Sinda Gregory and Larry McCaffery
Not just a Gibson Clone: An Interview with Goro Masaki
Although rumor has it that the man who uses the pen name Goro Masaki was born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1957, the "real" Goro Masaki was born in Tokyo in 1986 on a Fujitsu word processor. He was heavily influenced by science fictions of Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree, Jr., and Cordwainer Smith. His rather incidentally composed first commercial novella, Evil Eyes (1986), vividly describes the conflict between a mind-control software company and a new religious organization, ending up with the revelation that Maria, a full-armored woman working for the company, and Mugen, the charismatic figure of the organization, were produced by a multiple personality, the owner of which had been born a disfigured baby; Evil Eyes--which won the thirteenth Hayakawa SF Contest in 1987 and is regarded as the best example of Japanese "cyberpunk" science fiction--was eventually included in his first collection of the same title (1988). In 1993, Masaki further developed the ideas in Evil Eyes and completed the hard-core virtual reality/hypergender novel Venus City, which won the fourteenth Japan SF Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Nebula Award. His other works include a pseudo-autobiographical story collection Won't Cry for a Cat Anymore (1994) and an erotic hard-core SF novel called The Shadow Orchid (1994). His first English translation, "With Love, to My Eldest Brother," (original, 1988), was published in Fiction International in 1993. Now Goro Masaki is almost completely invisible in Japan, just like his literary influences. (LM)
Larry McCaffery: Does the concept of postmodernism really apply to what is occurring in Japan of the nineties? Or is it just a buzzword?
Goro Masaki: This is always a difficult question for me. There are many social phenomena in Japan that can be called postmodernistic in different ways. For instance, the release of nerve gas in the subway of Japan in 1995 as a part of religious game is an extraordinary event that could be seen as postmodern for various reasons. But I must confess that I'm not really certain if the term "modernism" ever really applied accurately to what was occurring in Japan before World War II. And sometimes I feel that a lot of premodern elements remain in Japanese culture today. So how should we explain the coexistence or interaction of postmodern and premodern elements?
LM: Can you give me an example of the premodernistic elements?
GM: Because Japanese culture is still in many ways feudalistic, landowners are an influential power. Land prices are absurdly high, and the real estate business is based on many premodern traditions. Foreigners are often astonished by our custom that we have to pay some two times the monthly rent to the owners as a gift, a forced gift, when we rent a room in Japan. And some other twice amount is required as an advance, for repairing the room. So, if you want to have a room in Tokyo, you must pay five or six times of the monthly rent before you move in. If society is truly modernistic, there should be no such price system. And the price of land should be the guiding price for other things. There are many other feudalistic relationships. For instance, elder people should be respected in any cases. Lifelong employment and age-based payment system may be another example of traditional society. I cannot call such relationships very postmodernistic.
LM: My understanding is that while there were some Japanese writers who wrote quasi-SF in the first half of this century (I am thinking of figures like Shunro Oshikawa and Juzo Unno), most of the pre-World War II SF was fairly derivative of Wells and Verne, and often mixed together military adventures with science. But it wasn't until after the War that you get the real origins of Japanese SF, largely due to all the old Ace paperbacks and other SF books that GIs left behind and which eventually found their way into the used bookstores in Tokyo and other major cities.
GM: Well, it is probably true that some of those used books circulated among readers of foreign literature--especially younger readers--just after the defeat of war, and it led to a revival of modern science fiction in Japan. Works by Poe and L'Isle-Adam were already translated before the war. But just before and during the war, there was no distinct SF genre, only some mystery writers occasionally wrote stories that could have been called SF. Soon translations of typical American SF writers such as Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein were published, along with some British and Russian works by authors like Orwell, Belyaev and Yefremov and some made the best-seller lists. A Japanese selection from Amazing Stories was published as early as 1950, though it failed commercially. Many publishers tried to go into the SF business before and after World War II, but the most important one in this regard might be Hayakawa Shobo, which had been active in importing foreign mysteries at first, and then SF. Hayakawa became the most responsible publisher in the SF field after the 1950s.
