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A Week of Links!

It’s been quite, eh? Over at the Haikasoru Week and lots of fun was to be had.

The brand new Tow Ubukata novelette “Two Hundred Below”, a Mardock Scramble adventure, went live on Tuesday.

Wednesday saw this neat and insightful review of both Rocket Girls and Rocket Girls: The Last Planet.

And on Thursday, we had a short essay on Japanese science fiction by me.

Oh, and speaking of me, and speaking of the end of the week, the World SF Blog also encouraged Beatrice.com’s Ron Hogan to publish my interview with Cathy Hirano and Jim Hubbert. Ms. Hirano translated Dragon Sword and Wind Child and the forthcoming Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince for us, and Mr. Hubbert has been quite busy: he translated The Lord of the Sands of Time, The Next Continent, and The Ouroboros Wave for us. Gotta catch ’em all!

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Haikasoru Week at the World SF Blog

Every week is Haikasoru week at this blog, but this week it’s Haikasoru Week at the World SF Blog. Already up is an interview with me, plus we’ll be offering a brand-new Mardock Scramble novelette called “Two Hundred Below” right on the site, giving away copies of Harmony, and more! So get your bookmark clickin’ finger ready, and be sure to check out the World SF Blog every day this week!

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And the hits just keep on comin’!

Thrilled to see an in-depth review essay of Slum Online by Paolo Chikiamco over at the Philippine Online Chronicles. (That’s right, we’re international!) Paolo sums it up here:

Slum Online is about the different worlds people inhabit, and how, despite that, we can still connect to something other than ourselves.

The reviewer goes on to say that Slum Online may not actually appeal to people looking for an action-packed fight novel or for people into following characters as they solve mysteries. And he’s right. When I was “selling” this novel last year—as an editor, I write catalog copy and make up clever little “selling points” for books that are taken by the sales department who then go to our distributor who then use the same lines on bookstore buyers who, I always hope, then lay the same rap on you on individual level—I decided that Slum Online was “Catcher in the Rye with virtual karate fights.”

In a way Slum Online isn’t science fiction as it is not primarily speculative—it’s not about future technology and its impact on life. Instead it’s a technologically aware novel about the way we live now, to use the old term. So the book, despite Sakurazaka’s success in the American movie biz, was a risk. Editing can be tedious; taking the occasional risk is what keeps our blood flowing here in Haikasoruland, and of course sometimes risks pay off. I’m glad that halfway around the world someone really “got” the book, and even better, that he happens to be a book reviewer! Thanks Paolo!

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Hiroshi Yamamoto on THE STORIES OF IBIS

The fix-up novel—one created by linking together several pieces of short fiction—has a long and proud tradition within science fiction. After all, the modern genre was born not between hard covers but in pulp magazines. In Japan, short fiction remains absolutely vital and thus so does the fix-up. That Hiroshi Yamamoto is a walking encyclopedia of SF history helps a bit too. With the release of The Stories of Ibis we’re pleased to bring you some remarks from the author himself on the titular stories that make up our latest Haikasoru novel. If you want more of a taste, be sure to check out The Universe on my Hands, published by Words Without Borders late last year as part of their International SF issue! We did try to strip out as many “spoilers” as possible, but very sensitive readers might want to read with a hand clapped over one eye.

The Stories of Ibis Commentary
(excerpted from the author’s website “Hiroshi Yamamoto’s SF Secret Base”)

Ai is Ibis’s nickname. It is also I (the self), AI (artificial intelligence), i (the imaginary number) and ai (love).

The framework for this book came to me not too long after I had written “The Universe on My Hands.” Having already finished “A Romance in Virtual Space” and “Mirror Girl,” I had planned to publish these stories as a short story collection; but then I realized all of the stories were all about artificial intelligence and virtual realities, as well as being told from the point of view of the heroine. Maybe I could put them all together into one novel?

At first, I thought of arranging the stories chronologically to create one historical timeline as in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, but inconsistencies would emerge. The technology featured in “A Romance in Virtual Space” and “Mirror Girl” just didn’t line up on the same historical timeline.

Eventually, I came upon the idea that the book should be fashioned, not after The Martian Chronicles, but after The Illustrated Man—that perhaps the device of a mysterious character telling the stories to a boy would work. I gave Ibis a facial tattoo as a tribute to that book.

