of these stories were individually reviewed and analyzed at other blog Tongues of Speculation and there on SF Potpourri they are collected. That's why this post is about 5,400 words long.

A Gift from the Sea (shortstory, 1977) – Naoko Awa (4/5)

Synopsis: Little Kanako receives two fifty-yen coins from her bedridden mother so that she can buy something at the village’s market festival. The paltry sum can buy her very little, but she’s determined to buy one thing for herself and another for her mother. An out-of-place woman sells a bag of “sakura shells” to her, which clatter in her pocket as she walks, yet they also whisper her toward the sea. There at the sea, women gamble with the shells and Kanako learns of her own naivety. 6 pages

Analysis: Kanako’s intentions were pure; she was grateful for the money as she knew they could barely afford the wastefulness. While eyeing the market, only the glittering shells were within the reach of power to spend. With a bagful of beautiful shells, she learns that all that sparkles and clatters isn’t necessarily worthy of its own beauty.  Naivety strikes her upon losing all of her shells in the marble-like gambling near the ocean’s tideline when Kanako returns to the market to buy another bag so that she can win all her shells back. Upon finding the shell vendor absent, another vendor tell her of the thieving “old woman from the sea” who steals children’s money.

Immediately, Kanako is offended with the theft and runs back to the shore. There, without shells in hand or a physical gift for her mother, she confronts her innocent senses of trust, ignorance… and generosity.

Freud (shortstory, 2007) – Toh Enjoe (4/5)

Synopsis: An elderly woman dies and her extended family gather at her isolated house to witness its demolition as it’s an onus to them all. When removing the twenty floor mats, they find a lifeless and life-sized Freud under each. They haul and line the Freuds out, discussing what it meant to the old woman and how it affects them. None have a deep understanding of Freud but they all agree that they’re living some sort of dream, but what does this dream mean to the dreamer? 11 pages

Pre-analysis: In Freud’s Die Traumdeutung, later abridge in English as On Dreams, Freud’s main concept is that the subconscious drives imagery in dreams to reflect its wish fulfillment, the unconscious mind distorts the meaning of information so images in dreams aren’t what they appear to be. Within the first page, Freud writes, “[E]very dream will show itself to be a senseful psychological structure which may be introduced into an assignable place in the psychic activity of the waking state.” He also said there are three kinds: (1) direct prophecy, (2), foretelling, (3) and symbolic.

Analysis: The English idiom skeletons in the closet refers to a secret that, if revealed, would be damaging to the secret-holder. While reading “Freud”, I liked to think that Freuds under the tatami mat was the Japanese equivalent phrase. The dreamscape in which the narrator finds herself is in grandmother’s house. She and her family agree that since she knows most about the psychology of Freud, that she must be the dreamer. The responsibility lies on her to save their grandmother by changing the paradigm of the dream—make grandma undead. But as she considers on her responsibility, she also reflects on the interpretation of the dream: Why had her grandmother slipped near the pond? Why are they destroying her house? Why are there Freuds under her tatami mats?

At this point in the story, the reader must analyze the speculative relationship between the woman narrator and her grandmother. She died in the garden because of a shared secret hidden there? There are destroying the house to hide that secret? Are the Freuds the crumbs of truth, lined up for all to see among the family?

The Whale that Sang on the Milky Way Network (shortstory, 1984) – Mariko Ohara (4/5)

Synopsis: The backwater planet of Hulftvahl is home to petty grudges, simple puppy love, and limited aspirations. Most of the youth find themselves plants roots on the same planet or flung far abroad with Space Command. Though adventure and exotic ways of life are distant from their everyday lives, The Gardus Show occasionally brings them a tatse of both. Young Joshua and his crush watch Whale on stage; impressed with the sight, they seek friendship with the giant, only to learn about their own urbaneness.  19 pages

Pre-analysis: I’m a small town boy. I understand small town aspirations, also known as a lack of horizon or well, this is good enough for me. Call it the lack of opportunity or the leash of abidance, the apathy of a small town bent of zero-growth doesn’t exactly inspire the banally jaded townies. Kegs in a cornfield are a source of excitement as are stealing ceramic dwarves, shooting bottle rockets at each other, and discovering new items in the frozen foods aisle. Love here is complacency, finding someone who won’t murder you in your sleep or insist on wearing matching outfits while shopping together. If two things are simple, they are so-called aspirations and so-called love.

