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Haikasoru 13: Rocket Girls by Housuke Nojira (Trans. Joseph Reeder)

Rocket Girls

By Housuke Nojira (Translated by Joseph Reeder)

22 Jun, 2011



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Rocket Girls

Housuke Nojira (Trans. Joseph Reeder)

Haikasoru/VIZ Media LLC

214 pages

$13.99/$15.00/8.99 UK

ISBN 9781421536422

September 2010

Science Fiction

Why, yes, I am doing these so it will be easier to just c&p the publication data into any of the four incompatible formats I am asked to use.

In this [dead link] system, I would rate this as high on all three axes: it's optimistic, it mostly gets the science right and it's whimsical.

Yukari Morita is visiting Maltide in the Solomon Islands, where her father disappeared 16 years earlier while on his honeymoon, to see if reports of a Japanese enclave in the region have anything to do with her father. As it happens, not exactly: The Solomon Space Center is a privately owned, publicly funded Japanese launch facility, and one that has just had a string of catastrophic launch failures [1]. The failures have placed the facility's funding in jeopardy.

While their big launcher, the LS-7, is nowhere near reliable enough to be used to send astronaut Yusakawa into orbit, the LS-5 could do the job - provided Yasakawa can be reduced to a fraction of his present weight [2]. Yukari encounters Yasakawa as he is attempting to flee his employers and while his main interest in her is mostly due to her hostage value, his soon to be former employers immediately see that a petite schoolgirl could serve as a living payload where an adult male might not. Yukari is convinced to become the world's first teen rocket girl, in exchange for the SSA's help in finding her father.

A lot of series would have spun the missing dad plot out for books and books but in fact her father hasn't gone far and it's a small island. She soon learns that he is the leader of the Taliho (a local tribe) and that she has a surprisingly number of half-siblings, one of whom, Matsuri, becomes the world's second teen rocket girl.

There's not a lot to this book but it is only 200-odd pages and the plot does in fact fill those pages (with a hook for the next installment). Oddly, what it reminded me of is what you might get if someone tried to do a comic version of a Hugh Walters UNEXA novel.

This is not the sort of comedy that relies on hilarious names (at least none translated as such), wacky jokes and horrific puns but one that depends on surrounding a very conventional, very serious, perfectly rational person with people whose clarity of purpose has long ago divorced them from anything resembling ethics or common sense, people for whom refuge in audacity is a way of life; the only exceptions to this are Yukari and perhaps Matsuri. The Solomon Space Agency is determined to show that repairing satellites can be made to be cost-effective and nothing, not even their man-killer rockets or the moral issues involved in blackmailing minors into riding an experimental rocket, is going to interfere with that goal. Luckily for Yukari this is a comedy and not a tragedy, so her career does not end 73 seconds into her first flight.

The other rule the plot follows is "no blocking": all impediments to the plot the author wants to tell will be dealt with immediately; the chemist always has a new formula ready to test, the director always has a convincing argument handy and the doctor has a syringe filled with an appropriate drug concealed in her pocket. There is not stalling or dithering or digressions into minutia - there's no room for them because the book is only about 200 pages long.

Yukari cannot even count on either of her parents to interfere (or for that matter, any authorities: all actions taken will only extend her career). Instead they come up with reasons for her to keep participating in the space program. Her mother makes the point that people can die at any moment and that while it would be tragic if Yukari got killed going into space, it would be better to die doing something meaningful than just getting run over crossing the street. I note that her mother stays safely far away from the rockets.

It would be a mistake to over-analyze what is after all a light comedy. Watch as I proceed to do just that.

This was originally published in 1995 and although the afterword says the book was updated in 2007, the author has wisely left it set in the 1990s. The space station that features most highly in the book is an increasingly rickety Mir, Yukari doesn't bother to Google Maltide because that's not an option in the 1990s and nobody seems to have a cellphone. They definitely don't have smart phones.

The author seems to have done their homework about space travel, although I don't buy his solid rockets, and of course the whole making it cheaper to repair satellites than to replace them angle still hasn't worked out. It's not clear that if it could work, it wouldn't be cheaper to use robots than humans to service the satellites but that would undermine the whole sending people into space angle, and the author is clearly a True Believer in space exploitation and in particular, private space exploitation. In any case, it's harder SF than 95% of the SF I get sent.

The rocket technology is pretty conventional (solid boosters, low earth orbits, low enough delta vees that inclination changes are an issue) so I am curious to see how it is in the next book the girls get sent to Pluto, as the ad for the next installment assures me will happen.

Japanese Space True Believers seem much less annoying than Anglosphere Space True Believers. I wonder why that is? It cannot just be that it is a comedy; Anglosphere Space True Believer comic SF exists and is generally pretty horrible.

The natives .... actually, the history of Japanese portrayals of certain groups is not necessarily one that the Japanese can be proud of. This is not the worst I've seen. It is also not the best.

On the minus side:

* There's no evidence the author did more research into the islands than to locate them on a map. We're talking fur-bikini-wearing spear-waving superstitious natives, here.

* There isn't much evidence the Solomon Islands has a government; the SSA seems to run Maltide as their private little fief.

* Apparently there's a Japanese version of the Mighty Whitey trope; not only was Yukari's dad drafted to contribute to the local gene pool, he became a chief (I am not sure if this was earned with his extreme fecundity or talent with negotiating with outsiders).

On the plus side

* There's no hint the natives are any worse than the Japanese (except for things directly related to poverty [3]) and the fact that Matsuri is mixed race is a non-issue. Matsuri has an educational handicap (she's never been to school), but this is the sort of thing that can be and is addressed with remedial schooling. The only reason she isn't the main astronaut is because she got noticed after her half-sister.

1: Much to the delight of the local natives, who rate the launches by the awesomeness of the explosions that invariably follow.

2: In the book, it's possible all they have in mind is a diet (although they do mention that they can't do much with his bone mass, which implies they can do something) but TV Tropes gives me the impression surgical procedures may have been proposed in the anime to deal with the problem that not only is the guy too heavy for the rocket to lift, he's too tall to fit into the capsule.

3: I didn't bookmark it but at one point Matsuri or her dad rattle off the names of all of Matsuri's half-siblings who have died from one thing or another and it's not a short list. It is one that would be shortened by antibiotics and sturdy boots. One of the services Matsuri's dad provides for his adopted people is arranging for them to get things like medicine. Mind you, he makes no effort to alter their lifestyle to something less hunter-gatherer - you all can argue if that is good or bad.