Originally, I had intended on a slim volume, but “The Day Shion Came” and “AI’s Story,” written expressly for the book, turned out to be so long that the two stories took up over half the book. The novel ended up being just as thick as God Never Keeps Silent. But since the stories were written with a light-novel touch (many of the stories first appeared in light novel magazines), there weren’t too many difficult parts, making for a much easier read than God Never Keeps Silent. They might be closer tonally to Robert F. Young’s romantic SF stories that moved me when I was younger. My editor saw this novel’s publication as an opportunity to tap into a female readership, but whether that will happen remains to be seen….

The stories compiled here are tearjerkers. I know because I myself cried writing them. Having Ibis say repeatedly, “This never happened in reality,” would weaken the emotional impact of the stories. It was a dangerous gamble as a writer, but I decided to use that to my advantage.

Reality is never as logical as fiction. Rarely do you see the kind of idealistic happy endings that you read in stories. There are even those who criticize stories with happy endings as “half-baked” or “unrealistic.” “That could never happen,” they say. The writer knows this all too well. This is nothing more than fiction. There isn’t a scrap of truth in it. But this writer believes there are wonderful things that only fiction can convey. If you are a lover of stories, I know you will share my belief.

“The Universe on My Hands” (First appeared in winter, 2003 issue of SF Japan)

The model for The Celestial was an actual club that I belonged to before I became a professional writer called S.S.C. The members became part of the crew of a spaceship and wrote novels and manga based on this common setting, using our character names as our pen names. It’s what’s now called a “shared world,” but the Internet didn’t exist at the time, of course, so we had to mail each other our submissions. Even so, this made for a homey and truly exciting atmosphere.

The story-within-the-story that appears in “The Universe on My Hands” was an idea I’d come up with for S.S.C. but was one of many stories that never got written. One morning, when I was lying in bed tossing around a different idea in my head, I realized I would have a pretty amazing plot by combining the two ideas. I got so excited the moment it struck me that I just about strangled my futon in a bear hug thinking, “Damn, I gotta write this thing!” So when SF Japan contacted me, I knew I had to write “The Universe on My Hands.”

The title is inspired from Frederic Brown’s short story collection Space on My Hands because the stories collected for the issue all had to borrow a title from a science fiction work from overseas. The issue also included “Captain Future and Seven Space Stones” by Taku Ashibe, “Ring World” by Giguru Akiguchi, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by Shinji Kajio, and “Destination: Universe!” by Hideyuki Furuhashi.

The first title I proposed was “Beam Us Home,” (no explanation necessary), but after learning that two of the writers involved were already using Tiptree titles, I had no choice but to change it. Oh, well, I guess anything involving Tiptree is going to be a hot contest.

“A Romance in Virtual Space” (first appeared in May 1997 issue of Game Quest)

Among all of the stories compiled for this book, this one is the oldest. The story was written to coincide with the magazine’s serialization of the role-playing game GURPS Dream Quest and as a way to introduce readers to the MUGEN Net, which would be the setting for the RPG. Unfortunately, the series never came to fruition for various reasons, and “A Romance in Virtual Space” was the only story to be published.

It is at once a traditional science fiction story about virtual reality, a saccharine love story, not to mention an odd female Tarzan story. But I rather like the sticky-sweet ending.

“Mirror Girl” (first appeared in March 29, 1999 issue of SF Online)

The seed for this story came from Ray Bradbury’s short story, “I Sing the Body Electric.” The Bradbury story focuses on an android nanny’s interactions with her young charges; when I thought about how it might be updated for modern times, this was the story I ended up writing.

“Black Hole Diver” (first appeared in October 2004 issue of The Sneaker)

I received an offer from the editors at The Sneaker, a light-novel magazine that doesn’t specialize in hard science fiction, to write a short SF story. It was rare to get an offer to write a science fiction story from anywhere other than a SF magazine. I eagerly sent the editorial department a list of possible plots.

At the top of the list were light-novel stories I’d conceived with the The Sneaker’s readers in mind, with the stories’ sci-fi elements becoming increasingly stronger as you went down the list. I put “Black Hole Diver” last on the list, thinking they would never let me write anything so hardcore. So imagine my shock when the editors chose it!

“You didn’t expect us to choose this one, did you?” the editor said to me with a laugh. Wow, he must’ve read my mind! But when I asked with some trepidation, “Would you like me to tone it down for your readers?” the reply was, “No need to hold back, write it the way you like.” Now I had to rise to their expectations! And so I was allowed to indulge my tastes and write a hard science fiction story.

Although I did, rather clumsily, sneak in a “moe” character in the form of Illy’s robot maid body .

