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Excerpt from AUTOMATIC EVE

“A dark and fascinating meditation on what makes us human–think Blade Runner, but set in the Floating World of Edo Japan. Plus sumo wrestling!”—Molly Tanzer, author of Vermilion and Creatures of Will and Temper

“Amazing,” he said. “Kyuzo can even re-create memories in his automata?”

He sat down beside her and examined her face closely, noting the concern in it. He touched her cheek. It was as soft as a mochi rice cake, and he saw the downy fuzz on her skin, dazzling white

as the sunlight caught it. No matter how he tried, he could not convince himself that she was a creature of springs and gears like the macaw at Kyuzo’s mansion.

Could she actually be real?

He began to nurse this suspicion a while after they moved in together. But there was one thing he didn’t understand: how she could be identical to Hatori. Unless Hatori had a twin sister he

had been unaware of, he could not see the Eve who stood before him as anyone other than Hatori herself.

When he asked Eve directly, she insisted that she was nothing but an automaton made in Hatori’s image. But even when they shared the bed at night, she gave no indication of anything but humanity, to the point that Nizaemon found it disturbing. This led him to wonder where exactly Hatori had gone and what she was doing with the freedom he had given her.

Abandoning his resolution to make a clean break, refrain from looking for her, and comfort himself with Eve alone, he hired someone to search for her.

They found nothing. His suspicions grew stronger.

#

Without telling Eve, Nizaemon went to visit the Thirteen Floors.

Hatori’s old room was now used by her former attendant Kozakai, who had since graduated to full courtesan. Nizaemon bought her attentions for the evening.

“You mustn’t sneak around behind Hatori’s back, Niza,” she said, looking surprised but not entirely unhappy to see him. She leaned into him with a flirtatious smile, perhaps remembering how freely he had spent as Hatori’s client.

But Nizaemon had other intentions.

“Do you know the man Hatori was in love with?” he asked her. Seeing that Nizaemon was as single-mindedly infatuated with her old mistress as ever, Kozakai gradually abandoned the coquettish approach and looked at him with exasperation from under a furrowed brow.

“And her little toe—who did she send it to?”

At first Kozakai insisted that she knew nothing, nothing at all, but eventually she talked, although not without resistance. His sheer dogged persistence might have worn her down.

“Hatori told me not to say anything, so you didn’t hear this from me,” she began.

He nodded.

“I was the one who cut off her toe, with the help of one of the boys from our establishment. I tied it off tightly where it joins the foot and chopped it off with a single blow from a carving knife. The bleeding went on forever, and—”

“I don’t care about that,” Nizaemon said irritably. “Get to the point.”

“We put the toe in a silk-lined box and then had the boy deliver it.”

“Where?”

“You really don’t know?”

“Enough theatrics. Just tell me.”

“Kyuzo Kugemiya.”

Nizaemon was dumbstruck.

“And Hatori told you not to tell me?”

Kozakai nodded, without meeting his eyes. She had gone pale under her white makeup.

Nizaemon’s hands trembled with rage. Everything fit together now. Hatori had sent her toe to Kyuzo as the traditional sign of devotion. They had secretly been lovers all along, conspiring against him.

They had swindled him out of his priceless fighting cricket habitat, sold it to buy Hatori’s freedom, and then taken what was left as payment for an automaton they never meant to build.

Perhaps even the habitat they had sold was just another copy and the original was still in Kyuzo’s hands.

If so, Kyuzo had ended up with not only the money and the woman but the habitat as well. He must be laughing himself sick.

The memory of Hatori’s apparent humiliation at the hands of Kyuzo came back to him. He imagined them laughing together at his discomfort, and his insides boiled with fury and shame.

“Were you laughing at me with them, too?” he demanded of Kozakai.

Once the wick of his rage was lit, it was uncontrollable. No one had ever made a fool of him like this before.

Kozakai hurriedly tried to soothe his agitation. On the Thirteen Floors, to anger a customer was taboo. She could be whipped for it if word got out. Nor would she go unpunished if it was revealed that she had helped Hatori amputate a toe and send it to a customer.

But the more desperately she sought to calm him with her feminine charms, the more of Hatori he saw in her.

When he came to his senses, her bloodied form lay at his feet.

From elsewhere in the pleasure quarters, he heard the strains of a three-stringed shamisen, coquettish voices at a party. He was fortunate that he and Kozakai had been alone in the room together.

He slid his sword back into its scabbard without even shaking the blood off, then covered Kozakai’s corpse with a blanket, blew out the lamp, and quietly left the room.

Hiding his bloodstained hands in his sleeves, he descended the staircase and departed the Thirteen Floors entirely. He crossed the bridge back across the canal and began the long walk back to the city along the path between the rice paddies, trying not to be seen.

