#88 = Volume 29, Part 3 = November 2002
Two Essays on Science Fiction
Introduced by Christopher Bolton
Abe Kôbô (1924-1993) was one of Japan’s leading avant-garde writers of the
postwar period, and he is frequently credited with helping to establish prose
science fiction as a viable genre in Japan. But arguably this is not a result
Abe himself wanted. As these essays show, Abe vigorously championed the cause of
science fiction, but he was wary about setting sf up as separate genre with its
own definable rules, urging instead that it be seen as a flexible branch of
avant-garde literature and judged on the same terms.
In this role, Abe Kôbô represents a theoretical and historical bridge between
prewar proto-sf and later science fiction mainstays such as Komatsu Sakyô
(1931-). Abe debuted after the war with a brand of fantastic but philosophical
fiction that might be characterized as surreal or grotesque. (In a number of his
stories, for example, the protagonists’ bodies inexplicably dissolve, unravel,
or metamorphose into inanimate objects.) But Abe, who was originally trained as
a doctor, also focuses on scientific elements or principles that sometimes
strike an uneasy balance with the more fantastic ones.
Abe’s work in the 1950s included short stories about robots, suspended
animation, and alien visitation, but it was the 1959 publication of his novel
Dai yon kanpyôki (Inter Ice Age 4, 1970) that marked a real turning point for sf
in Japan. Incorporating hard-science elements on a scale that no Japanese
novelist had attempted, Abe nevertheless pushed the story toward a disturbing,
almost surreal conclusion. A number of critics have identified Inter Ice Age 4
as Japan’s first full-length science fiction novel, and a work that helped jump
start Japanese interest in the genre. (For more on this important text, see
Thomas Schnellbächer’s article in this issue.)
When SF Magajin (SF Magazine) debuted the following year, the inaugural issue
included the following statements by Abe lauding this new kind of fiction:
The science fiction novel represents a discovery on the order of Columbus, in
that it combines an extremely rational hypothesis with the irrational passion of
fantasy.... The poetry produced by the collision between this intellectual
tension and the invitation to adventure is not only contemporary; it is also
connected with the original spirit of literature. (456).
As positive as this characterization is, it already contains the seeds of Abe’s
eventual estrangement from science fiction. Abe continued to use scientific
elements in his work throughout his career, but in later novels such as Tanin no
kao (1964, The Face of Another, 1966), Mikkai (1977, Secret Rendezvous, 1979)
and Sakura Hakobune Maru (1984, The Ark Sakura, 1988), the “irrational passions”
referred to in Abe’s definition gradually become more prominent and seem to
overwhelm any sense of rigorous logic or reason.
But for Abe, science and technology were never far removed from fantasy, in that
they were always just one more means of generating an unexpected result that
could destabilize our everyday common sense and help us see the world in a new
light. This is the theme that Abe explores in the essays that follow, “SF no
ryûkô ni tsuite (1962, “The Boom in Science Fiction”) and “SF kono nadzukegataki
mono” (1966, “SF the Unnameable”), originally published in The Asahi Journal and
SF Magazine, respectively, and translated here. Abe argues that sf should not
ally itself too closely with a narrow idea of scientific accuracy, nor should it
attempt to fix its own borders too firmly with an internal logic or genre
definition that would limit its reach.
The third key text for Abe’s theory of sf (not included here) is his postscript
to Inter Ice Age 4, which suggests that technological developments will result
in future changes that pose the same constructive but painful challenges to our
common sense as literature does today. It is interesting to contrast Abe’s views
with those of Shibano Takumi, whose work is also translated in this issue. Abe’s
idea of an unpredictable future foreshadows Shibano, who posits a “collective
reason” that evolves autonomously from narrow individual reason and challenges
our individual common sense. But besides Abe’s greater suspicion of reason and
definitions in general, for him the roles were reversed: the group was always
the source of narrow common sense that the individual must overcome.
