Sunday, June 12, 2016

Chicago Nerds- United States of Japan

That is a pretty dope cover, though.
Another much-delayed notes-posting! In May, the Chicago Nerds discussed "United States of Japan", the 2016 novel by Peter Tieryas.

An alt-history set in the late 1980s, the novel follows two officials of the Japanese empire, which now rules the Western bits of North America following the crushing victory of the Axis powers in World War II. They uncover a collusion between highly-placed Japanese officials and the "George Washingtons", a heavily-armed guerrilla army trying to throw off Japanese rule. Also, video games are really important? Also, there are mechas.

Super-brief (and rather judgmental) notes and spoilers below:

Oof. So. With apologies to people who liked the book, our general consensus was that this is a flaming mess. The writing is unforgivably, excruciatingly bad at a sentence level, with modifiers shoe-horned in at such a rate that many passages are nigh-unreadable. ESPECIALLY SINCE Tieryas frequently misuses words--"cannibal ants" being my favorite.

(It's not that they eat other ants. They eat humans. "And that's why we call them cannibal ants!")

One CNSC member has a good list of anti-favorites in a Goodreads review. "Like he's trying to be William Gibson but instead started picking random words in some misguided attempt to be deep."

Indeed, rather like our discussion of  "Time Salvager", a good chunk of this meeting was just our quoting our favorite awful lines and awful passages. Pacing, action, scene description, and dialog are all really quite dreadful here, before even beginning to talk about plot-level problems. Comparisons made to Chandler's satire of SF, which is still pretty hilarious.

Also face-palmy: the ridiculous super-hacker trope ("I'm in!"), flavored with some creepy sexism ("hacking a computer is like seducing a woman").

My biggest issue with the novel, when I could sort-of-kind-of-not-really get past the writing for a second, is the graphic violence and brutality. It verges on torture-porn, really, and not to any end or purpose I can see, beyond the idea that "imperial Japan was really brutal". Someone at group described it as "Grindhouse" reading, which is maybe the best way to think of it. Didn't give me much incentive to fight through the writing, though.

We really tried to give this the benefit of the doubt in terms of what it's critiquing about both the U.S. & Japan--opening in the Japanese-American interment camps, for instance, which is entering popular consciousness a little more these days but is definitely not addressed enough. There's also some good commentary on nuclear war--allusions to Fat Man & Little Boy, and I actually do give Tieryas props for using the alt-history to talk about the reasoning behind dropping nukes. In "USJ", rather like in real history, it's generally taught and accepted that the nuclear strikes against civilian populations were necessary to end what would otherwise have been a costly land invasion--but it was probably more to alert their dangerous allies that they had the capacity and will to use that kind of weaponry.

(It's incredibly difficult to separate ideological/cultural bias out of the analysis, but the Wiki page on the nuclear debate is a good starting point if you're interested.)

In general, though, we thought it might have been better if the marketing for this book hadn't relied so heavily on comparison to Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle" (1962).

General (though not unanimous) consensus: enthusiastic thumbs-down.

Looking forward to discussing Lavie Tidhar's "Central Station" next time. Keep up with Chicago Nerd Social Club events on their site & Facebook.

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