November 24th, 2010

reading

The Next Continent, by Issui Ogawa

Review copy provided by Haikasoru. Translated by Jim Hubbert.

This is a very classic mode of science fiction: Hey, kids, my uncle has a barn grandfather has a fortune! Let's put on a show build a moonbase! You want that story? This is that story. The people in it are Japanese, but that makes remarkably little difference, since mostly they are great big huge nerds in a way that crosses national boundaries very earnestly.

What this reminds me of most of all is Michael Flynn's Firestar, but a great deal more tightly focused, as a story in itself rather than a deliberate sprawling beginning to a deliberate sprawling series. It's the sort of story that will go into the problems with space debris and rocket boosters and funding, the little techy details, without stopping on any of them long enough to get really bogged down.

Like any writer trying to do a moonbase story from this end of the 21st century instead of the middle of the 20th, Ogawa has to address the idea that we thought we were going to do this before and didn't. And I think he does that thoroughly, and he hits enough problems that it really doesn't read as unrealistically optimistic or rose-colored. The astronauts/taikonauts/etc. in this book run into all sorts of indignities and inconveniences as well as grand problems. It's definitely not sugar-coated. It's also not wallowing in being gritty or grim. There's a weird geeky hard SF balance to strike there. I haven't seen very much of this kind of book in English since Firestar, or even much immediately before it, either; having it come around more recently gives a different perspective on the same problems.

Having read another Haikasoru book translated by Hubbert gives me a little bit of parallax on the language: I think that the language is probably the kind of hard SF prose that was pretty straightforward in the original? Because Hubbert had a lot of flexibility and variation in how he was able to translate style in the Hayashi collection, so I'm thinking that the very plain, straightforward approach here probably reflects the original extremely closely rather than being any kind of limitation on his part.
ista grown

Confusing the dog

It's very clear that there are some things where our theories of how the world works and Ista's theories just do not match up. Dogly personality matters a great deal here. With Honey (the dog we had when I was an older kid/teenager), my mom was the alpha of the pack, and anything my mom was eating that she was willing to give to Honey was food. Mom would break off tiny pieces of cauliflower or green bean or heaven knows what, and Honey would take them and eat them dutifully. She liked chicken tacos best, but if her alpha gave it to her from her hand at the table, it was by God food.

This...is not the case with Ista. And leads to such perplexing situations as lunch today. I am not, you will understand, a vegetarian; I just prefer their tasty, tasty food, so people confuse me for one. So on the table at lunch we had: a roast beef sandwich, cashews, edamame hummus, and a salad with broccoli, tomatoes, and bell pepper in. The first two were markgritter's. The latter two were mine.

Ista: You see, of course, that I am not jumping up and begging like a bad, bad dog. No! I am merely nudging your ankle with my cold, cold nose to remind you that there is a good, good dog here who smells nice food like roast beef and cashews, and who likes those things!
Me: Wah!
Ista: Nice dog here.
Me: Wah!
Ista: Nice dog here.
Me: This is what I am eating.
Ista: But--you are the alpha. And that is not-food. And I smell food.
Me: This is what I am eating.
Ista: Why would you be eating not-food when there is food? You are the alpha. You could make the others give you the food, and they could eat the not-food if they had to. Or you could get more food and nobody would have to eat not-food.
Mark: Ista, stop bothering Mrissa and come have a little piece of roast beef.
Ista: Oh! Thank you, Mark! That was lovely! Mrissa, nice dog here.
Me: Wah!
Mark: Ista, I have the roast beef.
Ista: It is food. And she is the alpha.
Me: Hummus, dog.
Ista: So not food! I do not need to be any closer to understand that this green goop is not food! And lo, I am sore confused! Perhaps if I apply my nose to your ankle, your edamame hummus will become roast beef.
Me: Not an alchemical nose.
Ista: It might be. Poodles don't care about gold anyway. Now, if you had a rock that turned not-food into roast beef. That would be a philosopher worth knowing about.
Me: I have my suspicions about several of the 19th century German ones on that very topic.