A prominent figure in Japanese SF and one of the first dystopian novels (+ a book sale)

By | December 23, 2019

(Update: the book sale referred to in this article is no longer active, but you can find a book of Juza Unno’s stories available here.)

Science Fiction lovers have a lot to enjoy in Japanese literature, with great authors like Sakyo Komatsu, Taiyo Fujii, Project Itoh, and Kobo Abe. But if you go back a few decades the number of Japanese SF authors quickly diminishes to a handful of people.

One of the earliest prominent figures of SF in Japan was Juza Unno (海野十三), who many consider to be the father (or grandfather) of Japanese science fiction. Unno Juza wrote a variety of works over his career, leveraging his knowledge of electrical engineering to integrate advanced technology into his stories. While it is clear he was influenced by western literature––having translated works such as H.G. Wells “The Invisible Man” into Japanese––Juza Unno left behind a rich legacy of SF works that are still read in Japan today.

Of these, the novella “Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath” (十八時の音楽浴, juuhachiji no ongakuyoku) is one of his most well-known works. In this, he depicts a world where citizens are mind-controlled by a special kind of music and made to work grueling hours for the government. Integrating several creative technologies, such as the video phone, this book is considered one of the earliest dystopian works. The inclusion of a character who undergoes a sex-change operation is also notable, especially considering the work was first published in 1937.

I was very happy to be the first person to fully translate and publish this story in English in early 2018 (release post). I’ve had the book on Amazon for $2.99 since its release, but in celebration of the author’s birthday on December 26 (plus the holiday season), I’ve decided to run a week-long sale for a price of $0.99, from today (Dec 22) until Dec 29.

While the book contains only the translated English text, for those of you studying Japanese you can find the full original text here in Aozora Bunko. While there is some difficult language, particularly technical terms, overall I’ve found it much easier than much Japanese literature during that area. The average paragraph length is also relatively short, making it easier to read in small sessions.

You can find the book here on Amazon.

If you aren’t into dystopia novels but still like SF, I have published another book of Juza Unno’s short stories here. One of the stories from this book was even selected to be made into an audio narration and played on a history-related website.

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