The setting is Southern California. It is the late 1980s in a world where the Axis won World War II. The occupied Western United States are now the United States of Japan (USJ), and the occupiers rule with an iron fist despite the appearance of a happy and prosperous nation. The secret police tortures and “disappears” people at the least hint of treason against the Divine Emperor. Beniko Ishimura is an underachieving Captain in the Imperial Forces working as a censor for videogames. Ten years earlier, he took part in quelling a major revolt in San Diego, and now those events are coming back to haunt him.
Oh, and there are giant robots. This is seldom a bad thing.
Even without Mr. Tieryas’s explicit admission in the afterword, it is obvious that this book was heavily influenced and inspired by The Man in the High Castle, down to the dissenting material showing an alternate reality that is in fact that of the reader; one where the Allies won and the world is very different. The world-building is excellent, showing a dystopian USJ that is struggling economically and socially while all criticism of the regime is harshly punished. The cruelty of the torture and death inflicted by both USJ agents and dissidents is graphically described to the point of making the reader squirm, but in this world such things are sadly normal.
The story is somewhat opaque in the first half of the book, but things rapidly clarify towards the end, when flashbacks to the San Diego revolt and events in the present converge. Themes of betrayal, loyalty and forgiveness are strongly emphasized in a strong ending.
Keiji Kiriya is a draftee in the ongoing war against the alien Mimics. In his first battle, he is killed after only the first few minutes. He finds himself back in his bunk, seemingly transported back in time to the morning before. As the story continues, and no matter what he does, he keeps getting killed about thirty hours into the time loop, and then being returned to his bunk. Stuck in the cycle but with memories of each loop intact, he decides to become a better fighter so he can win the battle.
The first-person perspective lends itself well to the story, as the reader feels empathy for Keiji’s ordeal, both initially as a draftee in a seemingly hopeless war, and later as a victim of the time loops. He does not want to fight at all, almost a stereotypical apathetic young man with “no goals in life”, and he must transform himself from victim to pro-active initiative taker. While the action is excellent, and the story well crafted, the timey-wimey bits unfortunately become ponderous and over-complex as the novel progresses. A somewhat simplified view of the time loops would have kept the pace up.
Germany and Japan have won World War II and now control most of the world between them. The former United States are split between them, with the backward Rocky Mountain States situated between a Japanese puppet state in Western North America and a German puppet state in Eastern North America; acting as a buffer zone of sorts. Fifteen years after the war ended, the two superpowers are engaged in a cold war, with Germany expanding into space and Japan falling behind. The book follows several characters in events far from the core of politics, including a German secret agent, a Japanese trade official and a woman seeking audience with the author of an intriguing novel. The novel is about an alternate history where Germany and Japan lose the war, thus more closely resembling our own.
Mr. Dick cleverly implements the device of using characters very peripheral to the main thrust of history. These see historical events without the sureness or clarity of a history book, and color them with their own perceptions, each flawed in its own way. There are long passages of reflection on the nature of manufactured objects, of their “historicity”; in other words their connection with historical events. How does history reflect on the present through its relics? The discussions on race and the open use of race to profile people and cultures gives a glimpse of the way things might perhaps have been if the Axis had won the war. The social mores depicted unfortunately date the book somewhat, especially the depiction of Juliana’s ready subservience to a new man in her life. However it remains a classic for good reason.
In preparation for a vacation to Japan, my mother gave me this one to read. Its main themes are about the loss of important Japanese cultural traditions and the uglification of both the body and the soul of Japan. The author is an art collector, calligrapher, Japanologist and long time resident of the country. Kerr decries modern Japan as filling with concrete, electricity poles, neon pachinko parlors and ugly rooflines while her inhabitants have become conformist, dull and unimaginative.
I found the book quite interesting in parts. His stories of finding and buying an old house in a secluded valley, of the inner workings of kabuki theatre, of unappreciated artworks and of the history of tea ceremony and zen are everything from fascinating to merely eye opening. Unfortunately Kerr does give a strong impression of being the kind of luddite who wishes for all old things to be preserved. By the end of the book, I had somewhat amended this initial impression. I think he does appreciate the need for change, even encouraging it. But he does not understand why there should be change for its own sake if the change only leads to worse things. As an ideal, there is of course nothing wrong with that. But in reality, things don’t really work that way. Change happens and decades or even centuries later people figure out what the actual causes and effects were.
One particularly annoying thing about this book is the constant name dropping. All the people described in the book seem to be maverick geniuses in their fields and Kerr is a close personal friend of every single one. It comes off as not a little pompous. Kerr has certainly led an interesting life, and it is through his life experiences that he can describe his “lost Japan” so deftly. However, this reader felt a bit put off by the tone.
I was also left wondering why, among all this horror at the disappearing culture of Japan, he does not spare even a moment for one of Japan’s most vibrant forms of modern literature, manga/anime cartoons. This art form is lauded the world over. One could even draw parallels to the kabuki described by Kerr, with its emphasis on single moments of resolution as opposed to the narrative continuitiy more emphasized in the west.
The episodic nature of the book works against it. It was originally a series of articles, and the disjointed nature of the whole is unfortunately quite glaring. All in all, the book gave me an eye opening view of Japanese culture through anectodes and strong opinions. I may not necessarily agree with the author, but I suppose that is as it should be. The text should serve as a brief and good introduction to Japanese culture through the eyes of a foreigner who has made it his own.
Thriller set in the corporate world of Los Angeles. A murder has been committed in the boardroom of a large Japanese corporation, just prior to a major deal. An old detective with “Japanese experience” is teamed up with a younger man to solve the murder. Masterfully told, if a bit dated due to the heavy use of old computer jargon and technology as plot points.
An older Jack Ryan moves upwards in the chain of command. Debt of Honor is nowaday subtitled “The prelude to Executive Orders”. I think this does it a tremendous disservice. Although it does end in the middle of the story, it is a fully fleshed out novel in it’s own right, and raises some interesting questions about the future of the Pacific region.
Executive Orders is my favorite Clancy. Its amazing mix of high level politics, forced change at the highest levels of the US governemnt (wishful thinking by Clancy, but I do agree with his views on this one) and of course excellent military action make this a book to read over and over.