Space Opera. Dark Fantasy. Hard Science.
What is Haikasoru?
Our Books

Science Fiction [Archive]

WINDUP MAPPER: A Conversation with Paolo Bacigalupi and Taiyo Fujii

A Conversation With Paolo Bacigalupi and Taiyo Fujii
Translated by Evan Galloway

This talk is the translation of the transcript published in SF ga yomitai! 2014 (Want to read SF! 2014, Hayakawa Publishing), of the recording for the panel at Japan SF Convention, “Koikon” on July 20th, 2013 in Hiroshima, Japan. The Windup Girl (Japanese edition) by Paolo Pacigalupi won the Seiun Award for Best Translated Long Story, 2012, and ranked in 2nd place for Best translated SF in SF Magazine. Gene Mapper was ranked in 4th place for Best Japanese SF 2013 in the magazine.

NB: During the panel, Paolo Bacigalupi spoke in English. The published transcript is in Japanese. Our translation below is a translation of the transcript, meaning that English text was translated into Japanese and then back into English. Also, Bacigalupi’s latest book is The Water Knife. We recommend it highly.


I heard that Gene Mapper is set in Vietnam. What kind of research did you do when you decided to make Vietnam the setting for your novel, Fujii-san?

Fujii: I actually spent about six weeks working in Ho Chi Minh City supporting and training local employees to use CAD tools. I didn’t particularly do any research outside of what I experienced during that time. I only visited, worked, and had the coffee.

Bacigalupi: There’s always somewhat of a culture shock when you visit a new place for the first time. When I visited Thailand, it was quite different than what I had expected it to be, so I was able to draw some amazing inspiration. For example, at the markets, I saw this strange, red, hairy fruit called a rambutan, and the moment I saw it, I knew I wanted to include it in some way in my novel. By including little details that are particular to a place like that, it helps the story feel unique.

Fujii: Indeed. I was shocked at the state of Internet infrastructure when I visited Ho Chi Minh. I included this in Gene Mapper, but they can’t use ADSL which runs off of pre-existing phone lines, so they actually run individual DSL cables to each house. You can see hundreds of these cables bundled up, running along the ceilings. Obviously, it’s very easy for them to get cut. This was part of the novel, but it’s actually how things still are over there (laughs).

Bacigalupi: I see! I find it particularly stimulating to hear these little, special differences in how we live our daily lives. They’re great to include in a story. When I was in Thailand, I was surprised to see everyone walking around outside, all of them wearing yellow…

Fujii: Ah, “Yellow Monday”! I believe they all wear yellow on Monday in order to express their thanks to the king, was it?

Bacigalupi: Yes, that’s right! I wondered how all of these people could have coordinated their outfits to be like that on the same day (laughs)! As a Westerner, it was surprising to hear of this tradition to wear a specific color on each day of the week, and it came as quite a shock to hear that one of those days was dedicated to the king. Seeing the town dyed in yellow like that really shows how much respect the Thai people have for their king much more intensely than you could ever glean from just reading that as a fact in a book. It also reinforced the importance of understanding these unique aspects of a culture and working that into a story that features that place as the setting.

Fujii: I once encountered a coup d’état and all of the participants were wearing red shirts. In that sea of red, I spotted a single American tourist wearing a yellow shirt. At first, I was worried for his safety, but the participants in the coup were actually waving at him as he took pictures! Most of them were working-class farmers or taxi drivers, so perhaps they weren’t too concerned about the rules (laughs).

Bacigalupi: Also, it seems like taxis are pink over there because pink is the queen’s color. In America, nobody has respect for anyone else (laughs), so it was really interesting to see people so highly revere those at the top. I really wanted to embed this way of thinking into the three characters in The Windup Girl.

Fujii: What really surprised me with The Windup Girl was how it was written with the idea that Thailand embraced GMOs. Back when Prime Minister Thaksin was in power, they tried to bring in GMO rice that could be harvested four times a year, but right when the contract was about to go through, there was a coup and it never happened. Ever since, the country has been quite opposed to GMOs. It was great to see that idea worked into The Windup Girl.

Bacigalupi: Thank you very much. Fujii-san, why did you decide on Vietnam for the setting for your novel?

Fujii: Earlier I had brought up the Internet structure in Vietnam, but in actuality, it’s very common for communication cables to get cut over there, which households will fix by splicing in to another family’s cable. Therefore, you can’t be sure who is actually paying for the Internet you’re using. On top of that, there are over a thousand Internet cafes and almost all of them use the same SSID for their wireless Internet, so you don’t know who could be connecting from where. Sometimes MAC addresses for the hotspots end up being the same as well, so the overall whole infrastructure there is simply put, chaotic. All of that confusion gave me some strong inspiration to come up with a situation where there might be some sort of hidden network, separate from what was originally there. That’s why I chose Ho Chi Minh City for the setting.


