Sunday, April 14, 2019

Review: Science: Hopes & Fears (Volume 2) by Juza Unno

Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 2: Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath] by Juza Unno (translated by J.D. Wisgo)
Published: Self-published (2018)

The Book:

Juza Unno, the father of Japanese science fiction, wrote a great number of stories in the 1930s and 1940s which contained exceptional elements of science and technology. Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath, one of his most well-known works, is a dystopian novella set in a future where humanity has obtained eternal life and the freedom to do almost anything–except for a single hour a day, where citizens must perform the most important societal tasks with superhuman productivity.

This extreme productivity is made possible by the refreshing 30-minute “music bath”, where citizens listen to a specially-engineered melody that integrates a long list of factors chosen by the government. However, little do the people know that increased productivity is not the only side-effect…” ~Amazon.com

My Thoughts:

This is the second volume of the work of foundational Japanese science fiction author Juza Unno, translated by J.D. Wisgo.  I have reviewed the first volume here, and if you’re interested in this second novella you can find it on Amazon here. These works came to my attention because my brother was involved in the translation work for this book, and I think it’s an exciting opportunity to read some of the earliest Japanese science fiction.  Since this is an older work that I am reading far out of its time, I will discuss but not rate the novella.

These days, dystopian fiction has become pretty popular.  Juza Unno’s “Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath” may have been written over 80 years ago, but it presents some basic themes that have been presented time and again in stories since. The government is obsessed with controlling its citizens, mind and body, and they do so through new technology. The “music bath” is a method through which citizens can be both focused for an hour of superhuman productivity (for government-approved work, of course) and be forced to adhere to the ideals of the government for the rest of the day. The experience of the bath is actually deeply unpleasant to the citizens, and can even damage their brains from long exposure. To the president, this is a small price to pay for a docile, productive, crime-free populace. The president does not see humanity as a necessity in his subjects, only loyalty and obedience.

There is some conflict set up between the scientists and politicians, but Unno does not seek to portray either in a particularly positive light.  Initially, scientists are preventing the politicians from totally cooking the citizens brains, but the scientists are also the ones who made the music bath possible in the first place. The story was much more balanced in gender than I would’ve expected from such an old work. There are about the same amount of male and female characters, and two scientists are even a married couple.  In addition, there’s some surprisingly abrupt transgender content, which some of the characters approve of and others revile. In general, this novella was not exactly what I expected for the time period, given my experiences with contemporary English works. It was really interesting to read a vision of a future dystopia imagined from historical Japan, and I wonder if the struggles of the era influenced the ultimate bleakness of the ending.

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