We recently ran a series of Mind Melds on the topic of non-English science fiction. As you might expect, most of what was covered has not been translated into English. Viz Media is out to bring Japanese science fiction, fantasy and horror and English speaking readers via its new Haikasoru imprint.
Japanese culture has a reputation for being a bit different, a bit strange from Western (certainly American) society. What with all the giant mechs battling aliens and things with many tentacles accosting lolita-ish characters, you’d think the SF might be a bit strange to. Certainly there is some Japanese feel to The Sands Of Time, but at its heart, it’s still a really good SF story.
If the books Haikasoru releases are as good this one, Japanese science fiction should garner a decent following in the wider world.
The Lord Of The Sands Of Time was nominated for the Seiun Award, Japan’s version of the Hugos, and Issui Ogawa has won the award multiple times. Clearly a man who knows science fiction, and perhaps most importantly, what his readers like.
The Lord Of The Sands Of Time is the story of Messenger O, sent back from a future where humanity has been exterminated from Earth and clings to life around Jupiter. He and his fellow AI androids fight the enemy in various time periods, ranging from the dawn of humanity, feudal Japan and World War II. O also must contend with his feelings for his first love, stranded in the future, and his relationship with an early period Japanese queen, who he must help fight off the aliens.
Yes, Sands Of Time is a time travel novel. Ogawa’s version of time travel is the ‘many worlds’ view, where a person who changes history in the past is actually creating an entirely new universe from the ‘original’ one in the future. What this means, in effect, is that once O and his cohorts travel back in time, their ‘future’ is effectively gone, they can’t affect any changes in it. Therefore, they are fighting for humanity’s survival in as many timelines as possible. Given the almost unlimited possibilities time travel opens up, and an enemy just as determined to use time travel to defeat humanity, you can imagine how hopeless that task before O and company seems.
Indeed, the various trips show just how much can go wrong, much of it humanity’s fault as nations just can’t seem to unite together fully, even in the face of invasion and certain destruction. After seeing humanity effectively wiped out in stream after stream, O is full of despair, but continues to try to save mankind. This determination, this self-sacrifice is one of the best part of the books. Despite O being a kind of cyborg, he is fully human in his emotions. And he’s willing to do just about anything to save even one timeline for humanity. He’s a terrific character to hang the story on and is the driving force behind the main story line in feudal Japan.
There’s also some emotional weight added here as O has left his first love in the future, one certain to be wiped out by the aliens, because he has been tasked with defending Earth’s past. He meets Queen Miyo, discovers some feelings for her exist and decides to make a stand in that past, to destroy the aliens and finally free humanity. Everything he does is towards that end and once things get rolling, the novel moves at break neck speeds to the conclusion.
I was expecting a more anime-ish feeling to the book, but aside from the power armor and giant sword O carries, there really isn’t much in the way of anime ‘look and feel’. Instead it’s more of a straightforward action novel against self-replicating aliens.
The one issue, and I hate to call it that, I had is with the tone of the book. The ‘narrator’ has a very clinical, detached voice, explaining just enough to set the scene without going into great detail, almost like the events are being detailed for you rather than being described. I’m not sure if this is the result of the translation of if the original story is this way. To be sure, the narrative being spare does lend itself to being a quick read, bordering on “can’t put it down” territory.
The other niggling problem I had was with the version of time travel Ogawa uses. A couple of times things would occur that didn’t make sense given how time travel supposedly works in the story, probably because I got confused. Also, changes in the past making events in the future happen instantly is used as a sort of deus ex machina toward the end. It makes sense, but I dislike that sort of thing.
If you have any interest at all in expanding your SF horizons outside of the English realm, pick up The Lord Of The Sands Of Time. Because of it, I’m now interested in reading more SF from our friends in Japan.