LM: Is that the same Hayakawa who publishes the famous Hayakawa's SF Magazine?
GM: Yes, but the magazine's fame has been actually limited to the Otaku communities from the beginning, and even in its most influential period. Now in the nineties, the magazine is somewhat less visible to the general readers. Founded back in 1959 by determined editor in chief Masami Fukushima--it has never been a representative literary magazine in Japan, but it has been virtually the only SF magazine able to last more than a decade. It had a look of "slick magazine," which was rare at that time, and that appealed to some sophisticated book lovers. The founder of Hayakawa was an adventurous entrepreneur who at first tried to introduce American SF to Japanese readers, following their success in introducing foreign mysteries to postwar Japan. Publication of foreign writings had been prohibited during the war, so people were eager to read anything overseas to understand what was happening outside. The SF style became a fashion among the postwar readers, at first by translated novels and imported films, and then it gained wider popularity with the appearance of short-short stories by Shin'ichi Hoshi, one of the godfathers of SF in postwar Japan. Then several fanzines and SF clubs were formed in the fifties and the sixties. In 1953 the first Japanese SF fan and a translator, Tetsu Yano, began his activities and participated in the eleventh World-Con held in Philadelphia. Those events made SF an option of a postwar pop culture.
Sinda Gregory: Was Hayakawa publishing any Japanese SF, or was it all translations from other countries?
GM: Almost entirely translations. I was two years old when Hayakawa's SF Magazine was first published, so I have no memories of the time--my accounts on this period are based on literary records and hearsay circulating in fandom. Shin'ichi Hoshi might be the first postwar Japanese SF writer, although he made his debut on a mystery magazine, Hoseki (Jewel) led by a mystery writer and critic Rampo Edogawa. Hoshi invented a very unique style of "short-short": highly abstract, no-depiction-but-story-line-only stories. In most of his stories, characters are given such names as Mr. Efu ("F") or Mr. Enu ("N"), with minimal depictions. Some call his style very Japanese--like Haiku or Japanese flower arrangement: simple and essential.
Then, Kobo Abe must be the first contemporary SF novelist. Abe published several short stories on Hayakawa's SF Magazine, and a few of his longer works were once published by Hayakawa too, including Inter Ice Age 4, a novel about submersion of the world caused by melting polar ice, genetic creation of gilled children for the coming underwater age, and a fortune-telling computer predicting what to come in the next age. His work gradually ceased to be published from Hayakawa, though some of his later books like The Box Man were quite fantastic. Woman in the Dunes was also very absurdist and was influenced by Kafka. But Abe's works are not just fantastic. In his earlier short piece, "The Invention of R-62," Abe used the idea of directly controlling a person by replacing his skull top with an artificial bone cap with brain electrode needles inside. His earlier novel, The Hungry Union (1954), depicts an idea of using a man's living brain and nerve system as a substitute for a computer for finding out a mineral mine; it reminds everyone of Bill Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic. Often his works are supported by medical knowledge, which he naturally had so much. Surrealism and absurdism usually do not come with realism, but his works often have both. So it's always somewhat difficult to decide whether Kobo Abe's books are fantasy or SF or mainstream. Around this same period, the famous fanzine, Uchujin (The Cosmic Dust), led by a big name fan and translator Takumi Shibano, published the works of many young SF authors who would later write for Hayakawa. Hayakawa has been very influential on the course Japanese SF took later, by actively introducing foreign writers and by giving chances for commercial debuts to the postwar SF founders such as Sakyo Komatsu and Yasutaka Tsutsui and Taku Mayumura. And many of those who would later become writers and translators of mystery and SF genre had once been contributors and employees of Hayakawa. Hayakawa then published only foreign entertainment fiction, so it was detached from mainstream literature and literary world of Japan and could act with more freedom. Somebody called it "Hayakawa mystery league" or something like that. Most of the first generation SF writers had relationship with mystery genre, because at that time there was no established "SF genre."