Analysis: Joshua and Ligarde are young, naïve and, conforming to all small town clichés, stuck in the rut in which they were born. Both of them see a chance to discover something otherworldly by befriending Whale. The Whale’s extraordinary story and its promise of interstellar travel titillate the couple’s backwater minds. Whale’s lonely existence amid interstellar vacuum pulls the strings of sympathy from their hearts. After they conspire to publicize Whale’s existence on the Milky Network, they find themselves as small town folk on a larger scene, yet still stuck in their small town ways.

Even the most exotic of circumstances and the blessing of the most exotic of characters have difficulty penetrating the mental complacency of the small town mind.

Old Vohl’s Planet (novelette, 2003) – Issui Ogawa (5/5)

Synopsis: A turbulent gas-giant orbits its sun and is ravaged by both punishing winds and temperatures, yet an alien species still thrives in its seas, forever planet-bound. One large amoeba-like member optically views an incoming body that destroys most of its species, but not before transferring its knowledge to the rest of the species. Thereon, all remain vigilant toward skyward peril—and one body is seen that is sure to destroy their lives, their world. With their remaining time, the species collectively attempts to contact another species, if there are any. 26 pages

Pre-analysis: The gears of bureaucracy are weighty, ponderable, and largely immovable. Regardless of warnings or research, most governments simply shrug in the face of statistical danger while cladding themselves in their warm blanket of ain’t a problem yet, won’t be a problem later. With both manpower and money at their disposal, the gears still grind their steady decadal tunes, accommodating very little that’s new into their orchestra of maintaining the status quo. And yet, with each passing year and the ridiculous news items that summarize our state of affairs—as a country or as a planet—very little gets done, yet most can foresee the result of the government’s perpetual inaction.

            Q: End America’s nuclear weapon program?
                        A: Nope, not with others wielding the same weapons.
            Q: Cut carbon dioxide emissions?
                        A: Nope, not when fossil fuels are so profitable.
            Q: Put an end to weapon ownership?
                        A: Nope, we glorify war too much to end that.
            Q: Use alternative sources of energy?
                        A: Nope, nature will balance out the actions of seven billion people.
            Q: Fund the search for near-Earth objects?
                        A: Nope, the likelihood is far too remote.

Analysis: As much infighting as the aliens did in their history—based on size and age—, they have very admirable qualities which span their history until the conclusion of the story: (1) they share knowledge of the their immediate demise realize its gravity, (2), they unify to seek out other such world-shattering objects, and (3) they unify to search for civilization that may assist them when the end nears. This is all possible due to their unique physiological trait that allows them to pass on and store knowledge passed down through the generations.

The amoeba-like aliens can unite and progress with their own millennium-long salvation because they objectify knowledge, share knowledge, accept knowledge, and react to knowledge. Their alien-equivalent eyes are tinted or tainted by self-interest or lobbied interest; their only interest is for their own long-term survival—for their race.

Aside from the elimination of the small pox virus, has there ever been another altruistic drive to benefit human life since then?

For being able to pull together for the benefit of the greater common good, these aliens deserve any respect or solace given to them. They may not be human-like in any physical, cultural, or governmental regard, but their actions and ambition definitively echo what’s best of who we ought be.