Ultimately the most interesting description of Abe’s relationship to sf is
provided by Tatsumi Takayuki, who has identified Abe as part of the “slipstream”
between the literary establishment’s jun bungaku (so-called “pure” literature)
and science fiction. Tatsumi writes that Abe’s work retained elements of sf
throughout his career, but that Abe also began to undermine or dismantle the
rules of the genre from the outset, even in his earliest works.
Abe Kôbô. Dai yon kanypôki. 1959. Abe Kôbô zenshû (Collected Works of Abe Kôbô).
29 vols. Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1998-2000. 9:9-174, 11:141-42. Translated as Inter
Ice Age 4 by E. Dale Saunders. NY: Knopf, 1970.
─────. “Honshi sôkan ni yoserareta shukuji” (“Congratulations on the launch of
SF Magazine”). 1960. Abe Kôbô zenshû. 11:456.
Tatsumi Takayuki. “Hakobunejô muishiki: surippusutoriimu josetsu” (“The Ark-like
Unconscious: A Slipstream Interpretation”). Herumesu (Hermes): 46 (1993): 71-75.
The following translations are based on the versions of the texts in Abe Kôbô
zenshû 16:367-85 and 20:52-54.
The Boom in Science Fiction (1962)
Translated by Christopher Bolton
Arguments For and Against Science Fiction: They say that the sf novel is
enjoying a quiet surge in popularity lately. “sf” stands for the English term
“science fiction,” what would be called “kûsô kagaku shôsetsu” or “fantastic
science novels” in Japanese. But in practice the term is often used broadly to
embrace even pure fantasies [fantashii] with little or no relation to science.
As for the popularity of science fiction, there are some who view it as the
reflection of a new scientific era, the emblem of which is the development of
spacecraft and the like. On the other hand, until a few years ago there were
those who predicted plausibly that the coming of the space age would deprive
science fiction of its raison d’Ítre. The former position is a pro-science
fiction argument; the latter an anti-science fiction argument. In view of
science fiction’s continuing popularity, is it time to declare the proponents of
science fiction the winners?
When we look at what has happened around us, there seems reason enough to do so.
On the whole, the spread of science after the war and its penetration into
everyday life have been spectacular. The atomic bomb inaugurated a new era, and
now the spread of television has recast communication; the burden of housework
has been eased by the electric washing machine; electronics have promoted
industrial automation; and the idea of space travel has been transformed into a
real space program. Certainly it is no exaggeration to call this the age of
science. And if, instead of declining, science fiction is showing signs of
renewed popularity against this backdrop, we could take it to mean that the
spread of science and the spread of science fiction are directly proportional.
But the opposition will not simply roll over at this point. Their arguments are
far from exhausted. A rebuttal from the con side would probably run something
The Con Argument. The public responds rapidly to the products of new
technology—that much is true. Household electrification is spreading like a
brush fire; automobile ownership has increased dramatically; the transistor
radio has entered the company of daily necessities. But just what percentage of
housewives in homes with electricity know the difference between alternating and
direct current? What fraction of radio listeners can grasp the distinction
between short-wave and medium-wave? Very few. Between technology and the
products which result from technology, there is already a gap that is difficult
to bridge. How much more difficult, then, to find a link between enjoying those
products and thinking in a scientific manner?
A person may be versed in theoretical physics, but that doesn’t mean he or she
can drive a car. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t even know the
Pythagorean theorem can become the holder of a class two driver’s license easily
enough. Our age displays a veneer of science, but underneath that thin covering,
it is no different from the Dark Ages. The popularity of science fiction has
been encouraged by the overwhelming flood of technological products: far from
reflecting a growing scientific spirit, this popularity must be seen as the
index of an unscientific confusion. With the dawning of a true scientific
spirit, pseudo-sciences like science fiction will be swiftly choked off, just as
the sun drives away the morning fog.