LM: During the period when SF was evolving and emerging in Japan during the seventies and early eighties, was there any equivalent to the "New Wave" of experimentalism that you found in America and England during the sixties?
GM: It is often said that the first (and sometimes the second) generations had to try many variations of the SF which were being rapidly imported in real time. During the sixties and seventies, they absorbed the development of thirty years of American and British SF in ten years or so, first by trying some classic technological or futuristic fictions; then some of them moved to the more experimental direction. Yasutaka Tsutsui might be a good example. He was often compared to Harlan Ellison in the seventies, while Sakyo Komatsu was compared to Clarke or Asimov and Shin'ichi Hoshi to Frederick Brown. They are "Big Three" of the first generation. Tsutsui's experimentalism had enormous impact on the following writers in general, in and outside the genre SF field. But aside from his parody/slapstick/surrealistic experiments, there seems to be less concrete example of Japanese "New Wave" SF, except for architect/novelist Yoshio Aramaki, a late-coming first-generation writer of surrealistic experimental stories.
At any rate, depending on your definition, a kind of "New Wave" was introduced to Japan in late sixties, almost synchronizing with the British New Wave movement, often represented by authors such as Brian Aldiss and J. G. Ballard. It was also the time we encountered Latin American magic realism. Space operas became also very popular, due to translator Masahiro Noda's efforts. Translators like Norio Ito and Hisashi Asakura introduced Aldiss, Vonnegut, Delany, Ballard, Dick, Cordwainer Smith and James Tiptree, Jr. I am referring to these translators, just because it is said that their translations of the representing American writers such as Vonnegut had a deep influence on styles of contemporary Japanese writers, both in mainstream and genre SF fields. In Japanese SF terminology, the term "scientific" is actually closer to your statement of "metaphysical." But this may depend on the nature of translations you have read as "Japanese SF." I have heard that editing work applied on them was very massive.
LM: Almost none of the Japanese SF I've read seems to be hard-SF; most of it seems to be a blend of fantasy and magical realism, with not all that much emphasis on rigorous application of scientific principles. Has there been any equivalent to the "hard-SF" fiction that's been so important in America the past twenty years?
GM: Japan never really had any popular hard-SF writers after World War II for some reason, although it depends on the definition of "hard-SF." I've read somewhere that when Sakyo Komatsu's early masterpiece, At the End of the Endless Flow of Time, came out in the sixties, Takashi Ishikawa, a representing SF critic for long time, said that the work went far beyond the modern Western cosmology on which all hard-SF were based. You should remember one thing: Japan is the country where God was simply visible and present just fifty years ago. We have our own Oriental metaphysics that have lasted for thousands of years, and are ready to speculate on the alternate ways of understanding the world. We are affected by the Western technology from the end of the nineteenth century and on, and come to understand the world as the Western cosmology explains it. But we are still in a native world of spirituality in which everything has its own spirit and everything is the topos for the Gods to stay in. This might be the sole reason why our idea of SF and yours are so different. At least for some Japanese SF writers and readers, SF means an alternative way to the present (or the modern Western) view of the world, which includes modern "hard-SF" technologies. A good example of very Japanese SF in this regard might be Ryu Mitsuse's Ten Billion Days and a Hundred Billion Nights, in which I recall Buddha, Jesus Christ and others fighting against the Death.