The Big Drawer (shortstory, 1994) – Riku Onda (3/5)

Synopsis: Mitsunori has the incredible ability to memorize everything he ever reads, including sheet music—but everyone in his family can do that—; however, he is forbidden to reveal their family secret to anyone. As his parents prepare to sift through their stored information while in a self-induced coma, the boy experiences his first boom, or a sudden realization of reality. As he kneels next to a dying man, he witnesses the man’s lifetime of tribulations. Come the man’s funeral, Mitsunori aims to put things right. 16 pages

Pre-analysis: The traditional view of intelligence is based on book knowledge, that a good student who earns high marks is generally regarded as an intelligent person. I like to think they “play school” well. I’ve known some school-smart people in my life; people who could easily pass a prepared test with some studying… yet they would easily fall victim to the most blatant scam on the street. Street-smart and school-smart aren’t the only kinds of intelligence though. We would need to look at knowledge and wisdom to understand more about humans and information—knowledge is static and quantifiable; wisdom is fluid and dynamic.

Analysis: Mitsunori’s parents are terribly proud of their ability to remember and recall. The boy knows that he has also has the ability, but hasn’t reach the age of maturity where it begins to affect him. His parents demand that they move around a lot so as to evade suspicion due to their supernatural gift. Mitsunori is a good student, but he’s also a good boy. When he experiences the death of the man, he does more than store the knowledge—he uses the man’s knowledge to mend the man’s history of family misunderstandings. Where his parents were proud of their knowledge, Mitsunori can now be proud of his wisdom.

Emanon: A Reminiscence (shortstory, 1979) – Shinji Kajio (5/5)

Synopsis: Scorned by age-long unreciprocated love, a young man steels himself against further pain from raw emotional wounds. On a 17-hour ferry ride, a beautiful girl befriends him. As they begin drinking beer together, she shares her “believe it or not” story. The man, being a fan of SF, takes her story to heart and analyzes it for relevance: Though her body is young, her mind contains the memory of three billion years of direct evolution. As he wakes, she is gone. Thirteen years later, their mutual memories of each other linger. 17 pages

Analysis: Before the age of social media, you never knew anyone virtually—everyone you knew was direct (family and friends) or indirect (friends of friends or distant relatives). If you wanted to find someone you didn’t know well, you either used the white pages or asked around. If you met someone in passing while on holiday or in transit, that person would likely be lost to you forever, leaving only the tenuous memory. When that person made an impression on you, the mark was indelible and the memory could remain vivid, regardless of never having met again (wouldn’t they love to know of that indelible imprint that has been carries around for years or decades?). It sucks to linger on what could have been, but only the human mind can attempt to grasp at the impossible.

Our ability to ponder what could have been has created the genre of SF—or what could be. The lonely man in the story is a fan a SF, so he knows all too well what could have been and what could be. After meeting Emanon (“no name” spelled backwards), he dwells on his stagnant longing for the girl. He mulls her unreal story of having the memory of three billion years of evolution and tactic knows one thing: she’s out there, she’s real, and he loves her. Yet, his longing has limited his mind from what could be to what should have been.

When, finally, the man meets Emanon again, she isn’t as he had expected and the impression he had made wasn’t as tenuous as he had expected: “[H]alf an hour or a few decades, it’s all the same … either is but an instant” (103).

Midst the Mist (shortstory, 2007) – Koji Kitakuni (4/5)

Synopsis: Lee’s a seasoned investigator while Sakaguchi is the novice, both of who discover a dog axed to death. A nearby cowbarn raises their suspicions, so they drive to the homestead where a family of three are about to sit down to dinner. Lee asks detached questions to the man, which makes Sakaguchi uncomfortable. When the man accepts and chews a piece of pre-chewed gum, Lee shoots the man’s face off and runs to kill his wife. Meanwhile, Sakaguchi holds the boy, hoping he isn’t one of them, too. 18 pages

Pre-analysis: I remember once reading, long ago, that there were many types of love, not just the four, five or six attributed to the Greeks. If a modern word like love can be analyzed and broken down into constituent parts and contextual use, it clearly isn’t the simple, pure emotion we think it to me.

On the opposite side of the coin, there is hate. If love can be divided into types, surely hate, too, can be divvied up… or are we too proud of love to treat it like hate? Is the word so loathsome that it shouldn’t be treated like its opposite emotion?

