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Friends in high places

by nickmamatas

We were thrilled to find this morning a brief discussion of Usurper of the Sun on National Geographic’s Breaking Orbit blogpost on the MESSENGER mission to Mercury.

Check out the MESSENGER site for some wonderful raw images from the flyby. Here’s a favorite:

Then check out some of what NatGeo has to say about Usurper:

Ultimately this book is not about Mercury—it’s meant to be a philosophical take on the nature of aliens and what a first-contact scenario might be like [and about a beautiful, brilliant female student who is humanity’s last hope for salvation, a fact that won’t even faze anime fans the world over].

Trick is, the whole story hinges on us not knowing a darn thing about Mercury’s backside. The book was published in 2002, two years before MESSENGER even launched. At that point, for all anyone knew, it was entirely plausible that aliens might have set up a nanobot workshop right under our noses.

Well, Aki Shiraishi starts off as a high schooler, but Usurper is a hard SF novel. There’s no near-instant interstellar travel. By the time the mysterious Builders of the ring enter local space, Aki is well into middle age and while still brilliant, may not be all that beautiful. Indeed, she’s even called a “fuddy duddy” by the media in the story. (We still love Aki though.)

It certainly is true SF is a tricky genre, as near-future speculations can be rendered obsolete by current events. Heck, even far-future novels that, contain, for example, references to the Soviet Union, may ring a bit false twenty years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. There are certainly any number of wonderful stories about the first humans to step foot on the moon that will never be reprinted again, as the real world Apollo mission utterly dominates our vision of what a moon landing is. Scientific discovery and political events can close off alternatives in science fiction as readily as they can open up a space for new stories and novels. Of course, some new discoveries, such as the hints that there may be water on the lunar surface, can lend credence to books. NatGeo mentions The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as an example, and our own novel of lunar colonization, the forthcoming The Next Continent by Issui Ogawa (author of The Lord of the Sands of Time) also explores the issue of finding water on the moon.

In the end, SF writers cannot just depend on a scientific idea, but have to be good writers to keep us reading. Seiun winner Nojiri is one of Japan’s best. We hope you check out Usurper, even if Aki doesn’t stay young and beautiful for the whole thirty-five year saga.

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