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Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights cover

Welcome to this month's book club! On the fourth Monday of each month, we post a round-table discussion about a speculative work (or work of interest to readers of SF), and we invite you to join us for further conversation in the comments. November’s book will be The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, and other forthcoming discussions are listed here.

This month's book is a classic of Japanese SF, Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse (1928-99). First published in 1967, with a revised version in 1973—and translated into English by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander—Mitsuse’s novel sees Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha, and the demigod Asura traveling far into the future, to witness the end of all worlds.

Discussing Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights are:

  • Benjamin Gabriel, who blogs at Uninterpretative and lives on Island Demeter.
  • Kathryn Hemmann, who teaches classes on Japanese books and comic books at George Mason University. When she is not fighting evil by moonlight, she posts reviews of Japanese fiction in translation on her blog, Contemporary Japanese Literature. She can occasionally be found @kathrynthehuman on Twitter, where she tends to ramble about feminism and video games.
  • K. Kamo, who has a master's degree in globalization and teaches in Japan, facts that are more related in theory than in practice. He blogs at this is how she fight start and occasionally tweets. He also regrets not choosing a less abstruse pseudonym.

One book club participant found that one of the most consistently surprising and (for them at least) joyful aspects of reading Ten Billion Days was when the authorial voice would shift, often without transition, from the grand historical/mythological voice into the explicative. As in: "The faint crimson light at the edge of the indigo sky grew brighter and dimmer, a fluctuation that inspired an irrational fear in Siddhārtha. / 'The proximity warning system has indicated our arrival path,' Pūrna declared, looking back over his shoulder." (p. 95).

If you were recommending or describing this book to someone who hasn't heard of it, what label would you give it? How successful did you find the book’s syntheses, of "hard SF" and history/religion/mythology, but also of differing histories/religions/mythologies among themselves, or anything else?

K. Kamo: Well, there's a hell of an elevator pitch here, isn't there? If "Christ Versus Mecha-Buddha. In Space!" doesn’t grab you, then I really don't know what else I can say.

Though if one were to remain ungrabbed after the reading the whole thing I could understand that. My reaction to the book was equivocal, and I think a large part of that is due to the generic uncertainty that infects it. I know the current fashion is to dismiss the importance of genre, because, "it's the story that matters" or whatever, but when the story is as difficult to discern as it is here you have to give the reader some sort of solid ground to kick off from. I can't decide if this is a SF shoot-'em-up reaching for some sort of intellectual heft through random religious name-checking, or if it's a philosophical tract gussied up with robots and plasma beams in order to attract the yoof market.

I'm being slightly facetious, of course, because there's no reason it can't be both. The trouble is that I never got the sense of the two aspects (the SF and the philosophy) were really meshing together properly. You know how in the best multiplayer games today everything works together and you experience everything from multiple viewpoints while still being part of a coherent whole? The early stages of this felt a bit like an old 8-bit platformer, where multiplayer mode meant playing through a level on your own, then sitting back and twiddling your thumbs while your mate went through the motions with an almost identical character: all stops and starts and no real momentum.

The obvious comparators are Zelazny's Lord of Light (1967), and Kubrick’s and Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). If we're happy labeling them as SF (and I imagine we all are) then the same applies here. The chopping between characters/players/levels could feel like a constant moving of the goalpost—our princess is always in another castle—but labeling Ten Billion Days as SF allows for a lot of the early incomprehension to be parsed along "indistinguishable from magic" lines, which at least allows for the hope that at some point we will eventually catch our errant royal heir when the truth is revealed. Whether that truth ever actually is revealed is something we'll come to in due course, I suspect.

Benjamin Gabriel: I've had a surprising amount of trouble trying to answer this one, so I think I'm going to just bullet point it, and see how that goes.