“A World Where Justice Is Just” (first appeared in June 2005 issue of The Sneaker)

When I submitted the proposal for the hardcover publication of this book, the editors told me that they wanted to balance out the collection with one more story. I thought about it. I had already done stories about an android, the birth of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, so to come up with another story that didn’t overlap with the others…

Then I realized that I had yet to explore the idea of reality as seen from someone who lives in virtual reality. Since I had already written about the shock of discovering that you exist in a virtual reality in God Never Keeps Silent, I decided to give Saika a more defiant attitude—”So what if this world is a virtual reality!” As soon as the idea struck me, the rest of the story quickly fell into place.

I worried even after finishing the story. The first half is more of a gag story, while the second half suddenly takes a serious turn. The tonal balance was definitely odd, but because I liked both parts as they were I decided to keep them.

Reading the story over, I found myself laughing at those silly gags and getting choked up over Saeko’s last message to Saika.

The title of the story, as I was writing it, had been “The Email from the End of the World,” but when the editors told me the title lacked impact, I changed it. For a while, the new title “A World Where Justice Is Just” sounded strange, but now it seems like an appropriate title that matches the overarching theme of the novel.

Incidentally, the dynamic duo of Saika and Mafuyu wasn’t really inspired by any particular anime, but I have to say, I couldn’t help hearing the voices of Yoko Honna and Yukana, voice actors from the anime Purikua, in my head as I was writing the dialogue.

“The Day Shion Came” (written for the novel)

My wife used to be a nurse and worked at a senior nursing facility until she gave birth. After I had heard so much of her trials and tribulations at work, it occurred to me, “Maybe it would help to have a caregiver android.”

Before setting out to write, I read a lot about elder care, interviewed my wife, and visited a care facility. Many of the episodes are based on my wife’s experiences. I think the story is pretty realistic as a result. Once I finished the story, I asked my wife to go over it and correct any points that might seem odd, so I believe the people working at senior nursing facilities will be satisfied by the end product.

Accordingly, I had so much to write that the story ended up being unexpectedly long. However, it’s been pared down to a length without any extraneous details.

It’s questionable whether an android would actually be able to learn caregiving skills so easily, but the heart of the story is not so much about Shion’s technical development but about her psychological growth. My goal was to jettison the age-old convention of the robot learning to love through human interaction.

But darn if the part towards the end where Shion sings doesn’t bring a tear to my eye.

“AI’s Story” (written for the book)

Since I originally started with the idea of a beautiful combat android telling stories to a boy, the reason for a combat android to be shaped like a woman and Ibis’s motivation for telling the boy these stories had to be added eventually. But when I actually wrote those parts, I was surprised to find just how well that situation seemed to work for the story. It’s as if I had already thought of this ending by the time I had written “The Universe on My Hands” and “A Romance in Virtual Space.” Although that really wasn’t the case.

All through the process of writing, I was bothered by whether the climax lacked a catharsis. But just when it came time to write that scene, I realized, “There should be a battle.” When I read over what I’d written thus far, it was already alluding to a battle. It wasn’t planned, but I had to do it.

I rarely write fight scenes, but I tore through this one with zeal. I think the story turned out to be exciting, but touching, as a result.

I had always felt an aversion to the way robots thought and spoke all too much like humans in science fiction books and manga. If they think like humans, then they might as well already be humans.

The difference between robots and humans can’t simply be about whether your body is made of metal or not. Perhaps the biggest distinction is in the difference in their self-consciousness.

It’s meaningless to demand that robots be just like humans. Robots cannot become human. It’s hard to imagine that robots, lacking sexual appetites and the instinct to preserve their species, could develop romantic feelings or maternal love. Even so, I believe they would have a heart. A heart does not necessarily mean to think just like humans. The term “skunk’s fallacy,” appearing in the novel, comes from the lines the villain Skunk Kusai says in an episode of Astro Boy called “Lightning Man”:

“Astro Boy isn’t perfect. That’s because he doesn’t have a bad heart.”
“If he were a perfect work of art, he would have the same heart as a human.”

These words are rooted in the fallacy that “perfection” = “identical to humans.” In fact, this is how many people think. That man is the lord of all creation and stands at the apex of evolution. That for robots to progress in their evolution, man is the goal they must This is not so. For robots, humanity would neither be the goal nor a way station in the evolutionary process. No doubt robots would have a progression and a goal of their own. I don’t know if robots will ever attain the goal I described in this novel in the distant future. That’s because “Ai’s Story” too is a fiction. But I sincerely hope that’s the kind of ending they will see.

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