As there are different realms of love/hate, there are also different degrees of love/hate. Each can span the spectrum from passive to active or maniacal to peripheral, but when the love/hate becomes logical, it transcends its own definition.
Analysis: The premise of the story is that an insect-like alien species has invaded Earth and taken control of their human hosts, simply for sake of their own survival. Because of their willing inflicted harm on humankind, they exhibit a kind of hate—an active yet tame hate. Meanwhile, Lee is an investigator who relishes hunting down and killing these human hosts and, thereby, the alien parasites—his hate is active and borderline maniacal. His partner, Sakaguchi, is shocked by Lee’s aggressiveness, only going through the motions by following Lee—his hate is passive and tepid. Toward the end of the story, Sakaguchi’s passive form of hate morphs into an active form of love.

The Man Who Watched the Sea (novelette, 2002) – Yasumi Kobayashi (5/5)

Synopsis: The region called Mountain holds a festival every year in which they parade around floats pulled by members of the village. Each year, many people make the trek from the region called Shore to see the exhibition; this is when boy meets girl. As she departs, she promises to return “next year”, but she fails to remember that each region—Mountain and Shore—have different temporal speeds. Through their respective telescopes, the girl lives very slowly while the boy lives very quickly. Eventually, they reunite only to separate once again to experience the pain of departed love. 22 pages

Pre-analysis: We all have the story of the one that got away or what could have been. Like Kajio’s short story “Emanon: A Reminiscence” (1979), a boy quickly falls in love with a girl after a brief but memorable first meeting, only to be separated by time and longing. Almost all emotions can be summarized into a few words at least pictured in a facial expression, but love is the only one that escapes definition, never mind that the Greeks could number the types of love. No one can tell you what it is, only what it feels like—a rough analogy, a logical exploration/explanation of the purest emotion. Again like the Greeks, this love change; in this case, it’s a change from longing to appreciation.

Analysis: In Kaijo’s story, the pang of love is one of separation by time. Here in Kobayashi’s story, however, the boy and girl are separated by more than just time, and even beyond the fundamental natures of time and space, but also by parental chiding—the live apart, they live at different speeds, so their lives are incompatible. Regardless of their differences, they still seek each other out in order to fulfill their emotional motivations. When thy reunite, it’s a bittersweet moment as they know they must leave one another yet again, a division of space and time.

Here, again like Kaijo’s conclusion of a timeless kind of love, the boy gets to realize that the girl’s love is timeless, too, in one sense. In Kaijo’s conclusion, the love the two had shared is carried by the woman through time as an indelible memory of an immortal soul—the relic of their love is a timeless memory. This is similar to Kobayashi’s conclusion, though the memory of their love isn’t an intangible memory; rather, the relic of their love is a light that everyone can see; though this light is visible to all, it’s the boy who knows the source and meaning of the light.

Melk’s Golden Acres (shortstory, 2006) – Nobuko Takagi (3/5)

Synopsis: The Melk Abbey has a long and rich history amid the vineyard it’s surrounded by, yet it’s the library that holds the abbey’s true historical wealth in the centuries’ old documents and frescoes. Also, there’s an emotional element with the placement of the window and the security of the rhombus of sunlight as the only sense of warmth. Seeing a red vase in the fresco, a visitor is made aware of a woman standing behind the same vase. The old man spins a story of having the woman as his wife and growing a vineyard together. 18 pages

Pre-analysis: Thailand is a place studded with ancient history with its well-manicured temples from days of yore—stoic monoliths of erect stone and receding mazes of ruddy rock. Walking amid the temples, upon the stairs, across the lawn, and through the doorways, one can’t help but think of who inhabited this plain—What lives did they lead? What sorrows had they experienced? What joys did they share?—and how it affected the city. The all the people have passed away from this once great city, do their emotions still course through the porous rock? Surely, any region on this earth can offer a similar experience, such as the German abbey in “Melk’s Golden Acres”.