  • First off, the question of labeling. I'd be in the SF camp (though not necessarily "hard," but that's more to do with my own lack of knowledge in some ways; certainly it has some affective similarities with what of that genre I've read, but I don't exactly have the background to verify the science). That's for reasons both material—the book's advertised that way, and I think that is something that should be taken into account—and a little less so. In broad strokes, I tend to think of SF as more outwardly focused, and Fantasy as more inwardly, and even the stuff that isn't quite science in Ten Billion Days feels very much outward rather than in.
  • That said, I would be totally open to being swayed on its being (Epic) Fantasy? I feel like, even after thinking about it for a while, I still can't even see the shape that that reading would take, and that interests me a lot.
  • As far as the synthesis: at the very broad level, I think that, as I mentioned above, the thing about Science Fiction and Religious/Mythical/Historical Fiction is that all of them require knowledge outside of the text in order to function. Other than that, though, I don't see a ton of deliberate synthesis in Ten Billion Days.
  • Piggybacking on that, and perhaps tipping my hand a little: I really liked that it didn't seem to go out of its way to synthesize, as evidenced in those juxtapositions mentioned in the question. There's something delightful about a passage that is narratively sound and also tonally wild. A fluctuating, sublime sky and a proximity warning system don't not belong on the same page, but they're also a bit jarring together. Maybe it's just my love for Brecht, and the appreciation of those moments of being wrenched out of the performance that goes with that. But I don't think it's just that. Because Ten Billion Days
  • On the other syntheses: I'll probably largely be avoiding the question, but there's something I'd made note of that I think might be pertinent here. The particular choice of historical figures seems, strange? Thinking back on it, the structure seems to be suggesting a very different end than the one given; I almost feel like I should have felt hoodwinked by it? What I'm thinking specifically is that the obvious structure for a book like this would be to have the narrator of each section meet at the end of time for the big battle. But Plato isn't there? And Pontius Pilate sure isn't either. There are little weird bits that seem to float off the book, and that make me unsure as to precisely what kind of synthesis it is even going for. Are we supposing that Mitsuse is synthesizing the Major World Religions (and Plato, plus Atlantis)?
  • I guess the big thing I'm wondering is, are we supposing synthesis is a major goal of Ten Billion Days? It can certainly appear that way, but I don't know that reading it that way could really lead to anything but setting it up to fail. But then, that would maybe be what reading it as an Epic Fantasy would allow for, right? I do feel like I'm missing something huge there, and look forward to hearing about it.

Kathryn Hemmann: I agree with Kamo’s comparison to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I understand his ambivalence over whether Ten Billion Days is possibly 2001 made more palatable to "the yoof market" by means of sexy fighting lady cyborgs. Certainly Mamoru Oshii, famous for his cinematic adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell manga (which stars a sexy fighting lady cyborg), seems to have been receptive to this novel as a young man.

Perhaps this question can be approached through the construction of a typology. Ben's points are apt and absolutely valid, but I'd like to follow up with something a bit more concrete.

The general consensus seems to be that fantasy projects onto the past while science fiction projects onto the future. Fantasy challenges consensus reality with magic, while science fiction challenges consensus reality with technology. According to this typology, Sailor Moon would be fantasy, as it is set in a world that has maintained premodern social structures (kingdoms, princesses, guardian knights, and so on) and subsumes all manner of flashy lightshows under the label of "magic." Ten Billion Days does the opposite, presenting the reader with projections of future societies and attempting to offer plausible explanations for the mysticism of religion by proposing the intervention of advanced technology into human civilizations. In this sense, it would be science fiction. Of course, we can invoke Arthur C. Clarke's maxim that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," but the novel's emphasis on cyborgs, artificial intelligences, and space travel feels strongly science-oriented to me.

Nonetheless, I do think Ten Billion Days is broad enough in theme and scope that it might be classified as science fiction or fantasy, as is the case regarding Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) and Frank Herbert's Dune (1965). If we were to assign the story a label, perhaps "speculative fiction" might be the most appropriate.

K. Kamo: On reflection I've been slightly won round to the "Epic Fantasy" cause. I mean there's no denying it's Epic. I think there's perhaps a stronger case to be made along the "indistinguishable from magic" lines too. It seems pretty clear that Mitsuse had essentially no regard for the plausibility of the "science bits", and was using them as fantastical elements in what you could argue is the creation of a mythos. The Planetary Development Committee as the Great Old Ones anyone? Or is that too much of a stretch? Should we talk about religion yet? 'Cos if we're going down that whole myth/fantasy path anyway. . . 

Kathryn Hemmann: What does the word "Orionae" mean? The constellation and mythological archer is "Orion" in both Latin and Japanese and "Orione" in Classical Greek and modern Italian. As far as I can tell, there's nothing in modern or contemporary Japanese literary or popular culture that corresponds to the word (like, it's never popped up in any of the anime I've watched or the manga and Japanese SF I've read).