Compared with the overly empirical [keikenshugiteki] assertions of the pro
position, this one retains a logical aspect that would seem to give weight to
the con argument. But perhaps in the interests of fairness we should hear the
proponents of science fiction one more time. Among these, the ones most likely
to screw up their noses at the con statement are those we might call the science
fiction realists—a group that, after a fashion, makes up the extreme right wing
of the genre. Let’s listen then to the pro argument of the realists:
The Pro Argument. The realist wing of science fiction is expanding its influence
in America, but its most important members are still the Soviet authors. It is
said that at a recent Soviet science fiction symposium, participants earnestly
debated the subject of “accurate fantasy” [tadashii kûsô]—clear proof that
enthusiasm for realist science fiction is not simply a casual occurrence? Only
the most biased critic could fail to relate it to the rise in general scientific
interest within the Soviet Union, a country that has made itself the world
leader in rocket science.
In fact, Russian Science in the Twenty-First Century, a forecast compiled by
reporters at Komsomolskaya Pravda, emphasizes the significance of fantasy [kûsô]:
“Science cannot develop without fantasy and meditation upon the future. Fantasy,
inevitably, is the forerunner of the hypotheses which experiment can transform
into a scientific theory.”1
The Vitality of Pseudo-Science. So which of these arguments should we side with,
pro or con? To tell the truth, I can’t bring myself to agree with either one. At
first they may seem diametrically opposed, but both arguments are simply
variations on a theme. The two sides are united by a common desire to reject
pseudo-science [giji kagaku].
The proponents of science fiction are optimists who dream about the unification
of science and literature, while its opponents are pessimists who deny that
possibility. In this they are different, but the two sides are indistinguishable
in their hostility toward the “absurdity” of pseudo-science. For someone like
me, who believes that the pseudo-scientific spirit is the very foundation of
science fiction, it hardly makes any difference which of these arguments
Of course, saying that science fiction is founded on pseudo-science doesn’t make
it a child’s bedtime story, a fairy tale beneath our consideration. On the
contrary, one might say that the active contemporary significance of science
fiction lies precisely in that absurd fantastic quality.
In other words, as long as it clings naively to that word “science,” science
fiction will never venture off the sight-seeing trails printed in guidebooks. It
is a separation from science that can open new vistas and new possibilities for
That said, I don’t mean to reject realist science fiction altogether. Antoine de
Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight  is artistically beyond reproach, and I
consider it a work of science fiction realism. The technique used there could
easily be adapted for a story about interstellar astronauts. David Garnett’s
novel The Grasshoppers Come  might be thought of as realist science
In my recent reading, a book along these lines that stands out is The Moon is
Hell!  by John W. Campbell. It’s a story about a group of Robinson Crusoes,
marooned on the moon. With considerable force, the book describes in detail how
they develop the means for survival and organize a life there.
We must not forget that the concept of realism is no more than a literary
technique, with no relation to the facts of science, let alone to “realness” in
the conventional sense. For example, there are critics who will praise a work by
saying that the author’s predictions have become reality: not only does this
have nothing to do with the criticism of literature, it does literature a
My skepticism on hearing that Soviet science fiction authors have held a
symposium on “accurate fantasy” stems from precisely this point. What use is
there in setting up clumsy distinctions between right and wrong fantasy? It is
in the act of escaping fixed categories like “accurate fantasy” and “inaccurate
fantasy” that the essence of science fiction lies.
Of course, this kind of thing is hardly surprising when we look at the history
of Soviet literature. This is a country where an author on the level of Bruno
Yasensky had to die in prison simply because his novels showed “bourgeois”
tendencies toward detective fiction. Soviet literary theory too is extremely
timid and insular, especially in regard to fantasy. The document quoted by the
pro argument, Russian Science in the Twenty-First Century, is intended to
celebrate the power of the imagination, but even it is careful to constrain that
power in another passage:
The present-day level of science and the dynamism of its constant development
not only allow us to make with confidence the most optimistic forecasts for the
future, but often surpass the comparatively restrained fantasies of certain
fantasy writers. (9)
The document also makes clever use of a famous episode involving H.G. Wells, who
was unable to understand the words of Lenin and so referred to him as “The
Dreamer in the Kremlin.” This is another typical example of the attempt to
distinguish clearly between “correct” and “incorrect fantasy.”
