Tag: "Japan"

EP407: Mono No Aware

by Ken Liu
Read by John Chu

Links for this episode:

About the Author…

I’ve worked as a programmer and as a lawyer, and the two professions are surprisingly similar. In both, one extra level of indirection solves most problems.

I write speculative fiction and poetry. Occasionally, I also translate Chinese fiction into English.

My wife, Lisa Tang Liu, is an artist. I’m working on a novel set in a universe we came up with together.

Things I like: pure Lisp, clever Perl, tight C; well-designed products, the Red Sox; sentences that sound perfect in only one language; math proofs that I can hold in my head; novels that make me quiver; poems that make me sing; arguments that aren’t hypocritical; old clothes, old friends, new ideas.

Labels that fit with various degrees of accuracy: American, Chinese; Christian, Daoist, Confucian; populist, contrarian, skeptic, libertarian (small “l”); a liminal provincial in America, the New Rome.

About the Narrator…

John designs microprocessors by day and writes fiction by night. His work has been published at Boston Review, Asimov’s and Tor.com. His website is http://johnchu.net

 

Mono no Aware
by Ken Liu

The world is shaped like the kanji for _umbrella_, only written so poorly, like my handwriting, that all the parts are out of proportion.

My father would be greatly ashamed at the childish way I still form my characters. Indeed, I can barely write many of them anymore. My formal schooling back in Japan ceased when I was only eight.

Yet for present purposes, this badly drawn character will do.

The canopy up there is the solar sail. Even that distorted kanji can only give you a hint of its vast size. A hundred times thinner than rice paper, the spinning disc fans out a thousand kilometers into space like a giant kite intent on catching every passing photon. It literally blocks out the sky.

Beneath it dangles a long cable of carbon nanotubes a hundred kilometers long: strong, light, and flexible. At the end of the cable hangs the heart of the _Hopeful_, the habitat module, a five-hundred-meter-tall cylinder into which all the 1,021 inhabitants of the world are packed.

The light from the sun pushes against the sail, propelling us on an ever widening, ever accelerating, spiraling orbit away from it. The acceleration pins all of us against the decks, gives everything weight.

Our trajectory takes us toward a star called 61 Virginis. You can’t see it now because it is behind the canopy of the solar sail. The _Hopeful_ will get there in about three hundred years, more or less. With luck, my great-great-great-I calculated how many “greats” I needed once, but I don’t remember now-grandchildren will see it.

There are no windows in the habitat module, no casual view of the stars streaming past. Most people don’t care, having grown bored of seeing the stars long ago. But I like looking through the cameras mounted on the bottom of the ship so that I can gaze at this view of the receding, reddish glow of our sun, our past.

#

Book Review: “Soft Apocalypse” by Will McIntosh

Apocalypse fiction has been around for many years, usually in the form of a cataclysmic event — asteroid impact, nuclear bomb, giant space squid — that destroys a good chunk of the entire planet and leaves the survivors to fend for themselves in a world gone mad.

But after reading Will McIntosh’s new novel Soft Apocalypse, I can tell you that sitting in the belly of an intergalactic Sarlacc might actually be better than the road we’re on now.

Soft Apocalypse is the story of Jasper, a college graduate with a sociology degree, no job, and nowhere to live. While that does sound like the fate of many liberal arts majors these days*, where Soft Apocalypse differs is that it begins in 2023, ten years after an economic depression that has left 40 percent of Americans unemployed. The story begins in Metter, Georgia, about half a centimeter** east of the midpoint between Macon and Savannah, where Jasper and what he calls his tribe are harvesting wind energy from cars passing on I-16***. A policeman drives the tribe away, and after a short while they end up in Savannah, where Jasper grew up.

But this is not the Savannah you and I know, or the Savannah you saw in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. No, just like larger cities, Savannah is in the midst of its own troubles. Jasper gets a job at a convenience store and a house with his friends Colin and Jeannie, and he starts trying to eke out a life during this soft apocalypse.