Bacigalupi: So what exactly inspired you to write about a “hidden network”?

Fujii: We’re going backward now, but originally, I wanted to write a story about people whose job it was to “salvage information.” That was where it started–for the profession of “info salvager” to exist, we have to take the existing network out of the picture, so we get rid of the Internet, and in its place, I put in this network called the “TrueNet.”

Bacigalupi: It’s always incredibly interesting for me to hear how people got their inspiration for writing a novel. The inspiration for The Windup Girl came from organic farming. I grew up with the hippies in the 70s, and they were terrified of Monsanto. But what is scary is also inherently intriguing, and thus, like picking at a scab, I found myself wanting to know more and more about them.

Fujii: I grew up on Amami-oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, and until I was in first grade, whenever a typhoon would hit, we’d lose all of the sugarcane. By the time I was halfway through second grade, about half of them would remain after a typhoon, and by the time I was in third grade, about 80 percent of them would survive. These little saplings would get stronger and stronger as the years went by, and I observed this with childish wonder as I realized how powerful the concept of selective breeding was. That was my first experience with science. However, those farms that couldn’t afford buying these new saplings would, just like always, have their crops blown away, and thus the roots of capitalism were planted in my young, fertile mind (laughs).

Bacigalupi: What you saw was an optimistic use of technology. It’s an intriguing observation. At a most basic level, technology itself isn’t something that can be classified as good or bad–that is decided by how we decide to utilize it. While we create plants that can survive the effects of a typhoon, we also create terminator seeds that cannot reproduce. Technology is a mirror that reflects us. Why do you choose to look at technology optimistically, Fujii-san?

Fujii: My background as a computer engineer might have influenced that. In the world of computing and software development, we reap enormous benefits from an “open source” culture. For example, I once discovered a very serious security hole and released it to the public without informing the manufacturer first. At first, many people were very angry with me, but as I continued to participate in sessions with influential software development companies, slowly but surely, things began to get better.

If you all have used Mac OS, you might be familiar with that dialog box that pops up when you download a piece of software asking if you would like to open it. I actually designed that (audience applauds). I was able to change the world, just a little bit. Perhaps experiences like that where people can make a difference in the world, albeit a slight one, are what make me optimistic about technology.

Bacigalupi: The culture of “open source” is truly an optimistic one. I can see why the characters in your story are of the same mindset as well.

Fujii: However, on the other hand, I am aware that there things that we cannot undo when it comes to technology. For me, my optimism isn’t like climbing a mountain then going back down. I think it’s more similar to the thrill of sliding your finger up the blade of a knife and stopping right before you get to the tip.

Bacigalupi: Right… if we’re talking optimism or pessimism, I think my stories tend to be more pessimistic. I think the root of it is my experience growing up in this late capitalistic period in America. Growing up, I was told how the free market is a good thing, but with a constant, ongoing focus on short-term profits, I have to wonder if we might fall into a dystopian scenario at some point.

Fujii: Is that your prediction for the future, or just a thought?

Bacigalupi: Just a thought. In science fiction, we take on topics like computing, nanotechnology, and the free market. I write about the fear we have towards those things, not a prediction of what the future might be.

Fujii: Thank you very much. Let me ask you a question, then. Mr. Bacigalupi, you have written many dystopian novels on the topics of energy, chemicals, and agriculture, but why have you not taken on the topic of war?

Bacigalupi: I’m not very interested in apocalyptic scenarios. Nuclear weapons are certainly scary, but they were created in order to induce fear. Rather than looking at the influence a single war or a single explosion can have, I think it is much more important to look at how several small decisions can gradually lead to a terrible outcome. For example, say someone built a new home in your hometown. Nobody would really take notice. But gradually, as more and more homes are built, that town becomes a big city, and people don’t realize what was lost in the process.

Fujii: I see. So, as opposed to big changes, you’re more interested in writing about small changes that pile up and change the world over time.

Bacigalupi: That’s exactly right.

Fujii: What do you think of singular events like 9/11 that have drastic worldwide impacts, then?

Bacigalupi: There are times like on 9/11 where America changes overnight. The America I grew up in was peaceful and never even thought about war. From our perspective, it is terrifying to see America now sending spies across the world, with war becoming part of its lifestyle. On the other hand, our children’s generation is living in a world where they have to think about war, and while they don’t understand what it was like for our generation, I believe they don’t fear it as much as we do.