For Soviet writers, “incorrect fantasy” is still viewed as a sign of disloyalty
and continues to be forbidden. Perhaps this is a remnant of the Stalinist era,
which would not tolerate an author whose imagination exceeded that of the party
This is a shame, because the Slavic peoples have a great tradition of
fantasists. If the current prosperity of science fiction in the USSR has nothing
to do with the de-Stalinization of literature—if it is no more than the
promotion of novels that contribute to a state-advocated scientific
enlightenment—then it has little or no literary significance.
Science as Raw Material for a Hypothesis. Of course, it would be
one-sided to single out Soviet authors alone for criticism. When it comes to a
prejudice against fantasy, authors and critics in our own country are not to be
outdone. I once met Tsurumi Shunsuke at a gathering of some kind, and we somehow got onto
the topic of science fiction, whereupon he stated flatly that it was nothing
more than counterfeit science. I started to explain that it was interesting
precisely by virtue of being a counterfeit, but at that time the argument didn’t
go any further. I remember being disappointed to hear this from Tsurumi, someone
known as a flexible pragmatist who is not hemmed in by fixed ideas, a man who
should extend the same latitude to others.
The truth is that pseudo-science is far more creative than a sloppy take on
Enlightenment thinking, and it is often infused with a truly scientific spirit.
For example, take Poe’s story “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall”
. Besides this story, Poe’s work contains no shortage of other tales that
are utterly science fictional, works like “A Descent into the Maelstrom” 
or “The Tell-Tale Heart” —enough stories in any case to convince me that
the father of modern science fiction is not Verne or Wells but Poe himself. Look
at this passage from “Hans Pfaal,” a description of the earth as viewed from an
What mainly astonished me, in the appearance of things below, was the seeming
concavity of the surface of the globe. I had, thoughtlessly enough, expected to
see its real convexity become evident as I ascended; but a very little
reflection sufficed to explain the discrepancy. A line, dropped from my position
perpendicularly to the earth, would have formed the perpendicular of a
right-angled triangle, of which the base would have extended from the
right-angle to the horizon, and the hypothenuse from the horizon to my position.
But my height was little or nothing in comparison with my prospect. In other
words, the base and hypothenuse of the supposed triangle would, in my case, have
been so long, when compared to the perpendicular, that the two former might have
been regarded as nearly parallel. In this manner the horizon of the aeronaut
appears always to be upon a level with the car. But as the point immediately
beneath him seems, and is, at a great distance below him, it seems of course,
also at a great distance below the horizon. Hence the impression of
Poe’s explanation seems obvious when you think it over, but that very
obviousness is what conceals the glimmer of the solution, like the conundrum of
Columbus’s egg. This is the same sort of idea Poe came up with in “The Purloined
Letter” . Maybe fundamentally Poe was an author of discovery.
However, the question of whether the discovery that the earth appears concave
from a great height is a discovery which coincides with the real facts—that is a
separate issue. In my experience anyway, the scenery you see from an airplane
window looks as flat as any other. And when you get to satellite photographs,
the ground already looks like the surface of a sphere. Maybe we correct our raw
perceptions using the rules of linear perspective, in the same way that we can
look at railroad tracks receding into the distance without feeling that the
rails are drawing together. In actuality, Poe’s discoveries never escaped the
But rather than question whether Poe’s findings are verified by the facts,
shouldn’t we rather ask whether he manages to elicit in his readers the feeling
of surprise that accompanies discovery? In literature, proximity to discovered
facts is far less important than adherence to the internal laws of discovery
itself. In other words, it’s a question of forming a hypothesis and then seeing
to what extent you can erect a new system of rules, utterly different from the
existing rules of our everyday lives.
Maybe what we call the everyday is just thought without hypotheses. Or rather
hypotheses exist, but they cling so stubbornly to phenomenal reality that they
have already lost their function. When a fresh hypothesis is brought in, the
everyday is suddenly destabilized and begins to take on strange new forms. It
becomes activated, objectified, and our consciousness is roughly shaken.
