Science Fiction Studies

#88 = Volume 29, Part 3 = November 2002

Abe Kôbô

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’être. 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 like this:

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 prevails.

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 science fiction.

That said, I don’t mean to reject realist science fiction altogether. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight [1932] 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 [1931] might be thought of as realist science fiction, too.

In my recent reading, a book along these lines that stands out is The Moon is Hell! [1951] 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 disservice.

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 leaders.

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” [1835]. Besides this story, Poe’s work contains no shortage of other tales that are utterly science fictional, works like “A Descent into the Maelstrom” [1841] or “The Tell-Tale Heart” [1843]—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 ascending balloon:

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 concavity....2

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” [1844]. 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 deductive realm.

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 the project.
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 [1897], 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 [1933], 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. [1920] and War with the Newts [1936], but even Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis [1915] and David Garnett’s Lady into Fox [1922]. 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 hypotheses.

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 [1948] is a case in point, along with the much-talked-about movie On the Beach [1957]. 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 place.

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 method.
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 of it.

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 has here.
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.

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