K. Kamo: Kathryn, your guess is as good as mine on Orionae. Better, in fact, as I just assumed Mitsuse had made it up completely. Although on a related note, I've been assuming the spooky overarching imperative of "shi" means death, but Yukimi Ogawa, who's read the original Japanese, tells me it’s written in katakana, シ, which would suggest deliberate ambiguity on the part of the author. Japanese is notorious for its homophones, but what else would fit? I’ve heard 師 (master) and 使 (messenger) suggested, and they’d both put a different, or at least less goth, slant on things.

Of all the religious and philosophical figures that the author could have chosen to oppose the Buddha (and his plucky sidekick Plato), why would he have chosen Jesus? What is Jesus supposed to represent? All things considered, is what Jesus is doing wrong? Would it be overly simplistic to frame the conflict between Jesus and Siddhārtha/Asura in terms a clash of civilizations between East and West? Is there a valid post-colonial reading here?

K. Kamo: Lots to unpack here. Let's start by crowbarring in possibly my favorite line:

Siddhartha walked on alone, acutely aware that so long as Jesus of Nazareth was at large, he could be walking into a trap. (p.205)

For all that I have mixed feelings in general, a line like that buys a book an awful lot of forgiveness.

While it's very easy to map a load of East/West tensions on in retrospect, I think for me the key is Pontius Pilate's aide de camp, Ceint, who as far as I can tell is a wholly fictitious character and the most obvious author insert in the book. I really can't read his interrogations (not Pilate's, note) of Jesus any other way than Mitsuse having it out with Christianity in specific and the West in general. I also can't help noticing that the Romans' reported relationships with their gods sounds very similar to contemporary Japan: "In truth, for most they were little more than seasoning to add a touch of gravitas to the citizen's daily lives." (p.129)

And so, at the risk of building castles in the sky, we can spin a whole theory out of this. The Planetary Development Committee as Imperial Power, interfering in the lives of other, supposedly less developed societies to malignant effect (SCAP and the Co­Prosperity Sphere being just the two most immediately relevant examples). Probably also worth noting that Ten Billion Days was first published in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, and revised in the early seventies, by which point things had truly gone to shit for the Americans. I don't know exactly how current the stereotypical bible­-belt redneck depiction of Jesus with an assault rifle was in the Japan of the time, but that's the unavoidable image that pops up in my mind here.

Of course, none of that goes anywhere near explaining what happens in the closing chapters. Don't suppose anyone else would care to give it a try?

Benjamin Gabriel: The chapter from Pontius Pilate's point of view struck me as very strange in my reading, specifically in how it ended after the events unfold, the perspective shifts from the characters to a more neutral, historical tone. For all the religions that Mitsuse engages with, I think Christianity is the only one that gets an exegetical aside. This might be appropriate given that the exegetical practice is specifically an outgrowth of Christian theology, but it also seems somehow like a privileging of Christianity? If it is privileging, it is in a strange way, of course; the exegesis is basically a way of saying: that these events were interpreted later in competing ways, and there's really no saying what's true.

To Kamo’s question: two answers come immediately to mind regarding the final chapters. The first is the "it's Science Fiction ¯_(ツ)_/¯" version; Asura, as the final survivor of the galactic proceedings, meets the entropic sentience behind the curtain and becomes her. It seems very of the era, when the early small scale SF of Asimov's Robots was still the mode but the stakes were rising exponentially. In a weird way, Ten Billion Days seems like a tiny story in a massive masquerade mask. And how else do you end that but with the subsumption of the most personable individual into the very structure of the universe?

The second, and the one I suspect Kamo was looking for more explicitly, is probably more conjecture than closure. I'll say that I'm not quite sure that I buy this as an East/West novel, at least not as such, but I'd still like to give that a shot. I'm certainly in agreement with the way that the Planetary Development Committee echoes imperialist power but, and correct me if I'm wrong here, they have nothing to do with Asura's subsumption at the end, right? The cakravarti-rājan makes no reference to it, with the assumption being that it is the purview of others? This is an important point because, if it's true, it means that if we are to say that Ten Billion Days is "about" imperialism, then it is about how imperialism is not an ahistorical, universal occurrence but one situated within local issues and power dynamics. Something similar happens when Mitsuse has Siddhārtha meet Asura early on; what is seen initially and assumed to be some sort of Eternal Battle is given, not necessarily a motive, but a material basis. If nothing else, I would read the ending of Ten Billion Days as a way of saying: the Order of Things is not given, but made. That Mitsuse chooses to show that by way of zooming all the way out to what is "given" is an interesting choice, and one that I don't know that I necessarily love, but it's not ineffective.