Poe’s balloon, like the vortex and the tell-tale heart, is just this sort of
shape to the hypothesis. Science is not the goal here; it is simply the raw
material that gives shape to the hypothesis.
Nor is this strategy limited to Poe. Science fiction in general could be thought
of as a literature of hypotheses.
Ghost Stories that do not Believe in Ghosts. If I am correct above, then the “s”
of sf need not stand for science. Not only would semi-science do just as well,
but one could use anything that made an effective hypothesis, even something
without any appearance of the scientific. The observation I made earlier—that
the term science fiction today is used to include horror and fantasy—is not
something due simply to the fledgling state of the genre. Rather, it is because
of the fundamental nature of science fiction that this conflation occurs.
Actually, it is said that Poe’s initial motive for writing these science
fiction-like works was a desire to ironize or parody the taste for the grotesque
that was sweeping society at the time. From their very inception, then, science
fiction and horror shared a common lineage.
Nonetheless, science fiction and horror are not the same thing. The difference,
obviously, lies in whether the monster is simply a monster, or whether it
represents a hypothesis with which to plumb reality. For example, Poe’s
creatures are certainly hypothetical beings, but that quality of hypothesis is
diminished in the monsters of E.T.A. Hoffmann. So while we can refer to Poe as a
pioneer in science fiction, it is rather more difficult to call Hoffmann a
science fiction author. Perhaps one could say that a ghost story writer produces
ghost stories that believe in their own ghosts, while the science fiction author
writes ghost stories with no such belief.
Before we leave the subject of monsters, let us turn to a famous science fiction
monster born around the time of Poe. It is Frankenstein’s monster.
Thanks to the movies, Frankenstein has achieved the rank of a horror superstar,
but in the films he never moves beyond the status of a horror to believe in—in
other words a ghost story monster rather than a hypothetical one. The screen
versions are less science fiction movies than horror movies.
The monster of the novel has a whole different flavor. The author is Mary
Shelley, wife of the famous poet. Her father William Godwin was inspired to
begin writing by his sympathies with the French Revolution, and became a pioneer
in English Utopianism. And her husband issued atheist tracts and even
participated in the Irish revolutionary movement, so naturally Mary had
reformist ideas as well.
Frankenstein was born in the summer of 1816, in the Swiss mountains. The story
is well known of how the Shelleys were there with their frequent companion
Byron, and how after a debate about the horror novels so popular at the time,
the three decided that each would endeavor to create a truly literary monster.
It seems that the men became absorbed in hiking, though, and only Mary completed
As you would expect from a being of such distinguished lineage, this monster
(unlike those in the movies) is a solid intellectual. He has studied Paradise
Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, and The Sorrows of Young Werther among other works. In
fact, it is no exaggeration to call this novel a genuine tragedy. Listen to the
monster’s own words:
But again when I reflected that [my friends] had spurned and deserted me, anger
returned, a rage of anger, and unable to injure anything human, I turned my fury
towards inanimate objects.... I waited with forced impatience until the moon had
sunk to commence my operations....
[W]hen I arrived on the confines of Switzerland, when the sun had recovered its
warmth ... I felt emotions of gentleness and pleasure, that had long appeared
dead, revive within me ... and forgetting my solitude and deformity, dared to be
happy. Soft tears again bedewed my cheeks, and I even raised my humid eyes with
thankfulness towards the blessed sun, which bestowed such joy upon me.3
In other words, this horrible monster is actually nothing less than a hypothesis
for plumbing the depths of human love and solitude. Unlike the films, this is
straight science fiction. If movies don’t rapidly develop to the point where
they can treat the monster hypothetically, there will never be a science fiction
movie in the true sense of the term.
In the case of The Invisible Man , we see the same relationship between
the book and the film. Wells is an author who always aimed at the criticism of
civilization, so The Invisible Man is naturally a kind of hypothesis: through
the solitude of a man who has lost his body, Wells delves deeply into the
significance of “seeing” in human relationships. But in the 1933 movie this
character becomes just another monster. No matter how much scientific window
dressing it has over Frankenstein or King Kong , at its core it does not
go beyond those monster movies.