But as I said earlier, this all depends on how we define "hard-SF." In Japan, there is a distinction between "hard-SF" (which is mainly based on hard-science, Analog-type technology SF) and "hard-core SF" (which is more oriented to speculations on the cosmology and the metaphysics underlying these hard-science technologies). Japanese postwar readers prefer "hard-core" speculations to the more technical "hard-SF." I have read somewhere that what Japanese authors wrote in early sixties were not hard-SF of Analog-type, but more speculative "hard-core" SF closer to New Wave, in the sense that they too speculated more on cosmology, epistemology and metaphysics about the World Inside and Outside. And they did it before British New Wave took place. Keep in mind that Japanese readers were almost the first ones who found Philip K. Dick's stories highly contemporary and very experimental, as early as in the sixties. By that time there was already massive influence from European existentialism, of Sartre or the related figures, back in the fifties, in the field of après-guerre mainstream literature. Kafka was accepted, Nietzsche was known, not that they were very popular, and Schopenhauer and Karl Jaspers were at least translated. Maybe we were ready to accept some European New Wave writers based on these prior mainstream knowledge.
SG: Was this "massive influence" of such European thinkers superficial, or did some Japanese SF authors really apply these concepts in sophisticated ways?
GM: Japanese people are eager to import new fashions overseas. There was a parody song for the old elite university students, which goes that way: "Half a year spent for De-Kan-Scho, and the other half for not working and sleeping." This means that they are eager for reading Descartes, Kant, and Schopenhauer for the first half, then just passing time for the latter half. You can see Japanese grassroots consumerism was already active in the early postwar period, and even prestigious European thinkers were easily reduced to mere abbreviations. I guess no usual readers want to struggle with their thoughts, but just play with them in a playful superficial manner. But some first-generation SF writers were intellectually elite, more "De-Kan-Scho" oriented. For example, it is said that Sakyo Komatsu, whose major was Italian literature and wrote his B. A. thesis at Kyoto University on Dante and Pirandello, was strongly influenced by Husserlian phenomenology. It is well known that Kobo Abe, a medical school graduate of the University of Tokyo, was influenced by Kafka and Beckett. Osamu Tezuka holds an MD from Osaka University's Medical School; his manga, The Fire Bird Saga, speculated on life, death, and the meaning of life. Shin'ichi Hoshi was a son of the owner of a private university, and a graduate of the University of Tokyo. Almost all of this first generation came from the intellectual elite class, graduates of the most competitive universities. One notable exception is the most prolific and successful writer Ryo Hammura, graduate of a famous Tokyo high school. He holds the experience of a wide variety of jobs, many of them hard to access for typical white-collar workers. This variety is enough to compensate for his lack of formal education, for which he didn't care as much. Legend holds it that Aritsune Toyoda, also a first generation writer, refused to enter University of Tokyo because he didn't like the authoritative way of the officers there. I should mention another writer of this generation, Kazumasa Hirai, who was engaged in the formation of Japanese "anime" genre.
LM: Once SF began to be published by Hayakawa, were there any other magazines and book publishers to follow?
GM: There have been publishers specializing in SF, but sometimes others also publish SF--or at least something like SF. For example, representative publishers such as Kodansha, Shogakukan and Iwanami Shoten sometimes publish SF or the related stories. Tokuma Shoten had a magazine called SF Adventure. Thus, I would say that the situation is quite different in the U.S. than it is in Japan, where it is difficult to make a strict distinction between SF or fantasy publishers and mainstream publishers. Japanese publishers are not very specialized if compared to their foreign equivalents. They often publish everything, from nude graphic magazines and porn mangas for women, to mainstream or highbrow literatures. Just like many Hollywood films today, they don't openly call them "SF," but SF elements are everywhere in many cultural productions, like novels, comics, animes, and computer games. Maybe this has to do with the fact that the accelerating impact of technology has made life in Japan today to seem much like SF; or maybe life in Japan has become very fantastic, or have absurdist aspect in a sense.
LM: I take it, then, that the kind of "ghettoization" experienced by American SF ever since its origins in the pulp magazines back in the thirties has never really has occurred in Japan?
