Reading Twin Spica made me realize that outer space, like the Wild West before it, persists so fiercely in our cultural imagination because we have found so many ways to mythologize it. We named one of the first space shuttles Enterprise as a way of paying homage to a cultural force that made it possible. The more broadly we dream about space, the easier it becomes for our dreams to become real, and a society that doesn’t dream of where to go next — and worry about what we will become in the process — is staring at its own navel.
Yukinobu Hoshino’s 2001 Nights makes its mythologizing clear right from the title. The mythology of old (the cycle of tales from Arabia) and the mythology of the new (Kubrick and Clarke’s vision) work side by side here. From 2001 we get the arena and the technology; from the Nights, we get the way every situation becomes an opportunity to learn about human nature in miniature. It’s a mixed bag, as all anthologies tend to be, but at its best it is downright transcendent, and my only worry is that I’ll have that much more trouble unearthing future volumes. Read more
Here is a novel about the life and times of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, which is as interested in the weather of his spirit as it is in the geography of the lands he conquered. It is a fascinating hybrid of two kinds of story — the sweeping historical epic and the intimate psychobiography. It starts as the latter, adds more ingredients of the former as it moves along, and by the end has turned into a striking fusion of the two. It may be fiction as far as the details of Chinggis’s life are concerned, but that simply means the facts synthesized for this story have the ring of emotional truth.
Yasushi Inoue has long been regarded as one of Japan’s greatest historical novelists, something like that country’s version of James Michener (although Inoue’s books tend to run a great deal shorter). My favorite book of his so far remains Tun-Huang, where Inoue took a historical curiosity — a cave in ancient China inexplicably filled with Buddhist treasures — and created an epic adventure that does more in two hundred pages than many books do in a thousand. Here, he pulls off something about as good, and it never becomes turgid or overblown but remains lean, spare and direct all the way through.Read more
Space is the place.
— Sun Ra
When I was a kid, I didn’t just want to be an astronaut. I wanted everyone else to be one, too. I imagined it’d get real lonely up there if I was the only one in orbit.
Twin Spica is not, strictly speaking, about becoming an astronaut. It is about the longing to become one — the way a dream deferred (as Langston Hughes put it) can lodge in the soul like a splinter. Or it can become rocket fuel to drive you on past the stars, and inspire others to follow in your wake.
Spica posits a kind of alternate present-and-near-future for Japan’s space program. In 2010, Japan launches its own manned craft, “The Lion”, the culmination of decades of effort. The launch is a disaster: the ship crashes into a populated area and kills an untold number of people. The weight of that disaster has hung heavy across all of Japan — especially thirteen-year-old Asumi Kamogawa. Her mother was one of those that died because of the crash, leaving her with her overworked and underpaid father as the only parent for most of her life. Now, in 2024, Asumi quietly fills out an application to enter Tokyo Space School — without telling her father.
It’s not as if she wants to get out from under his thumb. He’s a good man, just beaten down by life, and he clings to his daughter a little more tightly than he probably should. When he finds out she’s planning to go, he’s upset — but more because this is a dream he wished she had shared with him sooner, and because his daughter’s dreams matter more to him than his own. Read more