Saturday, January 20, 2018

Book Review: Usurper of the Sun by Housuke Nojiri, John Wunderley (Translator)

Usurper of the Sun by Housuke Nojiri, 野尻抱介

John Wunderley (Translator)

Paperback, 276 pages

Published September 2009 by Haikasoru (first published April 2000)

Nihon SF Taishō Award 日本SF大賞 Nominee (2002)

SF ga Yomitai for Best Japanese SF of the Year (2002)

Seiun Award 星雲賞 for Best Japanese Novel (2003)

I have read a few anthologies of short Japanese science fiction stories but this is my first full length novel. I can see why this book would not work for everyone. It is my first time reading Nojiri and I can't speak to the translation as I only read it in English. So lets keep that in mind up front. I can't speak for what was lost in translation and can only guess certain things.

Usurper of the Sun is a hard-sci-fi first contact novel that is international in scope but starts in Japan and follows Aki a Japanese woman through the discovery of alien life and a forty year journey to make contact. What we have is one of the best first contact novels I have ever read that is overflowing with ideas. As a space nerd myself I enjoyed that that the scope of space was not ignored the "Builders" are in a sense first discovered in ancient china when a star acts strangely in the sky. Of course it is hundreds of year later before we get answer to what happened.

The Story kicks off when Aki a young astronomy student in Japan uses the brief solar eclipse hitting Japan to train her telescope on Mercury while it is in conjunction with the sun. She sees a huge tower that appears to be constructed. Not only did someone build this tower but it appears it is being used to construct a more massive ring around the sun that will end up having the effect of blocking out enough light to disrupt the earth. This sets off a desperate mission to contact the builders and stop the earth from falling into a artificially created ice age.

This novel worked for me on several levels. As a space nerd I enjoyed how the book used real or very close to real facts about space, the solar system and astronomy. Nojiri played a bit with the ideas of space travel, skipped some huge chunks of travel but perhaps my favorite thing is how this novel told a first contact story over a long forty year process. The long span that the story is told over held the novel build to big reveals and make the pay-off work. This gives the first contact story a more realistic feeling, and it is hard to talk about this without spoilers for the third act but I thought he had a really interesting a creative take on aliens who existed in a way that was creative.

I know some will probably see the characters as flat, and that is perhaps the only weakness here. Outside of Aki the other characters in this book do not get much attention. That is a valid complaint, but for me the ideas and the story were good enough to carry the book. That being said Aki was strong enough of a character that I felt I knew here and was rooting for her that is all we can ask after all. Sure it could have been better but I still loved it enough to give the novel a full five star review. Those interested in creative idea expanding Sci-fi shoulod read it. Readers who want to check out sci-fi from other cultures NEED to read this.


So some thing I was really happy with in this novel were the expansion of sci-fi concepts. The novel follows decades of attempts to communicate with "the Builders" Aliens. This fails again and again even though the go as far as destroying the huge object the builders are creating. The contact only happens eventually because a human created AI bridges the gap. The Aliens exist in six dimensions and a have a form of hive mind that exists on a much higher level. They barely register that we exist. The comparison who be if we tried to have a conversation with a fly. This was a neat concept that worked because the whole book built to that reveal. I loved it.

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