Looking back, he saw the brightly lit Thirteen Floors towering against the indigo veil of night. Beyond the railings that ringed the balconies, through the latticed windows, he saw silhouettes without number in constant motion.

When he arrived breathlessly back at the rooms he shared with Eve, she was still awake.

Her kimono was of a plainness he would never have imagined possible from the Hatori he had known at the Thirteen Floors. She wore no powder or other makeup at all, but her simple beauty was not diminished in the slightest.

Hearing him come stumbling in, she paused and looked up from her sewing. There was surprise in her expression but also a kind of sadness, as if she had already sensed something.

“I told you happiness was not in my future,” she said.

“You’re Hatori.”

“Can I not just be Eve?”

Her dark-green eyes bored into him. For a moment Nizaemon wavered.

“Does it matter exactly what I am?” she continued. “Sometimes it is better not to know what is real and what is not.”

“If you’re an automaton,” Nizaemon said, “then show me your gears.” He drew his sword and brought it down on her where she sat.

Eve did not attempt to dodge the falling blade. She only closed her eyes, as if resigned to her fate.

A cascade of gears and springs, oil and mercury instead of blood—right up to that moment, Nizaemon still had hope that this was what he might see.

But what spilled from the wound his sword made was a tide of all-too-human blood.

THE THOUSAND YEAR BEACH giveaway contest

We are back, with our latest title, TOBI Hirotaka’s The Thousand Year Beach! A story of a long-abandoned virtual reality environment—think something like a TinyMUD or Second Life, but utterly immersive—facing an invasion from inexplicable outside forces, the book is already getting a bit of a buzz. Subscription box Page Habit has selected The Thousand Year Beach as its June science fiction title and we’re looking to help spread the word further with one of our giveaway contests!

You may know the drill by now: respond to this post with a little essay, anecdote, or poem about your favorite book, comic, film, or videogame that focuses on Virtual Reality. Write it up in English, Japanese, Spanish, German, Chinese, or Greek—we ship anywhere! (But we don’t ready every language, just those listed.) On Friday we’ll pick the four answers we like best and ship out the copies.

Are you ready for some mind-blowing SF that is also a literal “beach book”? Get to commenting!

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Excerpt for SISYPHEAN

Gentle ripples rolled across the classroom window, transforming the view into something like a reflection on a watery surface. Countless homes, clinging like shellbugs to petraderm walls outside, appeared to sway back and forth. Sound waves created the illusion as they beat against the translucent peritoneum stretched across the window frame. Nor was it only the classroom window; an inaudible roar echoing up from the depths was sending vibrations through every window worthy of the name in that funnel-shaped city.

“…the complex endoskeletal structure exists apart from the exoshelleton, and at first glance appears to be entirely without purpose. In fact, I can’t see any use for it myself, and yet…”

Suspended in front of a sallow skinboard that accounted for the entire front wall of the classroom, Professor Shitadami lectured on without a pause, his head one-third the size of his entire body.

He pulled and manipulated the gutlines that hung down from the sliptrack overhead and began sliding from the left side of the skinboard to the right, moving along a spinal column that extended from one side of the ceiling to the other. From either side of his overhanging chin there protruded a hard antenna that quickly and nimbly trailed scratches across the skinboard.

Long welts swelled up along the scratches, presently embossing the skinboard with a skeletal diagram of a momonjia creature particularly in form and mysterious in its ways, even among the countless body plans and innumerable behavioral traits of its fellow petauristas. But for Hanishibe, sitting two rows from the back, everything in the tall, vertical space of the classroom was a blur, pushed from his mind by the vibrations of the silk-white city streets.

Why do I feel so uneasy? Hanishibe mouthed, not quite giving voice to the words. Descents from heaven happened all the time. His sweaty fingers crawled along the spine of his rib-bound textbook, and he took comfort in the familiar peaks and valleys of its vertebrae.

“…if you know this part? Yes, Mr. Karikomo?”

“The round bones are used as wheels or cogs. But even so, Professor, I have to think that from our standpoint, momonji are put together just a little too conveniently.”

“That’s an important point, but it’s also a question that takes us into the realm of metaphysics. If you wish to pursue it, I’d suggest you transfer to the department of theology. Now, next is Mr.…”—Professor Shitadami turned toward the students and gazed across the classroom—”Hanishibe. What is this called, and what function do you think it serves?”

Hanishibe hadn’t heard a thing the professor had said, but when twenty-three classmates turned around to look at him all at once, he realized that he had been called upon. A dazzling beam of sunlight was being reflected into his eyes off the hairless, hard, and finely cracked cranium of Yatsuo, who was sitting with perfect posture in a seat in front of him and off to the side.

