The Best Japanse Science Fiction Stories, edited by John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg, Barricade Books, Inc., published 1997 (UK:June 2000).

I came across this in the Waterstone’s bookshop on Gower Street, WC1, and chose it ahead of a couple of recent Nebula Award anthologies – I felt that a bit of horizon-widening would not come amiss.

The introductions to the book were interesting in themselves, giving a background to the not-straightforward process of translating into English due to the complexities and nuances of the Japanese language.

The editors do inform the reader that the stories in the volume are quite different to most of the English-language SF, and those who are looking for hard SF are most definitely looking in the wrong direction. The stories collected, which were written between 1963 and 1989, are very much at the ‘speculative’ end of SF, to the extent that some would argue that they do not constitute SF (‘it’s SF Jim, but not as we know it!). The stories are also on the short side of short SF, which does have implications. I personally would tend to shy away from a collection of such short stories, regardless of origin.

The stories themselves tend towards the contemporary, and reflective, and are about people, and the environment. They tend toward the contempletative, with the protagonist(s) in number of the stories being almost detached from what is happening (a la Ballard) – which is no mean trick when there is a massive confrontation between tyrannosauri and triceratops(es?) in the neighbourhood. A couple of stories would be more accurately described as horror stories, and several could be stories from the likes of Twilight Zone, Tales of the Unexpected and so forth. It is in many cases difficult to go into detail about individual short stories, without giving away fairly key plot elements. For me, the collection got better with the later stories in the collection. Part of this could have been my becoming more accustomed to the style of writing, but the last three stories in the anthology (‘Fnifmum’, ‘Tsutsui/Standing Woman’, and ‘Yano/The Legend of the Paper Spaceship’) were probably the most like English-language SF of the collection. The last story ‘The Legend of the Paper Spaceship’ reminded me very much of early Gene Wolfe, and was for me one of those stories which stick in your mind a long time after reading it.

All in all and interesting read, and worth the purchase if nothing else just to give an extended flavour of SF in a different culture.

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