GM: Not nearly so much in Japan. For one thing, most SF writers in Japan have also written social satires that could be regarded as mainstream entertainment. Taku Mayumura's works may be the most mainstream entertainment-oriented SF, along with his tasteful appearances in the midnight TV shows. Next, not as many books of the genre as in the U.S. have been published in Japan--books that described things like journeys to or creatures from outer space. Such books began to be published in Japan as "SF books" mainly during the sixties and after that, when there appeared also many SF imageries such as monster movies that were very popular in Japan. And Japan is a place where you will see both the tradition of a thousand years and the cutting-edge high techs. In an island in Southern Japan, a huge cedar tree as old as seven thousand years is preserved, and carefully observed by the latest computer technology. We get used to things premodern and things postmodern, but we have less modern experience, except ones imported mostly from America after World War II. At least to some extent we can simply take fairly tales like The Tale of Ugetsu for granted. We have so many fairly tales and fantasies historically. And we can accept Gibson's story also, because it is like our life today in some regards. Maybe this is why we don't have much of "hard-SF"--we lost the war and lost the chance to develop the typical modern technology: It's the rockets and the nukes, anyway. Instead, perhaps we tried to survive by bypassing from the premodern to the postmodern. Imported hard-SF filled the gap of the two; they are the modern for us.
So, no, I don't think that SF has been "ghettoized" nearly as much in Japan as in the U.S., because that is just what we couldn't get. I don't think SF is admitted officially as a part of so-called mainstream literature, but our Japanese everyday life was, has been, and is, full of popular SF images. In our mind, SF cannot be separated from the American way of life, and many SF were accepted and loved as the most advanced style of this imaginary American way of life: full American cars, ultrasonic aircraft, freeways, Cokes, beefsteaks, fried chickens--it's only after mid-seventies that usual Japanese started to eat steaks or fried chickens frequently. Thick meat was "too much" for many of us for long time, both in its volume and price. We had been almost vegetarians, but we simply did not know the statement until very recently. American SF works became popular just because they were very modern and technology/consumer-oriented. Only a limited number of core SF nerds were called as "ghetto" people, but usual Japanese people may have small chance to recognize them. And, since Japan is tolerant to things supernatural, if a book is describing something like you will perhaps find in Kafka or Abe, it can be published as mainstream fiction and accepted by Japanese readers as some kind of "contemporary myths."
SG: How did you get interested in SF initially?
GM: My first contact as a reader was when I read H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. It was not children's book, and I was six then. Most part of the book was too difficult for me to understand. I just wanted to pretend to be a grown-up. But I remember some descriptions of the killing machine were very chilling. I would like to add that The Secret Garden was my first exposure to the mystery-oriented literature. It was the only children's story I could enjoy. I confess it is still a part of my standard of a "good story." I began reading Verne, Poe and Doyle when I was ten or so. My entertainment reading was mostly restricted to mystery genre when I was in my teens. I read most of the classic detective stories in translation, then moved to hard-boiled mysteries and Kobo Abe. They both seemed to me the same kind of stories, about an individual facing the absurd. The influence from Shozo Numa's Yapoo, the Human Cattle was enormous for me in my formative years. This is a novel several critics regard as the most important SF and the strangest book ever published in the postwar Japan. It is about a world in which only Caucasoids--especially white women--are regarded as human beings and dominators, while Negroids and Mongoloids--especially men--are regarded as cattle and used for the "living parts" of various products, from living toilet bowls and drawers to living carpets and diving suits. This truly unique novel was first appeared in 1956, highly appreciated by such mainstream authors as Yukio Mishima, and is still available in Japan.