Kathryn Hemmann: I think the major difference between Christianity and Buddhism is that Christianity is teleological while Buddhism is cyclical. In other words, Buddhism holds that everything exists in a continually ongoing cycle of growth, decay, and renewal, while Christian eschatology is concerned with a definite endpoint. In Christianity, the apocalypse will be the final culmination of all human activity; in Buddhism, the apocalypse isn't permanent and has already happened countless times.

To me, Jesus grasps the nature of the ultimate meaning of life as described in this novel much better than Siddhārtha. Specifically, the universe is fated come to a complete and definitive end, and it will do so by the will of its creator, a vastly powerful and unknowable being. The awe that Jesus feels in the presence of this entity is entirely understandable, but his communion with it has left him unhinged.

Jesus's madness is probably why we don't get a chapter from his point of view, and we instead see his emergence as an immortal being from the perspective of Pontius Pilate, who is rational and pragmatic. Pontius seems to realize that, even if Jesus is right, the existence of an almost Lovecraftian cosmic power has no bearing on the here and now of the human race.

In a version of the Buddhist cosmology commonly alluded to in medieval Japanese religious texts, there are six planes of existence, with souls constantly cycling from one to another. One of these modes of being is that of the Asura, who do nothing but battle each other. Their realm is something resembling Valhalla, with wins and losses not meaning as much as valor and pain. The idea here seems to be that, no matter how hard you fight, neither your motivations nor the outcome of your struggle amounts to much in the end.

I therefore see the character Asura, as backed by Siddhārtha, as an extremely tragic figure. No matter what she does or how pure and noble her intentions, she is still caught up within a universe that is doomed to be extinguished.

This novel is kind of bleak.

In terms of any sort of conflict between East and West, I think the author was so highly influenced by American science fiction that it's difficult to imagine him arguing the case for one religious and philosophical worldview over another. For better or worse, there was just so much cultural (and economic, and military) exchange between Japan and in the United States from the 1950s onward that their "otherness" to one another feels more discursive than real. Personally, I always think of twentieth-century Japan as being just as "Western" as any country in Europe. Of course, the legacy of the Pacific War is another story entirely. . . 

A key concern (arguably the key concern) of the book is humanity’s propensity for conflict. Mitsuse was a teenager in Tokyo during WWII, and in his afterword talks about being “reared as a product of imperial wartime Japan”. To what extent is this an anti- or pro-war novel? Is that a worthwhile distinction to make? Mitsuse also says in the afterword that, since writing this novel, "my own internal SF mindset has grown even bleaker," which is difficult to imagine, given that the worldview of Ten Billion Days is extraordinarily dark. Does this book contain any message of hope? If so, where might it be found? If not, what would be the purpose of writing such a desolate and nihilistic story?

Benjamin Gabriel: This question is, in a weird way, very close to where I've ended up with Mitsuse's novel over the course of this discussion. When I initially read Ten Billion Days, a lot of my thinking was on more technical or stylistic aspects; things like how the genres were being conveyed, or the weird bits of overlap between the SF-nal and the mythological, or the use of exegesis at the end of the Pilate/Jesus chapter. As I get further away from it, though, my thoughts tend more historical, which is probably fitting.

The specific historical moment that has been coming to mind are the Anpo protests which opposed the revisions to the treaty of mutual cooperation between the US and Japan. The revisions were signed into law in 1960, but the protests themselves were (in a very abridged way) in some sense the powderkeg for the broad New Left movement that swept the country for the next decade and change.

What connects this materially is filmmaker Mamoru Oshii's "Commentary" after Mitsuse's afterword in the Haikasoru edition of Ten Billion Days, in which Oshii recounts his time as "a reporter for the Library News" at university, a position he got in order to promote his own socialist ideology (and science fiction fandom). The story is his meeting Mitsuse, and how Oshii basically became disillusioned with activism and revolution but stayed in love with Mitsuse's novel.

I'm not extraordinarily familiar with state or history of Japanese science fiction (outside of some anime staples), and I only have an amateur knowledge of Japan's history, but Oshii's sentiments seem somewhat metonymic. It reminded me, strangely enough, of Miyazaki Manabu's autobiography Toppamono (2005), which recounts Manabu's life as a member of a Yakuza family, a New Left student activist, a property developer and a suspected high-profile criminal. Structurally, Toppamono is divided into two parts; the first covers his life until 1975, and the second, dealing mostly with the property development and allegations, continues from there. It seems worthwhile to note this given that Mitsuse's afterword, in which he discusses his "bleaker" mindset, is dated from 1973.

