Sakyō Komatsu*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Sakyō Komatsu*

Sakyō Komatsu* 小松左京

Sakyō Komatsu  (1931–2011)  is Japan's leading writer of science fiction. In the leaping power of his imagination and the elaborateness of his technical details, he stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and James P. Hogan. As the younger science fiction writer Masaki Yamada has stated, "SF is super fiction, and space fantasy, and speculative fiction; in Japan the only person who voraciously assimilates all of these, sublates them dialectically, and remains at the same time a true writer of science fiction is Komatsu."

Komatsu built an unassailable position for himself with the 1973 publication of Nihon chinbotsu (tr. Japan Sinks). The fantastic premise of this work is that the Japanese archipelago, known for its vulnerability to seismic tremors, is visited by a series of violent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and with the imminent sinking of the islands into the ocean, the Japanese people must evacuate. Although indisputably a work of science fiction, the novel was awarded the Mystery Writers of Japan Award and has been made into two different films. A sequel cowritten with Kōshū Tani, Nihon chinbotsu dainibu (Japan Sinks: Part Two), was published in 2006.

The long-established publication SF Magajin (SF Magazine) chose Komatsu's early novel Hateshinaki nagare no hate ni (At the End of the Endless Stream) as number one on its list of the "All-Time Best Ten" works of science fiction in Japan. According to Komatsu's afterword, the work was conceived as part of a "cosmic history of the novel" extending over 20 billion years. The prologue of this epic depicts Earth in the Cretaceous period as a dinosaur hears the ringing of a peculiarly shaped golden telephone. The novel opens in present-day Japan, where the sarcophagus of a king buried on Mount Katsuragi, which was formed at the bottom of the sea in the Cretaceous period, is found to contain a metal hourglass. Sand does not fall in this hourglass; instead it is connected to glass containers in the fourth dimension. Three scientists meet their end during investigation of this hourglass, and a physicist vanishes suddenly while riding in a taxi. He is thrown into a multidimensional universe, where he becomes an agent who travels freely between past and future, breaking the taboo against time-space travel in order to bring the wisdom of the future to the past. At the beginning of the 21st century the physicist returns to his fiancée, who has become an old woman.

The novel Sayonara Jupitā (Goodbye, Jupiter) is based on a screenplay Komatsu was commissioned to write by a film company seeking to produce a science fiction film in the league of Star Wars. In the 22nd century, humans are aggressively developing space and pursuing the "JS Project," which seeks to make Jupiter into a second sun as a source of energy. When scientists melting ice on Mars uncover designs similar to the Peruvian Nazca Lines, Willem, a specialist in cosmic languages, interprets the marks as a warning from past intelligent beings of a black hole they failed to escape. The scientists confirm that in fewer than 18,000 hours―two years―the same black hole will collide with the sun. The JS Project is quickly aborted in favor of a mission to blow up Jupiter and thereby alter the sun's orbit. In the midst of this crisis, activists opposed to space development and the destruction of nature infiltrate the project command center.

Shuto shōshitsu
(The Capital Vanishes), which won the Japan SF Grand Prize, is a representative example of the large-scale panic novel―with political overtones―at which Komatsu excelled. In the mid-1980s, during the Cold War, a cylindrical veil 30 kilometers in diameter falls on the Tokyo metropolitan area. The capital is wrapped in clouds up to 1,000 meters in the air, communication is cut off, and the fate of the 20 million people in the affected area is unknown. As the nation ceases to function, the U.S. military swings into action as Japan's ally, while Soviet planes violate Japanese airspace and Soviet warships head for the Far East. At an emergency meeting of the governors of the remaining prefectures, the establishment of an interim government is declared, and plans for swift elections for the House of Representatives get underway. After an investigation by an international panel of scientists, it is concluded that the clouds now being pummeled by U.S. cannonades are "a type of automatic observation device sent by an unknown civilization in outer space." No one knows how to make it go away―in the same way no one knows how to deal with the excessive concentration of power in Tokyo.

* Hateshinaki nagare no hate ni (Hayakawa Publishing, 1966, 394 pages)
* Sayonara Jupitā (Sankei Shuppan, 1982, two volumes, 309 pages and 310 pages)
* Shuto shōshitsu (Tokuma Shoten, 1985, two volumes, 283 pages and 312 pages, Japan SF Grand Prize)