I had also seen several SF and monster movies when I was a little boy. Like many of us, my father took me to the theater for the monster movies. I think we are the first generation with less need for written SF, since SF imageries were everywhere in the visual media. Imported TV shows such as Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Thunderbirds, or Batman are also imprinted in my memory. American imageries were flooding in, and kids' comics then were full of quasi-scientific images of the future technology. Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy may be the best example. Shotaro Ishimori's Cyborg 009, published on a kids' comic, was where I learned the term "cyborg" for the first time when I was ten or so. It was the futuristic Apollo days, and popular science magazines were full of lines such as "we will change our body parts into more effective machines for works in the space" or something like that. I remember having asked my classmate how cyborgs can have sex with their mechanized bodies when I was thirteen: One is born to write SF. But the first really important SF writer for me was Phillip K. Dick; I remember reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? when I was entering university, and thought that this was something very different from what I have regarded as SF. It was very unusual reading experience--the first time for me to discover genre SF novel that mattered. I was nineteen then, and with so many SF-oriented media around me, I had little need for SF literature. I had thought that literal SF was already dated. Audiovisual media were far more compelling. But I changed my opinion after reading Dick. I bought more than ten copies of that novel, because I have a habit of giving my favorite books to my friends who haven't read it.
SG: What was it about that book that made it seem so interesting and powerful to you?
GM: Using traditional SF gadgets, Dick examines what human nature is and the ways that technology affects it in our day. The theme of the book is, in short, "What it is that can be thought of as human being and how is this different from machines?" This is essentially an ethical question, and, with the aid of SF settings, he could speculate freely on the metaphysical problems in a very concrete way. I thought this is just the power that SF literature can have over above other SF media, that is, abstract thought experiments based on the concrete examples. Dick didn't use abstract terminology to his end, but simply depicts the situation, using metaphors of humans and androids. In this novel, if he thought a person is lacking humanity, then he depicted the one as an android. If a machine is kind enough, then it should be a "human." This is his essential view of the world, and a very humanistic one. It is no surprise that French readers loved him much, given this high humanistic spirituality. We can be both humans and androids, depending on the situation, and his conclusion goes: What is finally important for us is not whether it is an original or a copy. Rather, everything with kindness can be regarded as true and therefore human, while unkind existence is nonhuman. What a straightforward humanistic manifesto gained in the midst of the relativistic universe. He also says that the most important feature of human nature is "empathy," an ability to feel like others do. That is to go out of ourselves and to see others as they see us. So, in this sense, the book is about human communication, that is, how we can understand each other. Reading the book made me think a lot about communication and empathic ability, which might be a big subject matter in the whole literary tradition.
LM: Were you already thinking about writing SF while you were in college? I take it you didn't major in literature as an undergraduate.
GM: No, my undergraduate study was in social sciences, sociology. Before that I wanted to be a natural scientist; in fact, I studied just about everything except literature [laughs].
LM: What was it that drew you to write SF rather than other types of fiction?
GM: I was always very fond of writing, and my writings were always highly graded by my teachers through my school days. But I never wanted to become a professional writer, though I enjoyed writing stories for myself very much. By the time I was thirteen, I was constantly writing stories, not SF but mainly mystery- or fantasy- oriented studies. I stopped making stories when I was nineteen and went to the university; I soon found I was too busy studying social sciences to do any writing other than that. It wasn't until ten years later when I was twenty-eight or twenty-nine that I began again, so there is a ten-year blank in my writing career. In 1986 I felt great pressure both from my work and from private matters, and I suddenly began writing SF. During the blank time, I have read several SF writers who were new to me, such as James Tiptree, Jr., Cordwainer Smith, and John Varley. I am ready to admit their direct influence on me through their works.
LM: But not any of the cyberpunk writers as yet?
GM: I have to admit that I was often regarded as one of the first Japanese cyberpunk writers. Just before I wrote my first commercially published story, Evil Eyes, I had read Gibson's "Burning Chrome" and some other short stories, and then Neuromancer, all in translation, but that was the only cyberpunk I have read before Evil Eyes. After my debut, I intentionally stopped reading Gibson because I was always compared to him. So I started to try purposefully not to write like Gibson. It was an uninteresting decision because I liked his writings. I bought a signed copy of his book at the Forbidden Planet in London. But I had to avoid becoming a "Japanese Gibson."
SG: If you were you consciously trying not to write in a cyberpunk manner, what was it about your early stories that made others compare them to what the cyberpunks were doing?
