Review of Terminal Boredom: Stories by Izumi Suzuki

A quick read. The first thing by Izumi Suzuki to make it into English. Can we get some more please?

First off, the comparison to Black Mirror is apt. Ignore the rest of the blurbs. That’s enough of a hint. Base your reading decision on that fact alone.

With this stellar collection of mind-bending short stories, the author enters the ranks of the criminally undertranslated alongside Shuichi Yoshida, Shin’ichi Hoshi, Yūten Sawanishi, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and many, many others. While her prose could be compared to Hoshi’s, her ideas transcend her era, predicting an amazing number of inventions and trends ahead of time. Combining an easy, pulpy style with extreme subtlety and a restraint so palpable that many readers will mistake it for mere competence. The problem with that assessment is it ignores the immense troves of world building taking place in the background. You could pass the collection off as a diverting analysis of modern satirical metaphors, but it is much more. The collection showcases a myriad of tones: seductive, charming, light, dark, disturbing, silly, quirky, melancholic, gritty, comedic, etc. making for a pristine assuredness which is hard to pin down. Whereas Atwood and Murakami do predictable things with practiced mastery, this author seems willing to try unexpected tactics, without the clout, and gets away with it seamlessly.

She is called a “legend of Japanese science fiction,” but I have never heard her mentioned anywhere before. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since most of the Japanese science fiction anthologies I’ve read aren’t up to this standard.

The main draw of her writing style is the straightforward narration. Characters saying and doing things that are not out of the ordinary for them – depicting their lives as they are lived without explaining the situation to the reader, who must voyeuristically peek behind the veil of narrative distance. But we suddenly find out it’s not taking place on Earth, or one of them is an alien, or they have things implanted in their brains. The astute reader will find social commentary bubbling like magma, underlying layers of subtext. These things include: television addiction, ennui, prostitution, drug addiction, suicide, robot appliances, video phones, “cinebooks” (ereaders), dreams, memes, family relations, friendships, siblinghood, loneliness, gender politics, virtual life, people rubbernecking with camcorders, and a lot more. I have a feeling these stories will reward my inevitable second reading.

Chilling, masterful, easy to misread by a passing, casual reader who thinks they know how science fiction should be written. This book communicates a plethora of deep truths disguised as “light” or “soft” science fiction. Challenge yourself to discover what lies in store here, especially during the “terminal boredom” of our quarantined age.

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