Analysis: An idle mind can create a focus for its stirring prowess; these objects of focus can become idols or obsessions. As minutes whittle away, so too do the hours, days, and years, the focus of the mind makes this object a center point of its existence. If intangible emotion can be imprinted into something tangible, surely the age-long fixation of an idle mind could effuse the sensation into the very walls, the very fresco that had held its attention for so long. Could it effuse so much of its own vitality to imbue volition upon the once static image? It would take a rather fragile mind or an incredible mind to believe that its object of obsession had come to life.

Q-Cruiser Basilisk (novella, 1984) – Koshu Tani (4/5)

Synopsis: Aboard the Gurkha 107, Ozaki is just a lackey with a few of the other crew. When they get a call to intercept a fast-traveling object in the Sirius system, they discover the Basilisk, last seen in the year 2100. The mystery is how it came all the way to Sirius with its weak propulsion. As a lackey, Ozaki is volunteered to investigate the ship’s interior, where he finds a log. In this log, the ship’s demise during the war is chronicled as well as the captain’s bizarre experience outside of Sol’s system. 48 pages

Pre-analysis: This is a hard-SF story that offers to simply tell its story in the most direct manner possible; while it may have the least overtones of emotion, theme, or moral, it does contain some elements that I identify as intrinsically Japanese.  Usually, an overarching theme is obvious or subtle, yet it tends to percolate eventually. With “Q-Cruiser Basilisk”, I had to dig a few layers deep to find an appreciable theme and the one which I found is as noble as the others.

Analysis: As mentioned in the synopsis, Ozaki is just a simple lackey on the ship. When the ship approaches the mysterious derelict of Basilisk, the skipper—Ming—sends his lackey into the face of danger while he’s safely secured in his own ship. Ozaki knows his lowly place and so ventures into the dislocated and ancient craft to find about its origins. This is Ozaki’s story, but within the ghost ship of Basilisk, he finds another story.

A ghost ship, like the Flying Dutchman or the Basilisk, is a relic of the past. It’s an island into itself, a separated body untouched by the recent past. While some ghost ships are mere days, weeks, or months old, the Basilisk is an ancient relic some-150 years old. Its physicality is a relic, but so are the cultural norms that it used to carry with its living crew. The story that surfaces from a document found by Ozaki highlights that key cultural norms have changed in regards to hierarchical obligation.

Nils Hellner was the last survivor of his ship, he the Master and Commander. Early in his crew’s campaign to avoid capture, Nils had the judgment call to escape straight out into open space with suspended hope for rescue; sadly, for the crew, the judgment was flawed and their hopes quashed. As their hopelessness persists, they realize they need to maintain focus, so they continue to shoulder the yoke of duty as they stay busy taking measurements of space with various instruments. Eventually, they also realize that their individual lives mean very little and that their collective continuance must endure; therefore, sacrifices must be made. As Nils has relieved their crew of official duty, they make decisions based on honor rather than duty. By ones and twos, the crew off themselves through the airlock leaving Nils the singular soul on board; the remaining oxygen, provisions, and space are all his. With his enduring solitary life, the crew invested the shared hope for their story to be known.

As Ozaki finishes reading the Basilisk’s tale of heroism and sacrifice, the skipped of his own ship yanks them from their duty. They must abandon the derelict ship, forever leaving its story and solitary crew to drift through open naked space, its story never told, its sacrifices never shared. Instead of respecting the noble crew and their sacrificial efforts, Ozaki’s skipper decides to cut loose and fly off toward another emergency, one that reeks of self-interest, convenience, and egoism.

Mountaintop Symphony (novelette, 1989) – Norio Nakai (4/5)

Synopsis: Higashikoji Kojiro wrote a symphony once, but it took him eighty-three years of relentless copying from the music in his mind. It filled over one hundred warehouses and only began to see the light when Ujihara Tamotsu urged that the symphony be played in its entirety, which may last as long as ten thousand years. A mountaintop amphitheater was constructed and the eight daily orchestras have been playing for over a hundred years without pause. Now, the 800-Person Movement approaches but no one is quite ready for it. 27 pages

Pre-analysis: Most people can’t draw, paint, sing, or write worth a damn; their creativity is limited to making lines at the Apple store during a product launch. Not all of us can be gifted in any of the arts (while I love to write, I don’t have the time, patience, or talent). There are a few things I love and would love to be included in organizing a event for any of them: running, craft beer, science fiction, and teaching. If I were to organize an event for any of those, I would feel privileged to work among other fans/aficionados/professionals toward making an event we would be proud of. We’ve all probably even volunteer and end up losing a bit of our own money just for the sake of doing it right.