GM: Actually, I feel that Evil Eyes was more directly influenced by Tiptree than by Gibson or other cyberpunks. I had played with the main idea itself back since 1979 or so. I once tried to write it down, but failed. I was too busy then. And I completed the story during the summer and fall of 1986, and it was published in 1987. I thought it would be regarded as a Tiptree-like story, but when it appeared, people immediately said it was a kind of cyberpunk. To be more correct, it was regarded as a Gibson clone.
LM: What was Evil Eyes about?
GM: I would say it is about femininity in highly developed capitalist nations. Literally, it's about a mind-control software designer who is captured by a new religious group who tries to utilize his skill to brainwash the whole world. Somehow he escapes from that religion and destroys that cult, but then it turns out that all this was planned by an opposite power, a mind-control music industry which had produced many mind-controlling software and was firmly competing against the cult in getting their audience. I think the story criticizes industrial society and some of its consequences. And the cult leader is at first referred to as he, but actually he is a female who doesn't have a body.
LM: How do you mean by "he is a female"? And does he have no body?
GM: The cult guru is first introduced as a living Ricca-chan doll. Ricca is a Japanese equivalent of Barbie. But it is revealed that actually the doll-like thing was made solely from human brain tissue. Its doll body is only a kind of plastic container exoskeleton, and it is filled with living human central nerve tissues taken from many others. It absorbs brains and memories of other people. It can change its "clothes," and appears as a beautiful boy elsewhere. And the creature insists that it is a "mind without body." Since mind functions are all that it possesses, the creature is a pure spirit. It has a seemingly twisted logic. Gradually it becomes clear that actually it was born as a girl child, and by an accident, it lost the chance to spend a usual life. Instead, prosthetic technology gave it a chance to evolve into a brain-and-knowledge-sucking superpower, who can utilize others' nerve tissues as some kind of additional memory storage. It becomes a hyperintelligence, and then a cult leader.
SG: Were you trying to depict a certain kind of "new femininity" that was actually arising in Japan during the eighties?
GM: If seen from that perspective, yes. At first, our guru called Mugen appears and speaks as a male, even though it presents itself as a Ricca doll. But it gradually becomes clear that it is actually a female character. It is also shown that this is actually a story of a woman who was torn apart in a highly developed information society. On one side, she tried to objectify herself by becoming a guru leading millions of followers. This shows Mugen's macho aspect. On the other side, it behaves as one who is dominated, deprived, and desperately seeking for the possibility of conceiving a child and being loved. But after all, what she was always trying to do was just to love, even though it lacked the relevant objects, and to take care of the world and other people.
SG: The cyberpunk authors in the eighties presented technology much more ambiguously than their New Wave counterparts of the sixties, who tended to be extremely pessimistic. How would you describe your own feelings about technological change?
GM: I tend to write rather pessimistic and critical, because things suspicious and distrustful are easier to be accepted and passed as the signs of careful professional attitude. But Venus City shows a more openly positive view on the future. A more cheerful aspect of myself. I myself was astonished by this. My typical writing style is shown in my early short story "The Weather Won't Stop" (1988) in which I have depicted an idea of heaven's atmosphere directly influencing mental atmospheres of people. For the story I used the synergistic theory by Hermann Haken, and I wrote the whole thing in a narrative style of a teenagers' romance. That is my usual way of hiding myself. But a smart way is not always a wise way, and after having a child, I lost a certain degree of my hiding instinct. After all, our son is the proof and he's there. Now I can write a little more straight tale with some positive nice views. I think it's okay for all of us.
SG: Is the world you depict in Venus City the world of Japan as you imagine it will be in the future? Or is the world of Japan now?
GM: Venus City is mainly about Japan in the twenty-first century. In this world Japan has become a kind of network nation and a very influential international power. Also, there is a presence of anti-Japanese extremist groups from America.
LM: Was this anti-Japanese aspect of the novel partly a reaction on your part to the Japan-bashing which was so common in the U.S. and elsewhere during the eighties and early nineties?