There were four rows and six columns of seats, and about half of the faces occupying them were far removed from the human baseform. In the case of Monozane the Truncated Dodecahedron, who was bubbling away contentedly in an aquarium on a front-row desk, Hanishibe couldn’t even tell what part corresponded to a face.

Grandpa’s really amazing, Hanishibe thought, impressed anew by the outstanding work his grandfather did. Although humans came in all shapes and sizes, he could see right away that they were people and took measures to resurrect them.

Hanishibe was fearful that even if he did manage to become a taxonomist, he might misjudge someone and make a mistake he could never atone for. He had long had a feeling that it wouldn’t be terribly unusual if people were found among the raw materials used in the mesenchyme-wrapped bones of the chair he was sitting in or among the ingredients of the broth that today’s rhinoceros meat had been served in at lunchtime. His fear of making such errors was supposed to be why he was studying in this taxonomy department to begin with, but for some time now, Hanishibe had been afflicted by a sense of unease that he couldn’t put clearly into words and had become unable to focus on his studies.

Professor Shitadami made a coughing sound.

“Hanishibe, didn’t you hear?”

Zwee, Zu, Zwee

“He said, ‘What’s it called and what does it do?’”

“UrryUpAnAnser

“Psst! The prof’s calling you!”

Spurred on by his classmates’ whispers, he looked up at the scowling face of Professor Shitadami, suspended in midair before the skinboard. The ridges that the blood sedges formed in his forehead were pulsating furiously, as was the swollen tumor in his left cheek.

The professor’s right antenna was indicating the outline of an unassuming ossiform folded several times over, buried in the backshell ossiform beneath the momonji’s skin. It wasn’t yet listed in this year’s textbook.

Hanishibe stood up from his seat.

“It’s a wingtype ossiform,” he said. “During their descent from heaven, they deploy from the backshell ossiform and push the skin outward, forcing it to spread out and tighten, and can exhibit movements similar to those of a bird flapping its wings. It can’t fly, of course. Its original purpose, like that of the variable exoshelletons and the other unnecessary interior bones, are unknown, since the researchers are—”

Since he was just parroting what he’d heard from his grandfather, he could keep explaining for as long as anyone would listen, but the professor, with a wave of a shriveled hand that resembled some sortof dried snack, cut him off.

“Precisely. Strange though it may be, they exhibit behavior like that of a flapping wing. All we have to rely on is the Book of the Heritage of the Hereafter, but it’s believed that the phylogenetic repetition that takes place up until a human fetus takes shape—changes in form such as the appearance of gills and tails—may contain the key to unraveling this mystery.”

With perfect timing, then, a melancholy tone sounded out in the hallway. Hanishibe caught a glimpse of the “bell monitor” as he passed by the open door leading out into the hallway. With a forward-backward motion, he expanded and contracted his rust-colored, box-shaped thorax like an accordion, emitting the tone that marked the end of class.

“Well, that’s all for today. To those of you on cleaning duty: don’t forget to put ointment on the skinboard, and pay special attention to the spots that are festering. Next week, we’ll be dissecting a real momonji, so wear something you won’t mind getting dirty.”

Someone smarted off at that, asking what those who don’t wear clothes should do.

“Come prepared to molt,” the professor replied. As his students wryly grinned, Professor Shitadami shook his head from side to side, retracting his antennae. He then slid his school rulebook into his backsac, pulled on a hanging line, and descended silently to the hardbone floor, facing downward. He crawled out of the classroom on all fours like a baby.

 

Loups-Garous anime is out!

In Japan, this past Saturday, the anime of the novel Loups-Garous was released in theaters! I’m sure it’ll take, uh, minutes for it to be pirated, but if you want to play fair, why not check out the book first? Then when you do see the anime legally one of these days, you can sniff and act all superior and say, “Oh, the book was better.”

Please enjoy the trailer:

Incidentally, I just found a review of Loups-Garous in, of all places, that internal bulletin of the international ruling class, The Financial Times. It’s actually a very interesting look at several works of SF in translation available in the UK, as all our titles are. It reads, in part:

Kyogoku meditates on a society so fixated on homogeneity and surveillance that there is scant room for freedom of self-expression any more. In a sterile, anodyne urban landscape, the generation gap yawns wider than ever; old and young seethe with mutual mistrust and antagonism. The loups-garous of the title – French for “werewolves” – are wayward youths, shapeshifting from respectful obedience to untamed, psychotic ferality, breaking free from societal constraints. As such, they reflect Kyogoku’s fascination with yokai, traditional Japanese fables. In this novel and his earlier The Summer of the Ubume, he’s exploring how folkloric monsters such as ghosts and werewolves might manifest in a rational, superstition-free era.

Now that’s some reviewin’!


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