Get Lost…

Although the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is only partly complete, interested readers can access the working text now at the website. I warn you now, with 3.2 million words up online already, it is a time-wasting machine. I’ve been writing entries on a number of Asian subjects, including a new contender for Japan’s first science fiction anime, a forgotten master of pre-manga art, and an ongoing effort to write entries for everybody who’s won a Seiun Award. Plus entries on all sorts of fun things, from Korean costume dramas to Chinese feminists, the science fiction of Yukio Mishima and the steampunk of Hitoshi Yoshioka. Since the Encyclopedia focusses on authorship, there are entries on the original creators of Sky Crawlers and Akira, 2001 Nights and Star Blazers. There are details of the Japanese variants of Flowers for Algernon and the translation of Neuromancer, Japanese experts on Jack the Ripper and the big names in yaoi.

And how much does this all cost you? Nothing. It’s all free. It won’t be finished for a year or so, but it’s being hosted and paid for by Gollancz as part of their SF Gateway. But I’m warning you: it’s a time hoover. Do not click on any of the above links if you haven’t got an hour or so to spare getting lost in the labyrinth.

Suffer Little Kildren

“I turned 55 last year,” notes Mamoru Oshii. “When you’re young, there’s so many things you want to do, so many mountains to climb…. Then, it was like I woke up. Suddenly, I’m the adult on the production, and the staff are all younger than me. I thought, very deeply, very strongly, that this film had something to say to the young people of today.”

Oshii is speaking of a common theme in science fiction all around the world, ever since the end of WW2 – the concept that today’s children have never had it so good, and yet don’t appreciate their luck. “Modern Japanese youth live in a country without hunger, without war, without revolution. They don’t have to worry about clothes or food or a home. Everything is just handed to us. But on the flipside, I can’t help but wonder if that is really a sort of misfortune…. Now I’ve got to this age, I wonder if this easy living isn’t doing them more harm than good.”

Hiroshi Mori’s Sky Crawlers was the first of several books to be published about the “Kildren”, clone-like soldiers in an unspecified future war, who fight similar artificial people in what is either the most savage reality TV show ever made, or a genuine war fought by proxy in order to avoid damage to “real” people. Although the origin of the Kildren is no real secret, they are discouraged from dwelling on the implications. Nevertheless, many react to their existence with apathy – after all, what difference does it make if they die in battle if a replacement will be rolled off the production line within days?

Hiroshi Mori’s books have sold over eight million copies in Japanese, and are clearly immensely popular with the young. But director Mamoru Oshii wished to turn Sky Crawlers into a film for his own purposes, regarding it as “a work that should be made into a movie for young people now,” not because it is a book they read, but because, in Oshii’s view, of the attitudes they hold.

Although Sky Crawlers was the first in the sequence of five novels to be published, it is actually one of the last stories in the chronological narrative. Other books, telling the stories of Kusanagi’s first meeting with the Teacher, the fate of Kannami’s predecessor, and the aftermath of the events in Sky Crawlers, were deliberately released out of order, as part of Mori’s desire to make it clear to readers that the books were more rewarding if read out of sequence, leaving the reader as much in the dark about past events as newly-arrived Kildren.

“I guess I got the offer for the film rights about three years ago,” Mori recalls, “when I was writing the second book in the series. I’d always thought that I’d written something unfilmable.” The news came in that Production IG, celebrating its 21st year of operations, wanted to turn Sky Crawlers into a film. Mori was initially reluctant.

“Then I heard that Mamoru Oshii was going to be the director. I thought to myself, ‘Ah, well if it’s going to be Mamoru Oshii, then we’ll be okay.’ I remembered in particular his work on Avalon, and I thought this is a guy I know who will bring out the beauty in my work.” Continue reading