As the novel progresses, Jasper does things that we might, in saner times, say that no human should be forced to do. He changes residences, lives as a nomad in east Georgia, falls in love with a woman who is extremely wrong for him — and everyone else — and is forced to watch a friend die in a scene that is both hideous and inventive.

To my mind, the main theme of the novel is “just how much of your civility are you willing to hold onto when no one else is civilized?” Most of us have said we’d be willing to kill to protect those we love, or if we were forced into a kill-or-be-killed situation, but for Jasper it’s harder than he expected. Still, he’s pretty lucky, compared to people who’ve succumbed to manufactured diseases, gangs, drugs, or even simple starvation. And he has friends, too — friends like Cortez, a fighting man and natural leader, and Ange, his off-again-on-again lover.

McIntosh projects the future of Soft Apocalypse in a thoroughly realistic fashion, and although world events occur relatively tangential to Jasper — they don’t really affect him as much as local ones like the Wal-Mart closing, but then, how many of us**** feel like the tragedies in Japan or New Zealand, or the regime change in Egypt and the unrest in Libya, really have an impact on our lives? Most Americans wouldn’t even know something was happening in Libya if it wasn’t making it more difficult to fill our gas tanks (or if their favorite Monday night shows hadn’t been pre-empted by the President on March 28). The future of Soft Apocalypse is much harder than anything we’re going through now*****, and McIntosh acknowledges that while also making some so-obvious-it’s-hard-to-see commentary on the present. (He has a great line about starving people, expensive cars, and oil.)

Overall I found Soft Apocalypse to be an engrossing read, as well as a fast one — I read 60 percent of it on a plane flight to Minnesota****** — and I attribute the latter to a combination of good pacing and the story’s ten-year timeline. Though it’s not a happy book, there are moments of win peppered throughout, and the ending is both satisfying and thought-provoking in exactly the same way the rest of the book is.

How far would you go to protect your tribe? Maybe after reading Soft Apocalypse, you’ll think a little harder before you answer that question.

Note to Parents: this novel contains explicit language and graphic violence, as well as sex, occasional torture, and mature themes. I don’t recommend it for anyone younger than 15, and only to highly mature teenagers between 15 and 18. Of course, you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children.

Special thanks to Night Shade Books for providing a review copy.

* I know, I know, low blow. But I’ve worked in academia and employment and let’s just say the prospects aren’t good.

** According to Google Maps on my phone.

*** I’m not really sure how much they’d be getting. I’ve been on 16, and there were very few cars. My guess is that people were commuting from Macon to Savannah.

**** By “us” I mean the average American citizen, not the average sci-fi consumer, who is generally more in-tune with world events.

***** Interestingly, many of the difficult lessons Jasper and his tribe learn are covered in Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love, under the “things every man should be able to do” heading.

****** Don’t worry; I won’t make you do a word problem. It’s about three hours of air travel from Atlanta to Minneapolis, but since I read on my iPad I can only use it at safe cruising altitude, or on the ground. I read the 60 percent noted above in about two hours. For reference, you can figure out how fast I read when I say that I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 5.5 hours.

EP266: Kachikachi Yama

By: Michael R. Underwood
Read by: Lauren Harris of Pendragon Variety Literary Magazine Podcast
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Michael R. Underwood
All stories read by Lauren Harris
Rated R: For sexual situations and violence

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 258: Raising Jenny.
  • Next week… We leave earth for a new planet!

Kachikachi Yama
By Michael R. Underwood

The howl of the northbound train builds in crescendo as I stand on the ledge of the platform and hold the man above the tracks.  He flails at me.

The Shikoku station is far from empty.  Groaning bodies dot the otherwise hospital-clean platform. A group of fleshmodded Gothic Lolita girls watch us.  They look on with inhumanly white faces and void-black eyes.  Twig-thin arms down to their knees wave in the wind. He begs.

My _denkigami’s_ polite but insistent voice chirps in my head.  _“Yamagata-sama orders the target to be eliminated.”_ Spirit of the fleshware machine in my brain, my _denkigami_ is a constant companion, and keeper of my leash.

The roar of the train grows louder, and bells ring in the station.  The man pleads for his life.  The train’s lights appear from around the around the corner.

Keep reading…