As a fan of science fiction, it frustrates me no end that in spite of having
developed all this special effects technology, no one has taken the next step
and tried to make a true science fiction film.
Rediscovering the Vision of Science Fiction. We cannot call everything with a
monster in it science fiction, but if we make the presence of a hypothesis our
standard, then we are free to widen the field considerably. The evolutionary
line of science fiction could include not only Karel Čapek’s R.U.R.  and
War with the Newts , but even Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis  and David
Garnett’s Lady into Fox . We could broaden our definition endlessly, going
beyond the commonly accepted idea of the “science fiction writer” to include
authors like Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, August Strindberg, Guillaume Apollinaire, Vladmir Mayakovsky, Jules Supervielle, Lu Xun, Sôseki Natsume,
Uchida Hyakken, Akutagawa Ryûnosuke, Ishikawa Jun, and so on.
And we could go even further back, to Swift, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante,
Apuleius, and Lucian. The pedigree for our literature of hypothesis would
eventually trace itself all the way back to the Greeks.
Viewed in this light, science fiction’s vision is not a narrow branch within
literature but part of the mainstream, a literary current far longer and deeper
than a movement like Naturalism, for example. Even if this vision does not
encompass all of literature, it is a part too important to leave out. And if
there is a potential for a boom in science fiction in our country, it will be a
great blessing for Japanese literature, afflicted as it is with a shortage of
Of course, there are anemic hypotheses as well as good ones, so we shouldn’t
celebrate at the first sign of the hypothetical. Aldous Huxley’s Ape and Essence
 is a case in point, along with the much-talked-about movie On the Beach
. Each one erects a grandiose hypothesis front and center, an idea that is
plausible at first glance; but both simply repeat the same self-evident sermon
over and over in the same self-evident way—a sermon without any quality of
discovery about it. If you are not going to make at least a crack in the logic
of the everyday, then there’s no need to introduce a hypothesis in the first
Another example is San’yûtei Enchô’s Shinkei kasanegafuchi [1898, True View of
the Abyss]. The word shinkei or “true view” obviously calls to mind the
homophone that means “nerves.” Enchô undoubtedly believed that ghosts were
simply a matter of nerves, and in his time “nerve” probably had the same modern
ring to it that electronics does today. Enchô’s premise meets the conditions
necessary to develop a simple ghost story into a ghost story of unbelief, if
only Enchô had managed to pull it off. But the content of the tale never moves
beyond a run-of-the-mill ghost story. Perhaps in order to exploit a hypothesis
fully, the author must know what he or she is doing in the area of theme and
Looking back, we can see that in terms of setting up hypotheses as part of a
deliberate method, the originator of modern science fiction is the same writer
who founded the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s methods and structures
have been carried on faithfully (albeit in variously purified or vulgarized
forms) by a series of short story writers grouped under the category
“grotesque”— authors like David Garnett, John Collier, Saki, Roald Dahl, Ray
Bradbury, and Robert Sheckley. But one might go even further and say that no
modern writer has escaped the direct or indirect influence of Poe.
It seems about time that we freed ourselves from the fixed stereotype of Poe as
a believer in art for art’s sake, and conducted a reevaluation of this author.
And if the recent popularity of science fiction is a resurgence of the spirit of
hypothesis, then it constitutes more than a passing fad: it becomes an issue
touching on the nature of literature itself.
Science Fiction, the Unnameable (1966)
Translated by Thomas Schnellbächer
There is a passage somewhere—in a Thomas Mann novel, I think—to the effect that
long ago, before a lion was called a lion, it was a supernatural being to be
feared like a demon; but once it had been given the name “lion,” it became just
another wild animal that could be overcome by humans. There is no question that
unknown objects are much more disturbing than those we know; they also have a
far greater potential energy. An unknown monster X in the forest is far more
frightening than the familiar lions on view at just about every zoo in the
country. This is the common ground of the mystery, science fiction, and
ghost-story genres. Although each is written in a different way, all are firmly
rooted in the same quest for things unknown, the same world of enigma.