All of which is to say: I have no idea what it would mean to say that Ten Billion Days is a pro- or anti-war novel. Not that there aren't representations of war in it, or that it doesn't come from historical conditions inherently linked to war, albeit at some degree of remove. Oshii's own interpretation of the book is one of a "passion without a focus," and a profound sense of loss, linked directly to his story of how he asked Mitsuse about the genesis of Asura's war. According to Oshii, Mitsuse answered that it was over a girl; but Oshii talks about how in the intervening years he has tended to think of it in terms of a war without a catalyst.

It's not just (presumptively) politically that I find myself in disagreement with Oshii's conclusions. I'd hardly go so far as to say that Ten Billion Days is a happy book, but it's a book in which Plato finds Atlantis; where Siddhārtha has sweet cyborg antennae; where, to quote Kamo, "Christ Versus Mecha-Buddha. In Space!" isn't even remotely a joke. It's also a book full of lush descriptions of the lights in night skies and ghost cities in grav bubbles and the slow rhythms of bare survival.

Which basically just brings me back to where I began; with those moments, line by line, in Ten Billion Days that gave me joy. Which might be appropriate as well; the book itself certainly doesn't mind detours through and around history in order to deliver those moments. Ten Billion Days was certainly a book written in a time of great hope, for many, in making a new way of life. It cannot be removed from its circumstances, no matter how far out it extrapolates. But that extrapolation was toward a time when much of that hope would be betrayed and diminished.

K. Kamo: It’s this cyclicity that we keep, er, circling around, isn’t it? Whether expressed through slightly tortuous video-game analogies or the much more poetic “surging and receding. . . ” that opens and closes the book, this notion of the existence (or not) of a cosmic restart button is at the heart of it. Whether that makes it hopeful or not depends on your own outlook.

Either way, it’s certainly an angry book. Jesus and his overlords are essentially looking to rage-quit the universe, and even the sympathetic Siddhartha straight up murders someone in chapter six just to see what happens. But then there’s the conversation in chapter seven about “the god of night [being] the means to save [the] world,” (p.252) which I can’t help but parse as Mitsuse making something of an attempt to rehabilitate the Devil him/her/itself. I think this is part of what Ben was saying about seemingly eternal conflict being locally situated: whether you’re the Prince of Darkness of the Lord of Light depends entirely on immediate context. Thus the amount of hope you could look to take from the book depends on which scale you’re concerned with. In fact, I’m tempted to say the title is deliberate misdirection on that score. (It’s probably not, but go with it.) The others have really fleshed out the ways in which the Jerusalem chapter sticks out, and if we are looking for optimism then Kathryn’s point about Pilate’s recognition of the irrelevance of the immortal to the here and now is where we’ll find it. Yes, Asura may be committed to 100 billion nights of loss and isolation, but Hey! We’ll all be dead by then anyway!

So yeah, this novel is kind of bleak.

Kathryn Hemmann: I'm going to plant myself squarely in the camp that Ten Billion Days is both an antiwar novel and a strong existentialist statement on the part of the author.

I've been reading a manga from the early 1980s called Andromeda Stories (published in translation by Vertical), which is drawn by the ever-fabulous Keiko Takemiya and written by Ryu Mitsuse. The plot and structure are similar to Ten Billion Days in that there are multiple viewpoints converging on a cosmic conflict between forces order and chaos. As in Ten Billion Days, the "villain" is order in the form of absolute control that results in stagnation and eventual annihilation.

The ending of Ten Billion Days felt somewhat ambiguous to me. Will our universe be saved, or will it be destroyed? If it is destroyed, does it matter to anyone besides Asura?

Honestly, I don't think it matters either way. I agree with Ben's assessment in his response to the previous question that "Ten Billion Days seems like a tiny story in a massive masquerade mask." If I could expand on this, I'd add that the novel isn’t just one tiny story but a collection of tiny stories. As Ben suggests, it's within these tiny stories that we can find hope.

Ten Billion Days feels almost classically existentialist in that sense—in an absurd universe, it is the responsibility of the individual to endow life with meaning. Jesus finds meaning by serving something larger than himself, while Plato and Siddhārtha find meaning in their search for the truth. Asura finds meaning in her Sisyphian battles against a power she doesn't fully understand. The final confrontation at the end of the novel is therefore less about achieving victory and more of a culmination of each character's own existential arc. Jesus's master appears, Plato and Siddhārtha uncover the knowledge they're seeking, and Asura is given the chance to fight in the ultimate showdown. It therefore doesn't particularly matter whether our universe is saved or not.