You can apply this line of thought to environmental issues as well. There are defined points that go along with each generation, and we look at things completely differently “before” and “after” those points. I was born in a town of 1,000 people, so I know what was lost when that town grew to 2,000 people. My son, however, who was born when the town was already 2,000 people, doesn’t know what changed. As we shift from one generation to the next, the current generation loses the insight that the previous one had, and that becomes a natural thing.

Fujii: We in Japan experienced an event two years ago* where we speak of things “before” and “after” it. I believe history is made up of big changes and a succession of small changes. You write dystopian stories and I write utopian–well, not utopian stories, but stories that are an extension of the present day. It is certainly intriguing to consider their differences.

*Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011

Four Years Into The Future!

Four years ago, Haikasoru was launched. Remember our early photo essay at Borderlands Books? We released our first two titles, All You Need Is Kill and The Lord of the Sands of Time, simultaneously, and since then have greatly enjoyed bringing you the best in Japanese science fiction and fantasy. We thought we might review some highlights:

* All You Need Is Kill has to be the big news. The novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka has been adapted into the Warner Bros. film Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, which will be released in June 2014. Given the number of popular science fiction novels that have waited decades for a film adaptation, we’re thrilled to have helped with this success in just a few years. Tom Cruise is also attached to star in an adaptation of Yukikaze by Chōhei Kambayashi.

* We’ve had books nominated for, and even winning, a wide variety of literary awards. Project Itoh’s Harmony won the Special Citation for the Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback original, and Good Luck, Yukikaze won Honorable Mention in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award. Otsuichi’s ZOO was nominated for the Shirley Jackson award. Belka, Why Don’t You Bark? by Hideo Furukawa is a current SF&F Translation nominee. And, then there’s…

*The Future Is Japanese, our first anthology, requires its own award bullet point. The anthology was an experiment for us, as we published fiction by Western authors for the first time. Ken Liu’s short story “Mono No Aware” has been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Sturgeon awards. Project Itoh’s “The Indifference Engine” was nominated for a Shirley Jackson. “Autogenic Dreaming: Interview with the Columns of Cloud” by TOBI Hirotaka, is up for an SF& F Translation Award. The anthology itself, as a whole, was nominated for a Locus Award. Stories by David Moles, Catherynne M. Valente, Pat Cadigan, and Rachel Swirsky have all been selected for reprinting in various year’s best annual anthologies.

*Haikasoru editor Nick Mamatas was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Editor, Long Form in 2011. Reno is a hell of a party town.

*We’ve reached thousands of new readers thanks to mainstream recognition: Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, refurbished and dressed up for a Haikasoru re-release, moved beyond the bookstore and into airports, newsstands, and virtually everywhere else. A rave review on NPR launched Ryu Mitsuse’s Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights to the top of our personal charts. (PS: the hardcover glows in the dark!)

*We also branched out into selected tie-in work. We were thrilled to publish Project Itoh’s Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots and Miyuki Miyabe’s ICO: Castle in the Mist—these novels not only celebrated some cult classic videogames, they stood on their own as works of art.

And now, as we enter our fifth year, we’re still experimenting. We just released our first book by a Western author, Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl, and we’re hard at work on our first graphic novel. Not a manga translation, a homebrew adaptation of All You Need Is Kill is coming your way next spring. We’re also entering the field of non-fiction with a collection of essays on one of our favorite novels: The Battle Royale Slam Book!

The 2012 Haikasoru Holiday Shopping Guide

It’s nearly year’s end, and so we thought we might write about our 2012 titles, and how they’ll make great presents for your loved ones. Or, you know, for yourself. We won’t tell.

Do you or any of your friends or relatives love Godzilla? Ultraman? H. P. Lovecraft? Mythology? The TV show The Office? The zany pseudosciences of UFOs, Bigfoot and other cryptids, and such like that? Get them a copy of MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto. This book combines office hijinks with ancient monsters and some quick scientific thinking. It was also a TV show in Japan:

Also, check out the show’s closing credits:

It’s a very fun book, and a breeze to read despite the scientific speculations.

For fans of Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges, or magical realism in general, check out The Navidad Incident by Natsuki Ikezawa. The fantasy element here is light, but strange—there’s a ghost and a mysteriously busy runaway bus. This book is a sort of genre-in-the-mainstream title about the politics of the developing world in the postcolonial era. And hardcover books make for wonderful gifts. Finally, the title! Navidad, get it?

Any hardcore SF fan who wants to keep up with the new writers in the field needs a copy of our anthology The Future Is Japanese. Ken Liu’s short story “Mono No Aware” has already been selected for reprinting in an annual best-of anthology, and this book also features stories by Catherynne M. Valente, Ekateria Sedia, and top Japanese writers including Project Itoh and Issui Ogawa. The anthology got a starred review in Publishers Weekly and is acclaimed generally. If you or yours are interested in the field of SF at all, this book is for you.

