The OF Blog: Issui Ogawa, The Lord of the Sands of Time

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Issui Ogawa, The Lord of the Sands of Time

In the twenty-sixth century, the enemy had used Venus as a seed bed. Now, Cutty carried out a thorough search for underground bases or colonies hidden beneath the thick atmosphere that shrouded this world. Sure enough, several large colonies were discovered. One after another they were wiped out with thermonuclear warheads - for the Messengers were no more than weapons of medium power. After the strikes, thorough mop-up operations were carried out to ensure that not a single spore had escaped.

The forces allocated to the Messengers amounted to everything that humanity in the twenty-sixth century could assemble, but those forces were still hard-pressed to cover two planets as well as the countless small bodies orbiting the Sun. Their main energy source was antimatter brought from the future, but supplies were not inexhaustible. A long-term conflict would mean building antimatter production plants. The twenty-second century lacked the facilities necessary to support the operations of the fleet, which forced the Messengers to rely on local help. To give up on humanity - that is, to conduct operations without them - was not a realistic option (p. 76)

There has been a long and storied history of cultural exchange between the United States and Japan. From Commodore Matthew Perry's 1853 expedition to Yokohama that forced the opening of several Japanese ports to the Americans to the 1860s Meiji Restoration that overthrew the shogun system and replaced it with a hybrid political system that took certain American/Western ideas on industrialization, politics, culture, etc. and melded them with traditional Japanese beliefs on how society should be organized; from the World War II conflict to the rise of the zaibatsu by the 1980s and Japan's growing dominance in the global automobile market; from Raymond Chandler being translated into Japanese to mangas being translated into American English, there is a rich history of cultural exchange and mutual influence.

Therefore, it should not be any surprise to the observant "Western" reader that a similar cultural exchange is taking place in Japanese SF and that an American company, VIZ Media via its Haikasoru imprint, is seeking to capitalize upon this growing American interest in all things Japanese. Haikasoru's debut translation, Issui Ogawa's The Lord of the Sands of Time, illustrates nicely the melding of American SF and Japanese societal views.

As the passage quoted above reveals, Earth is under attack in hundreds of parallel universes from a rapidly-reproducing alien force known as the ETs. Bent on destroying human life, the ETs have sent countless numbers of invasion forces to various points of the parallel Earths' pasts, from the dawn of the species to the 26th century. Combating them are AI cyborgs called Messengers, who have the capability of traveling through time, space, and through the hundreds of known parallel universes. The Lord of the Sands of Time concentrates on one such Messenger, Orville, or O.

In reading this book, I was struck by the parallels with 1980s cartoons such as Voltron, itself a Japanese import and a pioneer in the anime style. There is a team (although Ogawa deemphasizes this to some extent) who is battling a horde-like enemy who threatens to wipe out all civilization on the planet. While there is a conflicted semi-central character, the focus is on the society and not so much on the individual. It is a change from the lone wolf sort of character, from C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith to Star Trek's Captain James T. Kirk, that manages to save the day (and look great in the process).

In contrast, Ogawa's story places a premium on relationships. It also takes an old American SF trope, that of the character questioning his/her/its "humanity," and casts it back in a way that integrates these questions and conflicts into the broader focus on humankind rather than on individuals. O's rudimentary emotions become a portal by which Ogawa manages to explore various facets of human relationships. What he does that's rather interesting is that he does his not just in the context of person-to-person relationships, but in a much broader context of how individuals integrate themselves with their societies. This is something that often is not explored at length in American SF, or at least not in the older short novels from its so-called "Golden Age." Ogawa's take on this older American SF trope of a hostile contact with aliens, filtered through modern Japanese culture, makes for a very enjoyable read.

While there were times that I found Ogawa's use of the "team" to be a bit too repetitive for my tastes, for the most part, The Lord of the Sands of Time was a fast-paced, enjoyable read. Hopefully, Haikasoru will continue to translate more of Ogawa's stories, as I am curious to see what else may be produced from combining American and Japanese narrative/cultural elements into a SF setting.


justelise said...

That's Voltron not Voltran.

Larry said...

Strange typo, since I thought I had typed Voltron. Fixed.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

It was quite an interesting read and I loved how the story jumped from time line to time line. Certainly contributed to the complexity of time travel and alternative Earths while the flashbacks added layers to this humanity/soul searching trope.

sg4 said...

I'd also add that it's the Haikasoru imprint and not Haikusoru.

Larry said...

Damn, I'm really going to have to change my contacts now, huh? :P

Martin said...

As you say, it takes an old American SF trope (I'd just settle for "several old SF tropes") and that is my main problem, it is very old fashioned and does't say anything interesting within this context.

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