Then there are those events that are organized by others, like a 5km race organized by bureaucratic university heads or a local craft beer festival organized by an art gallery (speaking from my experience in August, actually). How can you fluff up something as simple as serving beer? The love obviously wasn’t there; more likely, the all-holy dollar signs (or, here, the basking radiance of the baht) influenced their every move.

Analysis: Be it solos or ensembles, the musicians of the neatly-infinite symphony all know their parts. Each cherishes their part with their very heart, reveling in the sense of community (with fellow musicians) and the project (with time, itself). However, due to their level of direct involvement, they don’t have the necessary time to organize themselves on the more general level, like preparing for the mass ensemble. Along each of the bureaucratic steps toward achieving the ensemble, their progress is snared because of human error (the transcriptions), human limitations (the 800-shaku instrument), or human indecisiveness (the amphitheater).

As each of these parts was not headed by musicians that were directly involved in the playing of the symphony, each part resulted in it being fuddled one way or another. While the playing of the music is a well-polished clock face, the scene behind the music is a tumult of springs and gears, each with an increasing fallacy of what we call human error. The 10,000-year symphony could very well be completed by immortal human musicians, but the only snare in their plot is the organization, an organization by outsiders likely to throw a spanner into the gear works.

Open Up (shortstory, 2007) – Akira Hori (4/5)

Synopsis: Their ship entering the warp channel with its inertial drive, a pilot feels the twinge of a bowel cramp and, thus, enters the toilet. Being the only person aboard, they are quite surprised to hear a knock at the bathroom door. Inside, they ponder upon the spaceman’s tale of the “space doppelganger” when in the warp channel, a similar yet sinister ponderment of the same pilot just outside the bathroom door, who hears someone within. They each consider a stowaway; each considers themselves as Schrödinger’s cat. 4 pages

Pre-analysis: I remember when I was young—around 13 or 14—when I tried an experiment. While looking at strangers passing by, I tried to think of my father as a stranger: What if he were just another face? What would he look like? Would he look like Dad? To my astonishment, I was able to see his face as not my father’s. I remember a warm wave of reality like a tide rush over my mind, yet without the foam of uncertainty… only the wet settling of experience. It’s hard to put into words as it was an absolutely jarring moment that I’ve never been able to verbalize, but since then, it has put so many thoughts about perception in my mind: objectiveness, aesthetics, and love among them.

As a science fiction reader, many parallels of the same theme have crossed my mind: What if I see myself on the street? What if I wake up next to myself? What if I had an hour to spend with my exact twin? What if see my female counterpart? All are variations of impossible speculation, yet the shadow of the thought remains. Thankfully, speculative fiction addresses these same questions in different lights, yet they all share the same form of shadow: What would happen when confronted with my counterpart?

Aside: The synopsis skirts the narrator’s gender as it’s unmentioned in the story. So, for the sake simplicity, I will assign the male gender (though any would be equally as valid).

Analysis: The narrator stands on a fulcrum between two counterweights: himself as functionally human (in the bathroom, as human nature has intended) and himself as conceptually human (in the cockpit, as human society has dictated). As he faces the impossibility of confronting himself, which form of self will continue to exist and which will vanish from reality? According to Schrödinger’s experiment, there’s a 50% chance that either will occur… but what if, when confronted with the actual situation of confronting one’s own doppelganger, that subconscious impetus could push probability beyond the precipitous bell curve? When the conscious choice must be made, would you identify yourself as a flesh-and-bone human prone to error and luck, or would you identify yourself as role-and-command pilot adaptive to pitch and speed?