War is about large narratives, like "we are good" and "they are bad" and "we are right" and "they are wrong." By focusing more on smaller and more personal stories at the expense of offering the reader a more comprehensive explanation and resolution of its central conflict, Ten Billion Days reads as profoundly antiwar.

For further discussion:

  • The color blue (many kinds of it) is repeatedly used to describe things related to the main characters. This, as well as some of the themes, is very reminiscent of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (not the film but the graphic novel the film was based on.) Many of the most striking passages in Ten Billion Days are images; the colors in the sky, ruined cities, ruined planets, massive battles. The framing device, though ("Surging and receding. . . "), and most of the major transitions (mostly chapter openers) are marked not (only) with sights but by sounds. The noises in and of water open the first chapter, and the final is marked by a profound silence, with everything from clacking shells to inhuman dialogue in between. What is the effect of Mitsuse’s focus on particular colors and sounds?
  • What purpose does the existence of the deities as cyborgs serve beyond enabling technobabble-filled shootouts? Is this a philosophical tract attempting populism through flashy FX, or a pulp shoot-‘em-up awkwardly striving for a veneer of intellectual heft?
  • What is Plato's role in the story? Why does Orionae have to be depicted through two people's eyes? Is it because all the characters have to be someone who is not entirely made up by Mitsuse? If so, why is that so?
  • The antepenultimate and penultimate sections of the Jerusalem chapter are spoken in an omniscient third person perspective. This isn't unique to those sections, but its function seems to me to be: it reads explicitly as exegetical. It seems strange to me that the Bible chapter gets this specific mode of reading where none others do; is it truly unique or am I simply missing something? Are the (in the broadest sense) theological traditions relevant to Siddhārtha or Plato or Asura leveraged in their sections of the text? Or, if it is unique: why give the villain the most sympathetic reading?
  • Might this book be understood as taking a stand against religion? More specifically, is the author suggesting that it's better to live without gods or a concept of the Absolute? Several characters that appear in the first half of the novel, such as Gladius (Plato's traveling companion), Uddaka (the captain of Siddhārtha's royal guard), and Pontius Pilate (who orders that Jesus be crucified), stand in opposition to their more spiritual counterparts. Does their pragmatism and concern for the world directly in front of them ultimately put them at any sort of disadvantage, or is it perhaps better not to ask questions about what lies beyond our immediate field of vision?
  • The story closes with the truth of the universe being revealed to Asura, who becomes an important character in the latter half of the book. Although she is named for the eternally warring deities that figure in Hindu and Buddhist mythologies, and although she is characterized as a mighty warrior within the diegetic space of the novel, and although she is an ancient cybernetic creature, she takes the form of an adolescent human girl. Why? Where did this trope come from? Is Asura's gender significant in any way, or is it nothing more than ironic window dressing?
  • Ten BIllion Days was first published in Japan in 1967. After subsequent decades of science fiction, does the basic premise of the novel—namely, that humanity has been carefully engineered by extraterrestrials—still have the power to shock the reader, or has this trope become commonplace? Should the author's suggestion that the powers shaping the destiny of the human race don't necessarily have our best interests at heart be understood as a response to the more optimistic science fiction of the 1950s, such as Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (1953)? Is Mitsuse's message still relevant?

Thanks to Yukimi Ogawa for providing additional discussion questions.

Benjamin Gabriel lives on Island Demeter, where he writes across media. Find him on Twitter: @Benladen.
David Hebblethwaite was born in the north of England, went to university in the Midlands, and now lives in the south. He has reviewed for various venues, including Vector, The Zone, Fiction Uncovered, and We Love This Book. He blogs at Follow the Thread.
K. Kamo has master's degrees in globalization and applied linguistics and teaches in Japan, facts that are more related in theory than in practice. He blogs at this is how she fight start and occasionally tweets. He also regrets not choosing a less abstruse pseudonym.
Kathryn Hemmann teaches classes on Japanese books and comic books at George Mason University. When she is not fighting evil by moonlight, she posts reviews of Japanese fiction in translation on her blog, Contemporary Japanese Literature. She can occasionally be found @kathrynthehuman on Twitter, where she tends to ramble about feminism and video games.
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