One of the best parts of Haikasoru is that the list consists of only twelve books a year. That means that I get to do books I like, and don’t have to worry about filling up the slots with something, anything, just to meet requirements. I honestly enjoy every book we’ve published so far, though I’ve enjoyed them for different reasons. Some I’ve liked because I imagined an audience finding them on the shelves—finally, hard science fiction with a romance element! Military SF that isn’t just an example of gun-Americanism. Truly strange horror.
And then there are some books that I liked for me. And one of them just arrived in bulk:
Harmony by Project Itoh.
Our official Haikasoru page isn’t up yet for Harmony, but I thought I’d tell you a bit about it anyway. It’s my favorite sort of science fiction—the social satire thought experiment. In Project Itoh’s novel, universal healthcare has been achieved, thanks to a nuclear exchange and generations of mutation and cancer. In fact, the “admedistrations” are now more powerful than nation-states, and the World Health Organization pretty much has its own military. And they all wear pink, because it’s a soothing color. Itoh himself is now sadly deceased—he died of cancer just after finishing revisions on the novel. There are discontents to even the best medical system; one cannot help but lose one’s sense of individual agency, and Itoh seems to have been mining the inevitable frustration and anxiety when he wrote Harmony.
I’m actually in favor of universal healthcare—the book isn’t a libertarian policy polemic, even as it looks as the downside of what the opponents of social democracy would call “the nanny state.” I actually read SF for more than a decade and enjoyed all sorts of “if this goes on…” style thought experiments before I finally found out that, gee, some SF writers actually thought they were Expounding on Important Themes for Thee Future of Freedom when they fretted about a grim meathook future in which the sidewalks haven’t been privatized. I thought they were just joshin’ around and having fun playing a rhetorical game, but some of those guys really meant their kooky ideas to be taken seriously!
The other hook for me is that Itoh took some innovative steps in telling the story of Harmony—many of the main character’s thoughts and memories are written in an HTML-style format. Indeed, one of the conceits of the book is that it is one single message generated in ETML (e for emotional) and is being transmitted to the reader. It made for a lot of fun to edit and layout. (We like challenges around here). And it’s a pure kick to read, especially if you like the fancy stuff. So much science fiction follows Asimov in that it valorizes the “pane of glass” no-style of writing style. Prose, in his view, should be utterly transparent, and many SF authors followed that lead. Harmony is an unapologetic example of “stained glass” writing, where the beauty of the prose comes out. At the same time, however, the book isn’t a lyrical excursion on to the far reaches of language—now that would have been murder to translate—but is actually cool and fun. The HTML gimmick transcends gimmickry; it’s stylish but also well-integrated into the narrative.
And finally, as befits an author who died too young, Harmony is the blackest of black comedies. I giggled all the way through to the end. Well, maybe through to the last page save five. Those last few are a real doozy.
So that’s Harmony—a book for me. I hope raising the freak flag will get some people to salute. It’s out next month—July 20th!