So what’s the future really going to be like? If you ask me, it’s going to be exactly what we have right now — and, at the same time, nothing like what we have right now. When Roger Ebert reviewed Blade Runner, he pointed out that the 1980s were nothing like the 1980s as we’d imagined them: no flying cars and no world government, but there’s still rock ‘n roll on the radio. That’s one of the things I’ve liked about the Ghost in the Shell mythology: it’s set in the year 2030, but life goes on for many people as it always has: people still work at jobs, drive cars, save for their retirements, and commit crimes.
That was how it came across in the TV series, and that’s also how it comes across in a highly entertaining series of light novels written from the series mythology and now presented in English. The first of that batch, The Lost Memory, was a fun read (I used it to keep from dropping dead of boredom during a stint of jury duty last year), and ifMemory read like an extended episode of the TV series, that was no accident: Junichi Fujisaku’s novel was apparently derived from one of a set of stories that had originally been intended for the show but got left by the wayside, and Fujisaku himself was on the show’s production team. I haven’t yet read the second novel, Revenge of the Cold Machines, but if it’s anything like White Maze, the third release, it’s probably as self-contained as the other two and thus not crucial to understanding what goes on inMaze. And probably every bit as much fun as Maze, too.
If you’re not familiar with the GitS universe, the first few pages of each GitS novel gives you a quick recap. In the year 2030, human society is lived as much online as it is in the flesh. Cyberbrains and cybernetic body replacements are commonplace. Asia has struggled to rebuild in the aftermath of a massive war (details about this are spelled out a bit more clearly in the second TV season), and a very small and elite security force named “Section 9” has been established within the government to deal with criminal affairs that can’t be handled above-board: terrorism, digital warfare, and things that go bump in cyberspace.
The commander-in-chief of Section 9, Motoko Kusanagi, lost her real body as a child and has spent the majority of her lifespan in a prosthetic one. Her Section 9 cohort, Batou, isn’t as heavily cyberized but makes up for it with decades of on-the-street and in-the-warzone experience. Togusa, the youngest and least prosthetized of the bunch (and the only one with a family, interestingly enough), acts as the group’s grounding in humanity; Aramaki, their gray-haired overseer, directs their operations through Kusanagi and justifies the existence of the group to a government that is continually rocked with political turmoil.
The opening of White Maze throws Kusanagi into a bizarre plot involving a number of people who have been infected with a digital virus that turns them into “vampires” — once infected, they seek out a specific target and bite them, injecting micromachines that cause their victims to also turn. (I was actually reminded of the “Rage” infection in the movie 28 Days Later — once you’re bitten, you’re no longer really human.) Among the victims is a member of the Diet. The one responsible for creating this peculiar plague is a fellow out of Japan’s past: Roy Tairagi, a man with more skeletons in his closet than most people have closet space. The only lead they have to him is a fragment of a memory that seems to have no direct connection with the case at large. (Lost Memory, as the title implied, also revolved around the persistence or impermanence of memory in the digital age — and on the whole, you can’t really have aGhost in the Shell plot without memory figuring in somewhere.)
Kusanagi’s hunt for Tairagi himself draws her to what’s left of Tokyo, destroyed by war and now a gathering place for refugees and scavengers, where the skyscrapers are now all underwater and being dismantled for scrap. There, she meets Won Pin, about whom some things are said and other things known, and gets embroiled in a clash between various factions — including the equally-shadowy Section 6 and one of Won Pin’s own men. Various clever action sequences unfold, the most memorable of which features Kusanagi having to fight blind — or, rather, by using someone else’s eyes when her own are sabotaged.
Even though the book is relatively short (about 217 pages), it packs in a remarkable amount of plot and incident, probably because it doesn’t waste a great deal of time. Descriptions are pointed and brief; the dialogue gets right to the point. This kind of storytelling doesn’t win any literary prizes, but it draws you in and does its job - and that seems to be the purpose of the GitS novels. Mission accomplished.
Art: Being a novel, this section will not be scored. The only artwork is the cover, which sports Kazuto (Samurai Champloo, El-Hazard) Nakazawa’s rendition of Kusanagi; a back cover by Hiroyuki Okiyura; and some interstitial illustrations that depict Tokyo underwater.
Translation: Camellia Nieh did the equally spot-on and efficient translation for the other novels in the series, and her work has been presented in an equally professional-looking typesetting and editing job.
The Bottom Line: If you’re an existing fan of the TV series, you’ve probably already picked up the other GitS books, and this one comes with an equally enthusiastic recommendation. If you’re new to the GitS universe, go check out the TV series first, and if they fire your interest, pick up the novels as well.