Taste is a strange thing. We all know it, yet it continues to amaze me how different it can be, even in between people who often align. This post collects some thoughts on 3 books that were highly recommended by other bloggers whose tastes at times tend to be similar to mine.
As you can guess, none of the three titles – Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki, This Immortal by Zelazny and The Incal by Jodorowsky and Mœbius – worked for me.
In each case, I advise you follow the links to the other blogs to check out the other reviews – otherwise you might miss out on a book that could be a gem for you.
TERMINAL BOREDOM – Izumi Suzuki (2021)
According to Jesse from Speculiction, this collection of short stories was the best book he read published in 2021, and he gave it 5 stars – which doesn’t happen much on his blog. Also Ola from Re-enchantment was generally impressed, albeit not as much.
Terminal Boredom collects 7 existential science fiction stories written between the mid-70ies and the mid-1980s, before Izumi Suzuki committed suicide in 1986, aged 36. Apparently she is a bit of a countercultural icon in Japan, and she had a tumultuous life, working as keypunch operator, hostess, nude model, and actor – both in pink films as in avant-garde theater.
It is the first time her work appears in English, and the stories were translated by 6 different people: Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi and Helen O’Horan.
It’s interesting that this collection is framed in feminist terms, many reviews stressing the gender content. I think this framing is more dictated by marketing in our own times than the actual foundations of the stories themselves. While gender is a theme, no doubt, I would not say it is Suzuki’s focus, not at all.
Suzuki’s focus seems to be the protagonists of her stories, and most of them are cynical sociopaths: emotionally numb, bored, blunt, fatalist, trying to fit in, acting their roles, detached, doubting happiness, aping others. “Another habit of hers: producing long strings of borrowed thoughts she hasn’t bothered digesting.” & “The performance had just become a part of my personality.”
The characters seem nihilists, but not of the positive, life affirming variant. The knowledge that Suzuki felt the urge to quit her real life made me think of her protagonists as variants of herself.
This collection definitely has merit, and it is without a doubt the best book of the three listed in this post – the others don’t even come close. There is indeed – as Jesse pointed out – a fair amount of psychological meat on the bone. But for me, not enough to overcome the main problem I had with these stories: their monotony, psychologically.
One could look at this repetition as a thorough examination of a certain mental state, observed in different contexts, sure, but it didn’t grab me enough. Maybe that was because I felt the prose to be a bit off at times – hard to explain, again a taste thing, and I’m not sure whether it is due to Suzuki, the translators, or a certain quality of Japanese: I’m guessing a combination of all three factors. Maybe because the writing itself was a bit detached, I didn’t really connect.
Suzuki presents her characters as is, without judgement. Emotions are described, but Suzuki never goes to the root of things: why do these characters feel the way they feel? Or maybe there are no reasons, other than that they were born in a particular way that doesn’t align with the societies they live in. “Different kinds of people belong in different kinds of worlds.”
You can sample a Suzuki story – The Walker, not in this collection – for free here, at the Granta website.
THIS IMMORTAL – Roger Zelazny (1966)
This Immortal was first published as a series under the name of …And Call Me Conrad. Zelazny’s debut garnered a rare 10/10 from Ola on Re-enchantment. Jeroen from A Sky of Books and Movies was generally positive about it, as was Jesse from Speculiction.
But I did not finish it and called it quits at 55%. The writing felt stale, artificial & lifeless. Aliens were just blue humans. The mystery whether Conrad is the Greek god Pan or not didn’t interest me. Characters didn’t feel convincing psychologically. While I can see Zelazny tried to do something original here, parts of the story felt typical – nuclear radiation gave rise to mutated beasts. It had a bit of a random vibe too.
The book seems to be well loved though, and it was tied with Dune for the Hugo. Some praise its poetic language. I didn’t really see that, even though the prose is not bad. Overall, This Immortal simply never connected with me. I felt the same about Lord of Light, so I guess Zelazny’s mythological brand of SF is not for me.
Conrad is no Corwin – now that was a character I connected with instantly. I think I’m done with Roger Zelazny, everything I’ve read of him fell short of the brilliant first half of the Amber chronicles.
THE INCAL – Alejandro Jodorowsky & Mœbius (1981-88)
One more to go, a title that came highly recommended by Jeroen from A Sky of Books and Movies, and a few of my real life friends as well. It is generally considered to be one of the most important and influential comics of all time.
The Incal collects the 6 volumes of the The Incal graphic novel, published between 1981 and 1988 by the infamous Alejandro Jodorowsky and the French artist Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud. Jodorowsky continued working in the same universe and published 10 more installments, collected in Before The Incal, After The Incal and Final Incal, and 3 spinoff series as well: Metabarons, The Technopriests and Megalex.
For more background and a taste of what the epic space opera story is about, I refer you to Jeroen’s laudatory review. The Incal has ties to Jodorowsky’s attempt at making a Dune movie, so Herbert fans should definitely check it out.
As for my own thoughts in The Incal, it will not surprise you I thought it was a huge, huge letdown. While there is some truly great & imaginative scenography in this book, it doesn’t redeem the juvenile and at times pompous story, a story that never has any urgency because of its randomness, a randomness which makes it hard to connect and invest in any of the characters – resulting in boredom. On top of that, the dialogue & prose is lifeless, and reeks of artificiality. Jodorowsky’s attempts at spirituality felt ludicrous to me.
The letdown was even enhanced by the fact that I loved the first five or six of The Metabarons series when I read it back in my early twenties. The final installments of Metabarons weren’t as convincing, but still entertaining. Because of my experience with The Incal, I’m now afraid to reread Metabarons, 20 years down the line. Taste evolves, and that’s a wonderful thing.