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Archive for June, 2009

Shout-out number nine!

Our pals at io9.com gave us a nice shout-out this morning. Charlie sums us up as all about killer dead frogs and time-traveling missions of unity which now makes me feel bad that I didn’t write that instead of “Space Opera. Dark Fantasy. Hard Science.” when coming up with a vision statement!

Keep watching the skies…

Battle Royale in the schools!

In addition to the new books we’re bringing out here at Haikasoru, we’re also refreshing and reissuing some hits, like Battle Royale, which will feature revised text and new content from some old friends. It won’t be out till later this year, but recent news stories about Catcher in the Rye led to me thinking about school days and school essays. So here we go—an essay I’d write today were I trapped in some junior high school somewhere.

    Battle Royale in the Schools: Will Takami’s Cult Hit Ever Be Assigned Reading?

Most of our readers will be familiar with the classics of the high school classroom: the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird, and…Battle Royale? Hey, it’s not that farfetched.

At first glance, placing Kosuhun Takami’s bloody thriller next to work like the American classic Mockingbird may sound strange. After all, one of these novels is about the political and personal awakening of an adolescent, the systematic injustice of an unfair system, and working to fight against injustice with the help of a few good friends and a competent and kind paternal figure. And that novel also became a classic motion picture. The author has yet to write anything else of length, perhaps having perfectly captured a theme the first time out. And the other book was written by Harper Lee. See, maybe not so strange.

Further, Battle Royale has an important social message—you can resist oppression. Not so Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, to which Battle Royale is often compared. In that classic, when children are sent to a desert island without the guidance of adult society, they go mad and devolve into violent barbarians. In Battle Royale, adult society is the cause of the violence, and many of the characters refuse to participate in violence, or even try to overturn the corrupt order. Those few characters that revel in the opportunity to kill, such as Kazuo Kiriyama, are depicted as mentally ill. Most people don’t have it in them to be killers, and only turn deadly when pushed to some extreme. I know which vision of human nature seems more accurate, and healthy, to me. We won’t even talk about Poe, whose tales of uncomplicated revenge and spiraling madness have been required reading for American grammar school kids for over a century. “Here you go, Timmy,” say teachers every autumn, “this will teach you how to read for thematic context, and suggest a really good way to kill your enemy and hide the body at the same time.”

Many of the kids in Battle Royale are intelligent computer hackers, virtuoso violinists, slick athletes, and kindhearted friends who watch out for one another. Much better role models than whiny ol’ Holden Caulfield, the talentless and disturbed rich kid who thinks everyone but him in a “phony.” Plus, Battle Royale actually has a plot and is relevant to today’s kids, not like Salinger’s once well-regarded novel (which has been implicated in real-life violence itself, now and again).

Finally, the works of Poe and Salinger and Golding and even Lee were once cult hits themselves. Members of the generations of teens who re-read and treasured these books grew up to be English teachers, and then in turn issued their favorite titles to the next gaggle of kids coming up through the school systems. Yesterday’s transgressive cult novel is today’s term paper assignment. And for those worried about the violence and gunplay in Battle Royale, and what that might mean for a bullied high schooler, just remember one thing: one of the best ways to make sure a kid just ignores a book is to have it endorsed by the local school board.

There! That’s a solid B- if I don’t say so myself.

The Future is Japanese (Part 2)

In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly (June 26), Ursula K. LeGuin is asked to recommend a handful of books for summer reading. On her list is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. Her comment: “You thought America won World War II? Think again!”

The Future is Japanese. Really.

io9.com, edited by my pals Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz, is one of my daily stops for science fiction news, and for keep closing tabs on whether or not Dollhouse is canceled yet. Yesterday’s feature essay When Did Japan Stop Being the Future? was especially interesting because, well, Japan is too the future, and we’ve got the novels to prove it.

It’s an interesting essay, even if Charlie should have to eat one of these

squid snack!

for every time she typed “Japanophile” when she meant Nipponophile. Geez, Louise!

Charlie is right, of course, that your basic speculative impulse in the 1980s was a future dominated by Japan. However, the Japan of American futures has about as little to do with Japan as-it-is as the color-coded velour blouses of Starfleet have to do with naval uniforms. Japan’s long recession did ease some of the anxiety many Americans experienced about the possibility of being outcompeted by the burgeoning Japanese economy and its ever-so-efficient workforce; today anxiety is about being outcompeted not on quality but on sheer price. TV and automotive production are long gone; today even “brain worker” jobs in US—coding, support desk, even some *gulp* publishing jobs—are being globalized to India, China, and elsewhere where wages are low and the labor movement weak. That a lot of these brain workers scoffed at the “stupid” and “uneducated” auto plant and steel mill workers who were displaced a generation prior is just a bit of delicious irony.

But I don’t think that Japan was eclipsed as the setting for science fictional futures because of stagflation and the rise of developing economies, but rather because Japan has simply been able to successfully compete in the cultural sphere. Japanese futures are coming from Japan. Pokemon was a cultural sensation in the US and internationally, and manga went from a small cult consumption item to a major sales center of the bookstore chains. Imagine twenty years ago walking into one of the giant bookstores and saying, “Hey, we want to sell these comics. No superheroes, and they’re in black and white and in a paperback format you’re not used to. Plus, a lot of them are for girls, who don’t read comics. Oh, and we’re gonna print them backwards so you have to read right-to-left.” That would have been sufficient cause for a seventy-two hour stay in a mental hospital. Now, you walk into a bookstore and you’ll see kids and teens in the manga section, coats and bookbags littering the floor, reading volume after volume. (That’s what the SF/Fantasy section looked like when I was a kid. Today, the SF section of the bookstores I patronize rarely have anyone under the age of thirty checking out the selections…)

That’s where the Japanese futures (and presents, and pasts) are. Outside of SF, it’s easy enough to point to programs like Iron Chef that have been imported to the US and that helped spark the recent interest in TV programs that combine formal dining and game show antics. And there’s Pocky and those photo booths that take those tiny pictures and US automakers on the verge of melting into air and and and…

and if Japan isn’t the look of America’s future anymore, it’s because we’re already living in that future. Japanese futures, well, they’re a lot like American futures. Check out our launch titles next month, and you’ll see what I mean.


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