Got any gamers in your family or social circle? Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots by Project Itoh is what they need. More than just a novelization by some hack, Itoh was both a hardcore fan of the Metal Gear series and one of Japan’s leading science fiction novelists. This novel is a tribute to the game.

Speaking of one of Japan’s leading science fiction novelists, Project Itoh’s Genocidal Organ is my personal favorite of the year. It’s military SF, it’s about the power of memes—not cat pictures from the Internet, but ideas and how the flit from brain to brain—and it’s a wickedly dark comedy. For fans of Itoh’s Harmony, this book details the “Maelstrom” that leads to the Utopian society of that novel. Speaking of, check out the Hungarian book trailer for Harmony:

Any friend or family member interested in the work of contemporary military SF writers like David Drake or John Scalzi, or the satirical flourishes of Kurt Vonnegut, should check out Genocidal Organ and Harmony.

Belka, Why Don’t You Bark? by Hideo Furukawa is for dog-lovers, history buffs, space buffs, and lovers of fine literature. What other book combines the secret lives of dogs with the drama of the Space Race and the world-changing events of the Cold War? No other novel, of course! Have you seen the author’s passionate readings? We’ve made two videos:


These really sum up the book in a way a blog post cannot.

Finally, out today, is Virus by Sakyo Komatsu. Komatsu is a true grandmaster of Japanese SF—he’s the author of the famed Japan Sinks, and this classic from the 1960s is a SF disaster thriller of the sort that Michael Crichton used to write. It’s a hardcover, so naturally an excellent present—if you or anyone for whom you are buying a gift loves the genreish/mainstreamish thrillers of Crichton of Stephen King or Tom Clancy (Virus includes a lot of scientific and military information) this is the book to buy this month.

So get shopping!

Cthulhu Is Japanese

This past weekend, I was the editorial guest of honor at Capclave 12, a literary science fiction convention held in the Washington D.C. area. Capclave is an old-school con—no masquerade and little hallway cosplay, no film or anime tracks, but tons of talk about books books books stories and authors and editors. So I fit right in!

Capclave is relatively small—a few hundred attendees—but is very professional, and the con attracts significant guests. Next year’s guest of honor, for example, is George R. R. Martin, who needs no introduction. There were also important guests this year: Michael Dirda of the Washington Post—the rare “mainstream” book reviewer who loves SF and writes about it frequently—appeared for example. The dealers room was quite nice—independent presses and bookstores were represented, as were gaming stores, and jewelry and apparel operations. And every attendee got a goodie bag with a free book and magazine of some sort, plus coupons to local shops. (Most smaller cons don’t do a goodie bag, so it was a pleasant surprise.)

Capclave is also a good convention to attend for anyone who aspires to be a writer, as editors and major writers appear, and there are panels oriented around writing and publishing, workshops, and plenty of time to make friends, or even, *gulp* to network. One advantage I had as guest of honor is that nobody tried to pitch me their manuscript. The only way I’m buying anyone’s novel is if they move to Japan, learn Japanese, publish in that country, and get famous over there, after all. I pity other editors who might make an appearance though!

Capclave also features parties every night, and the con is convenient to Washington D.C. tourist attractions and a decent little strip mall with a number of fast casual restaurants if one tires of hotel fare. It’s definitely worth attending, and perhaps even flying out for.

I had a great time hanging around with the author guest of honor John Scalzi (an early supporter of All You Need Is Kill and horror author Brian Keene (a lover of Otsuichi’s ZOO), and other writers as well. I gave a writing workshop on idea generation to a fully packed house, gave a solo panel about Haikasoru, where I gave away copies of Belka, Why Don’t You Bark? My sister even attended the convention, because, as she said, she “wanted to see people being nice to you.” She also brought cookies.

And treated nicely I was! In fact, here’s the ultimate symbol of honor, a handmade glass ornament made especially for me. Check it out:

Japanese-themed Cthulhu

Japanese-themed Cthulhu

As you can see, it’s Cthulhu from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft (I’m a Lovecraftian!) seeking enlightenment under the cherry blossoms, with a bottle of sake. Or perhaps it’s spinal fluid. John Scalzi received a similar gift based around some of the themes of his novels.

So definitely check out some old-school SF conventions if you have any in your area! They can definitely be as fun as an anime or manga convention, even if you’re not the guest of honor. (Though I also recommend working your way up to guest of honordom if you can.)

Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)


© 2009 VIZ Media, LLC