Japanese literature paperback release: “Fast Forward Japan: Stories by the Founding Father of Japanese Science Fiction” by Juza Unno

By | June 22, 2021

(You can jump to the book’s page on Amazon here)

Science Fiction has always been one of my favorite genres, and as soon as I learned about Juza Unno I knew this was an author that deserved to be translated and published.

Juza Unno (海野十三) was a Japanese author from the first half of the 20th century who wrote stories integrating a variety of scientific innovations, and thanks to his training as an electrical engineer many of his ideas have a certain realism to them. Of course, over 80 years later we can see some of his ideas as silly or unrealistic, although others have actually come true (such as the videophone and artificial organs). Because of Juza Unno’s contributions, he has been called the founding father of Japanese science fiction.

This collection of stories, titled “Fast Forward Japan”, is the fist paperback book released by this author in English. It contains “Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath,” a dystopian novella considered the first modern Japanese dystopian story. As a fan of dystopian literature it has been a great honor to be able to translate and publish this work. Surprisingly, despite its age (it was first published in 1937) this novella contains references to transgender surgery, so the release of this book is especially fitting during LGBT pride month.

Other stories include one about a living intestine, one about a multi-dimensional being, and––one of my favorites, and one of the most challenging to translate––a story about a scientist whose invention allows him to eavesdrop on alien civilization on the brink of destruction.

Some of you who have been reading this blog for a while now may have heard the name Juza Unno before. That is because I actually had published these stories over the last few years as a series of e-books (and a few of these stories have been translated and published in Portguese earlier this year). However, this paperback wasn’t a cut-and-paste job; I went through all the stories once more very carefully using a paperback proof that made proofreading much easier, and made many refinements to improve the overall quality of the text and to make the style more consistent between the stories. 

For several reasons (including some of my mediocre covers from those early days) I have decided to remove the previous e-books from the market, but I plan to eventually release a single e-book containing the same content as this paperback. However, for the time being I am keeping these stories only available in paperback because frankly I think they are much more enjoyable that way, and as pieces of classic literature they just feel better in paper.

At 162 pages, this is by far my longest book yet, and my second paperback (this was the first). It’s also the third release since I’ve established Arigatai Books, and all of this in roughly a month’s time. I am actually working on a new project now that is more educational-oriented, and if things go well maybe I’ll have it out in a month or two.

Just to set expectations here, if you are a fan of modern Japanese SF––authors like Sakyo Komatsu, Yasutaka Tsutsui, and Shin’ichi Hoshi––the stories in this collection will undoubtedly seem less cutting edge, with a simpler writing style. This is only natural given Juza Unno had been active over a half-decade earlier. But from the point of view of stories built on ideas that were undeniably innovative given the period they were written in, not to mention Juza Unno’s trademark plot twists, these stories are still very readable in the modern age, and I feel they are a must-read for anyone interested in classic SF or Japanese literature of the early 20th century.

I’m not going to list here all the people who helped out in proofreading at some stage of this project, but everyone who helped is listed in the acknowledgments section in the beginning of the book.

On a final note, while this book is only in English, the original Japanese stories are freely available on Aozora Bunko and are excellent practice material for fans of SF who are also learning Japanese. With the English translations available, you can easily check your reading comprehension of the Japanese stories. Despite various scientific terms, overall I think the sentence structure and overall writing style (especially in “Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath”) is much simpler than the majority of modern Japanese literature I have read. 

Depending on the success of this book I’m planning on translating some more Juza Unno works. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

(Note: if you use a different store than Amazon U.S., rather than using the below embedded content I would suggest using this link to jump to whichever store is closest to your location.)

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