jueves, 25 de febrero de 2016

United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Big in Japan, by Alphaville (Spotify, YouTube).

I don't usually like it when a novel greatly deviates from what I was expecting when I started reading it. There are so many interesting books that I spend a lot of time carefully selecting what to read next and I feel disappointed when a novel doesn't fit the description given in the synopsis. However, United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas is a book that has gladly surprised me in many different ways.

The first surprise comes from the author's prose style, especially from his peculiar way of writing dialog. Big fragments of the book consist of long sequences of short sentences, with almost no indication of who is talking when. I confess that this threw me off a bit at first. But, after a few chapters, I began to appreciate its utter brilliancy. Not only is this kind of dialog more similar to the way people really talk, but it also is much more agile and gives the novel a distinct personality. 

The second surprise came from the topics and themes. From the synopsis and the cover I was expecting a lighthearted version of The Man in the High Castle but with lots of action and mecha fights. And there is some of that in United States of Japan, but the main element is quite different. In fact, the novel is closer to 1984 than to Philip K. Dick, and the author even throws some noir and cyberpunk into the mix for good measure. Personally, I do like this combination even better than what I was expecting and, what is more, Tieryas makes it work seamlessly. 

The final and most important surprise is the main protagonist. Beniko Ishimura is a book-text example of an anti-hero. He is lazy, apathetic and devoid of any trace of charisma. Nobody seems to like him (not even himself) and one of the recurrent themes in the novel is why he is even trusted for the job he does. His motivations are unfathomable, his emotional reactions are completely disconnected from reality and he is always thinking about eating and having fun. Oddly enough, he shows random and unpredictable moments of inspiration that save the day, sometimes by sheer luck. Throughout all the book, he remains a mystery, especially after a final revelation that makes you rethink all that you thought you know about him. A very different kind of character that still keeps me wondering weeks after finishing the novel.

In addition to all these appealing elements, United States of Japan also has some minor problems. My main concern is that pacing is a bit uneven. There are some fragments of the novel in which the plot stutters and only goes forward because of random events or unlikely encounters. Also, the story is very focused on the main protagonists and I'd have liked to have a bigger picture of a Japan-dominated America and its impact on the rest of world. Finally, I must warn those with a weak stomach, for there are quite a number of scenes in which cold, crude violence is very graphically depicted.  

All in all, United States of Japan is an intelligent, different and very interesting science fiction novel. It turned to be not exactly what I was expecting, but at least in this occasion I am glad to have been surprised.

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)

3 comentarios:

  1. Bastante bueno. Curiosa la distopía donde a una época anterior 1988 le corresponde una tecnología superior incluso a la nuestra actual. Lo que es haber mantenido el imperio.

    Se nota la mano de alguien que sabe realmente de videojuegos (más que Cline, por cierto) incluso en el hecho de que toda la estructura del libro parece una partida real en la que los protagonistas van pasando fases con boss final en cada capítulo (a cada uno le vence de una manera diferente) incluso con una fase con mechas, hasta el final boss que termina el juego. Además de un prólogo y un epílogo a modo de cinemáticas explicativas.

  2. Muy interesantes apuntes, GLofi. Gracias por tu comentario.

  3. Un placer.

    Investigando más, efectivamente Tieryas trabajo en Electronic Arts, la megacorporación de videojuegos. Y se nota lo cuidado que está ese tema en el libro, con menciones a e-sports., referencias a trucos dentro del juego ,etc. A diferencia de Liu Cixin, cuyo videojuego no era más que un recurso narrativo sin demasiada verosimilitd. Curiosa la coincidencia en ambos casos el uso de un videojuego como herramienta subversiva en la trama.