Harmony (英語) ペーパーバック – 2010/7/20
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Reads L to R (Western Style). In a perfect world, there is no escape <P>In the future, Utopia has finally been achieved thanks to medical nanotechnology and a powerful ethic of social welfare and mutual consideration. This perfect world isn't that perfect though, and three young girls stand up to totalitarian kindness and super-medicine by attempting suicide via starvation. It doesn't work, but one of the girls--Tuan Kirie--grows up to be a member of the World Health Organization. As a crisis threatens the harmony of the new world, Tuan rediscovers another member of her suicide pact, and together they must help save the planet...from itself.
Keikaku (Project) Itoh was born in Tokyo in 1974. He graduated from the Musashino Art University. In 2007, he debuted with Gakusatsu Kikan(Genocidal Organs), and took first prize of the “Best SF of 2007” in SF Magazine. He is also the author of Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots, a Japanerse-language novel based on the popular video game series. After a long battle with cancer, Itoh passed away in March 2009. Harmony was revised by Itoh while in the hospital, receiving treatment for the disease.
The premise is well rendered: most of the world subscribes to a mental adaptation system controlled by the Admedistration. Everything, from nutrition to exercise to emotion and excitement, is regulated and watched by a network of agencies whose goal is to ensure harmony (read: homogeneity).
Itoh's tale surely shines in the first third. Tuan is a protagonist one can relate to. She's smart but flawed; sentimental but cold. The beauty of the story is that we are also drawn to our antagonist, Miach, whose recollections of previous cultures, and her love of history, are simply fantastic. These sections make the narrative work.
WatchMe is the software. Tuan and Miach are the unwilling pawns in its wake. This is a story that hits home on a lot of levels. What would life be like without subversion? How would it be if we were all aware of our situations, 100% of the time?
The third act was satisfying, but it was a little underwhelming after such a strong approach to exposition and characterization. Still, it's one of the best books I've read in recent years and I can see it having a far-reaching impact on specultive fiction.
Ito passed away before he could appreciate the results of this novel. I think this is the rock, thrown into the pond, that leaves waves crashing on the shore. If you are into science fiction, you owe it yourself to read this book.
I'm a huge fan of cyberpunk. I would not really lump this in the same genre as the 90's cyberpunk I grew up with, but it feels very much like the right kind of story for today. The story is based on networked nano-technology and biohacking that seems credible and relevant without feeling like a faddish attempt to cash in on pop science headlines. More importantly, it never felt like a "Twilight Zone" episode where the technology is the antagonist. It was very much a character driven story that pushes the reader to challenge the relationships between the self, the body, and their society.
A character name-drops Foucault about two-thirds of the way in but you can see that influence from the very beginning. It is probably the best example where good post-modern, academic philosophy informed a good science fiction novel. Grad students rejoice!
The XML throughout the book was an interesting idea, although I didn't think it was particularly necessary. I think you could ignore it if you find it distracting or confusing. One neat touch I didn't actually notice until the end is that there are two character encoding tags, one for japanese and one for english, with the japanese tag commented out. A nice touch from Haika Soru, they have been an amazing translation house and I will snap up anything they publish (although I would like them to try branching out and publishing a few Korean SF works.)