The shared world anthology Dreaming 2074: A Utopia Created by French Luxury puts its central conceit right there in the subtitle. Commissioned by the Comité Colbert — “78 firms from the French luxury sector and 14 cultural institutions, which have joined together through common values” — the anthology (comprising short stories and other works) uses a shared universe to paint a picture of a 2074 that has weathered calamity to become a world materially and culturally superior to our own.
On November 22, I vowed that “I swear, the next new book I get sent that’s about the doleful world after EVERYTHING FELL DOWN AND EVERY ONE WAS SAD AND ALSO THE SUN CRIES BITTER TEARS, the review after that is going to be a manga by Morinaga Miruku.” Hoping for recent F&SF that isn’t a variation on EVERYTHING FELL DOWN AND EVERY ONE WAS SAD AND ALSO THE SUN CRIES BITTER TEARS was stupid of me1 but at least having to live up to the vow gave me a pleasant change of pace.
Doing the requisite background research also drew my attention to an aspect of this work that made me sit back and go “huh”. More on that after we visit the land of schoolgirl romances.
First published in 1991 under the title Mördare utan ansikte, and translated in 1997 by Stephen T. Murray, Faceless Killers introduces Kurt Wallander, a morose Swedish policeman. Wallander is painfully aware that middle age is transforming him into a doughy old man; he is worried about his hostile and increasing senile father; he is alienated from his daughter; and his wife of many years just left him because living with Wallander was killing her soul. Wallander’s disposition is in no way aided by the human depravity his job forces him to confront every day, depravity like the brutal attack on Johannes and Maria Lövgren that left the old farmer noseless and beaten to death. Maria is barely clinging to life after the attack.
Academy City! Home to the reality-redefining espers, able to alter natural law at will and filled with scientific marvels! For student Touma Kamijou, it is merely the setting of the endless series of humiliations, failures, and mishaps that is his life. His school marks are dismal and accidents dog his heels. His esper power, Imagine Breaker, the ability to negate all unnatural powers, is1 dismissed as Level Zero, the very lowest of rating in Academy City.
Today’s translated work is Robert Merle’s Malevil, first published in French in 1972 and translated into English by Derek Coltman in 1973. I remember it being pretty popular in the 1970s, enough that it got a movie adaptation in 1981, but as far as I can tell it has almost entirely fallen into obscurity1 and out of print. That’s a pity, because Merle has some interesting angles on well-tested tropes.
Like Masuji Ibuse, Keiji Nakazawa (1939 – 2012) was a native of Hiroshima. Unlike Ibuse, Nakazawa was in Hiroshima on August sixth, 1945 and while he and his mother survived the destruction of Hiroshima, his father, two sisters and younger brother died as a result of it. Nakazawa’s manga series Barefoot Gen is a thinly veiled autobiographical work, telling the story of the destruction of Hiroshima and the immediate aftermath from a small boy named Gen, just the same age the author was when Hiroshima was destroyed.
Shizuma Shigematsu, his wife Shigeko and their niece Yasuko all survived the Monday, August 6, 1945 attack on Hiroshima, experiencing the event from the perspective of varying distances from the epicenter. Shizuma was nearest the explosion and Yasuko sufficiently far away to suffer none of the immediate effects like translational injury, thermal burns or prompt radiation injury from the explosion itself. While husband and wife suffered from radiation illness in the years since, Yasuko herself appears to have escaped unharmed.
When I selected this, I had no memory of the plot at all despite the fact my copy of the book is well worn. It seemed suitable that issues of history, forgotten and rewritten, play such a central role in this novel of the mid-1990s so I thank the endless series of head injuries I have suffered for their contribution to this reading experience.
For some reason the cover says this was edited by “Haikasoru” but that is a stand-in for Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington. As explained in Mamatas’ introduction, the intention here is de-exoticize so if you’re looking for something to reinforce an impression of Japan as Other and Enchantedly Unknowable, look to other works for support in that endeavor.
Washington for her part makes a point of thanking the translators; they often go unnoticed (and I think in at least one book I am considering for review, uncredited) but anyone who has read a bad translation next to a superior one will know how crucial they are. Lesser publishers could learn from Haikasoru.
I should be better read in the Strugatsky Brothers’ oeuvre than I actually am so when I get the chance to read something of theirs, particularly a modern translation, I take advantage of it.