GM: Yes. The protagonist Sakiko is a Japanese woman who hates American people, at least partly because her boss is a male American in a Japanese company. So there is already a kind of racial tension that is a very significant feature of the novel. I wanted to present my story as evenly as possible, so it is composed of three sections: the first is told in the first person of the Japanese woman, the second from the perspective of the American boss, and the third is the objective, third person, where I tried to be perfectly neutral.
LM: This sounds like an interesting look at the ways gender and sexual roles wind up changing in an age of hyperconsumerism. Is there an identity crisis, for either sexual or gender identity, taking place today in Japan, the way there was in America during the seventies?
GM: What happened to American society twenty years ago is not happening in Japan now. To be very equal, the differences may be increased. Simple masculine identity is not typical as in the old days. Japanese males worry about how to deal with things. This confusion seems less obvious, or is less of a problem, on the female side because they have always been exploited for decades. And they are gaining independence.
LM: Have you been tempted to move outside the SF genre?
GM: I am attracted to SF because I wanted to write freely. This freedom to experiment may be one reason why I'm writing in SF genre, but insofar far as I can write with much freedom, the genre is not very important to me. And, to be honest, I soon found out that there existed many norms and restrictions even in the SF genre. Besides, I never seriously thought of a professional writer's career.
LM: Tell me a little about the background of "With Love, to My Eldest Brother," the story I published in Fiction International. It seems to be almost like a holocaust or postbomb, apocalypse story.
GM: "With Love" was actually about the secondary influences of atomic bombs on the next generation after an atomic bomb blast. The reason why I wanted to write this was because I myself am the son of a Hiroshima survivor. My father was a Lieutenant of the Japan Imperial Army, and was sent to China only months after graduation from the university. There he served as an educational officer for the Chinese people. Then he was sent back to Japan, and was trained as a commando of kamikaze-type human torpedo. He was staying at Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. By some chance he went to a nearby town just one day before the A-bomb was dropped, so he survived; but he went back to Hiroshima City and searched for his fellow soldiers the day after the explosion. So he too suffered from the A-bomb, to a certain degree. For instance, he lost most of the hair on his legs and arms, and his liver was also affected, so his skin is more yellow than usual Japanese. I have heard that my parents hesitated to have a child for a while, because they feared there might be some secondary effects on the children. Luckily my father was not so badly affected, but I have heard these stories while very young, and all these things strongly inspired me to write the story. For Hiroshima victims and survivors and their relatives, "With Love" is not just an interesting tale--it's almost a realistic fear.
LM: Has your writing has been influenced by earlier conventions of Japanese storytelling, such as the use of the traditional autobiographical "I" narrator?
GM: In Evil Eyes, for the simple reason that I didn't have much space, I deleted almost all "I's." It's literally condensed, I have written some 150 pages and summed the draft up into just one hundred pages. In Japanese, it's very easy to delete the subject "I" from the lines. And another reason, I wanted to make it very universal, not private or uniquely Japanese, so that it will apply to everyone. So I tried to omit the subject "I." I have an English version of "Evil Eyes," which is a close representation of what I have written, but even in it, there are more "I's" than in the original. My second collection of short stories, Won't Cry for a Cat Anymore, is mostly private Japanese autobiographical stories, of the sort that might begin, "one day I went somewhere to see something." I think these are very traditional uses of Japanese writing style. I tried this style because I had to escape from the puzzling fame of being a Japanese Gibson.
LM: Why did you use a pen name? Did you personally want to split yourself in two?
GM: The reason is simple. I did not want to be known. James Tiptree, Jr., once explained this kind of psychology very well. She said she wanted to be some kind of spirit who could leave what she has written in front of the reader and just disappear. This may be a fundamental instinct of hiding before the unknown. To hide from the unfamiliar is a natural response of an animal. To escape from some objects thrown to oneself is also a normal reaction. I have never known baseball rules very well [laughs].
Transcribed by Pam Hasman