I suspect, however, that science fiction, which used to stand for challenging
the unknown, has recently come to side instead with the ready-named. The
mysterious fascination and vigor that it should be the explorer’s privilege to
seek has rather taken on the air of a circus lion.
Still, seeing how frequently the readers’ page of SF Magazine features heated
debates on such questions as “What is science fiction?,” one may conclude that
the true nature of the beast is still largely unknown, especially in comparison
to, say, the mystery genre. This perennial disagreement about sf’s definition is
very promising as far as it goes, but the problem is in the way in which the
debate is conducted. The last thing it deals with is that unknown monster X. In
fact, it strikes me that the debate starts from the assumption that the thing is
a lion, and then exhausts itself masochistically in such side-issues as “What is
a lion?” or “How should one keep lions?”
An analogous question is: “What is literature?” In purely formal terms, the one
question is hard to distinguish from the other. But are we seriously to believe
that the second question is guided by so immodest a goal as that of grasping the
nature of literature by naming it, as with the lion—of chasing it into a cage
and sending it to a zoo? Nobody, not even the most idiotic of college
professors, would be so presumptuous. That the task of defining literature is
always subject to certain limitations, that fundamentally literature is a
monster never to be defined once and for all—this awareness should be only
natural. The question “What is literature?” is impossible to answer, and for
that very reason—like the definition of mankind, or being, or the world—it is
able to be an eternal question.
We need the same degree of modesty when it comes to science fiction. It is high
time that people stopped throwing tantrums like so many spoiled children the
moment anyone portrays the genre in a way different from their own conceptions
What use is it inoculating readers against sf or putting it on a leash? But
turning sf into a performing lion means just that. By the same token, it is no
wonder that sf, as the number one monster-hunter among the genres of literature,
is a bigger monster than its quarry. And that is why I am among those who value
it as the very literature among literatures. When I look at the state of
Japanese literature, a dressed-up herbivore fawning on weak-kneed pseudo-lion
tamers called critics, my hopes rest all the more fervently on the monstrousness
of science fiction.
This is why I am skeptical about its popularity [ryûkô]. Keeping sf in a fannish
enclosure of its own and fattening it like a pig is nothing to be proud of. What
I dream of is the rehabilitation of the spirit of science fiction within
literature at large, the restoration of the territory of hypothetical
literature, which has been under occupation by naturalism. True, this sf camp of
ours is still inferior in numbers, and we are in open combat against the regular
forces of the literary institutions—the triple army of authors, critics, and
journalists. The odds are against us. Should we adopt Viet Cong-type guerilla
warfare? No, the Japanese publishing world is already too modern to permit
guerilla tactics. Besides, violence generally is no longer an option in these
times. But let me confidentially make this proposal. Seeing that our sf faction,
through regular contact with aliens, has accumulated a wealth of experience with
patterns of invasion, I suggest that we use our expertise to infiltrate. Since
my strategy is secret, I am unable to disclose any operational details, but I am
sure that simply writing this will inspire all the readers on our side to plenty
of merry tactics: seeking out new dimensions, shape-shifting, time travel, and
operations involving metamorphosis, uncertainty, parody, etc.
Indeed, we may have gone into action already. The monster sf is not to be gauged
by common sense, and it may already have taken up the fight without our knowing
it. Surely, then, it is all part of a plan that the science fiction boom never
actually progressed beyond fandom, or that SF Magazine has still not achieved
the biggest circulation in Japan. Yes, as long as science fiction continues to
be unnameable, we need not give up hope.
1. For an English translation of this document, see Russian Science in the 21st
Century, ed. and trans. S. Gouschev and M. Vassiliev (New York: McGraw Hill,
1960) 10. I have altered Gouschev and Vassiliev’s translation slightly to
account for some minor discrepancies between it and the Japanese translation Abe
2. Edgar Allan Poe. “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall.” The Complete
Works of Edgar Allan Poe, vol. 1 (New York: AMS, 1965) 73-74.
3. From chapter 16. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (London: Colburn and Bentley, 1831) 120, 122.