Perspective (shortstory, 1982) – Yuko Yamao (4/5)

Synopsis: From a vantage point of a stone cell, other stone cells wrap around from the right all the way around to the left; below, more floors of cells and the Perspective; above, more floors of cells and the Perspective. The world within the Sausage Universe is all the inhabitants know—the stone walls belong to them and the vast space between the cells belongs to the passing sun, moon, and the comical Gods upon the cloud. With no knowledge of their history or of their destiny, myths are abound and hope clings to mere whims. 21 pages

Pre-analysis: Some people never leave their country, state, or town as they’re content with what they have, what they see, and who they are. Anyplace could be the setting for someone with such a narrow perspective. Regardless of the internal comings and goings, regardless of all the news from afar, regardless of the crazy transients, the so-called content seem to be more deprived than happy. Do caged birds sing because they miss the freedom of flight, or it is a voice of deprivation?

Analysis: When the world you have always known as an insular and hermitic as the Sausage Universe, there is very little to ignite curiosity. Through the shared come the Sun, the Moon, and the only oddity in an otherwise odd universe: The Celestial Family upon the Cloud with it mechanical comedy. But none of this is odd because it’s all they now between the walls of their lives—the physical confines of their universe. Imagination has only two directions, which might as well be the same direction because they offer the same perspective: up and down. Those who venture the climb are none the wiser.

The conclusion offers a fatalistic result of being confined to a closed system: a slow decay where the very core consumes itself. As the body itself cannot survive on sunlight alone, not can the Sausage Universe survive on repetition alone. Knowledge of its extremes simply limits its possibility of infinity, progressively making it more like a closed system than ever before; names and numbers only reinforce its confines.

1957: The Third Level (Finney, Jack)

Of time-travel, popular love, and the NYC 9-to-5 (4/5)

Jack Finney was a science fiction and popular fiction writer whose works have been made into movies, TV series episodes, and a TV movie. His most notable works are The Body Snatchers (1955)—alien spaceborne spore progressively replace humans—Assault on a Queen (1959)—a robbery is pulled aboard a ship—, and Time and Again (1970)—a man time-travels to 1882 NYC via hypnosis... none of which I've read or seen.

Most stories in this collection follow Time and Again. Regarding time travel, there are two general themes: a strong pull of nostalgia (“The Third Level”, “I’m Scared”, and “Second Chance”) and a return to simple times (“Such Interesting Neighbors” and “Of Missing Persons”). Aside from the broad time-travel theme, there are also themes of popular love versus personal love (“Something in a Cloud” and “A Dash of Spring”) and the struggle of the NYC salaryman (“There Is a Time…” and “Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets”). The remaining three stories are whimsical more than literary.


The Third Level (short story, 1950) – 4/5
Charley is no stranger to Grand Central Station, yet he still finds long unfamiliar passages to some of New York’s destinations. His most unusual and unexpected adventure was finding the third level of train platforms after a walk down a dark and winding tunnel. Everything was old-fashioned and a newspaper read 1894, so he wanted a ticket to Galesburg, Illinois. His currency denied, Charley tells his psychologist of the plans and daydreams for his return. 6 pages

Such Interesting Neighbors (short story, 1951) – 4/5
The new neighbors look pretty swanky with their new clothes and new furniture, but they also seem out of place because the man fumbles with the change in money; regardless of their peculiarities, they say they’re American through and through. The man is a curiosity as he invents simple gadgets, accurately predicts news items, and has written a science fiction “story”: in the future, people hate living in fear and turn toward their cheap time-travel machines for escape. 20 pages

I’m Scared (short story, 1951) – 3/5
It’s 1955 and, while listening to his radio as he reads a books, one man realizes that the broadcast he had just heard was most likely from twenty years prior. He shares his odd story only to discover that other similarly odd stories of time displaced. Numbering in the tens then hundreds, each New York story features a person or item transported back in time without any reason. Being an old man with a subjective eye of the past, he thinks he knows the reason. 17 pages

Cousin Len’s Wonderful Adjective Cellar (short story, 1948) – 4/5
Cousin Len scours pawnshops for oddities and eventually comes across an adjective cellar. As a writer with a frustration for writing clearly for his personal nature magazine, he sees the device as some use. When he applies it to his verbose, over-the-top sentences, most adjectives and adverbs disappear, resulting in a very clean piece, which his readers love. When he empties and disposes of the adjectives, one accidental victim of the dust speaks eloquently. Next, the US Senate! 4 pages

Of Missing Persons (short story, 1955) – 4/5
Charley is discontent with the world and his menial job, droll life, and fear of modern times. A concerned man directs him to the Acme Travel Bureau where an agent will eventually discuss the Folder. The agent plies that it’s all a fanciful joke, but Charley is assured that it is, indeed, all real: instant transport across the stars to a bucolic planet where you can be yourself. He immediately accepts and it taken to a countryside barn. Inside, he and others await the trip, only him impatient. 20 pages

Something in a Cloud (short story, 1949) – 3/5
Fresh off the navy ship and entering Penn Station in New York, Charley has big eyes and a big dream for Annie Beasley, who was suggested to him by a fellow seaman. When he hears her voice over the phone, instant thoughts of Hollywood beauty fill the thought-cloud above his head; meanwhile, Annie too has Hollywood glamour in her thought-cloud. As their point of meeting, their warped thoughts of each other distract them from reality, for better or worse. 17 pages

There is a Tide… (short story, 1952) – 5/5
An assistant sales manager for a candy and cough syrup company despises his superior, Ted Haymes. The unnamed man has a heartless scheme to unseat Ted so that he can sit in the position of responsibility, yet he lacks the conviction to follow through with it. As he mulls this over in the high New York apartment, he sees a ghost at the window who also seems to contemplate something. Interested in the truth, the man tracks down the apartment’s history and finds a story of resentment. 21 pages

Behind the News (short story, 1952) – 3/5
Johnny is the heir and editor of a small town weekly newsletter in which he enjoys printing absurd and whimsical tales of the police chief. When he adds a special paperweight to the ink reservoir, something miraculous or highly coincidental happens: the police chief was actually bitten on his bottom by a Dalmatian, just like he had written. Further absurd stories, however, don’t occur, so he keeps them realistic and soon the world—for his town to his country—is changing. 18 pages

Quit Zoomin’ Those Hands Through the Air (short story, 1951) – 2/5
A young Calvary soldier us recruited during the Civil War by his major, also a Harvard professor. Their aim is to destroy the Confederate army through the use of fantastic futuristic weapons. As they time-travel to the Smithsonian in Washington, they pass a metallic tank in favor of the Kitty Hawk. Transporting it back to the past, the two test it out to much mirth and fright. Rather than bomb, they do reconnaissance with a jug of whiskey. 20 pages

A Dash of Spring (short story, 1957) – 5/5
Ralph Shultz and Louie Huppfelt both read the same love story from the same magazine and have the same thought about it: real life never matches fictional life. When the two have a chance encounter on the same bus, they both botch their respective roles in what could have been. Separately, they regret their actions of hastiness yet find another opportunity on the bus. It starts awkwardly but when they realize they have both read the story, they’re taken. 13 pages

Second Chance (short story, 1956) – 3/5
A boy tends to only one love in his life at a time, and this senior high school boy has a love for the classic Jordon Playboy car. Though it’s thirty years out of date by modern standards and battered and rusted, he devotes his time to restoring to it to its original luster. Without a care, a penny, or a girl, he takes to the abandoned road to feel the breeze, only to experience a literal trip to the past in which his car is seemingly stolen. Back in his time, his heart wanders aimlessly. 20 pages

Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets (short story, 1956) – 3/5
Tom once had a brilliant business idea for supermarkets and after months of research with painstaking notes, he’s ready to type up his findings for a serious career move. On the same night, his wife decides to go to see a double feature, but Tom decides to get his work done alone. As she shuts the door behind her, the key piece of paper blows out the window onto the ledge outside of his New York apartment. Stepping out of the window, he realizes he’s gone too far and can’t get back through the window. 21 pages