Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Yasutaka Tsutsui - Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma 2008)

This bizarre set of short stories, written by Yasutaka Tsutsui and translated by Andrew Diver, continue the world of absurdist sexual science fiction and modern day claustrophobia made famous by Haruki Murakami. Where Tsutsui succeeds is in the lightness of his tone, accessibility to his themes and complete abandon with which he builds his satires. While Murakami focuses on serenity and silences as well as action, his subtleness lends itself to the beautiful almost ethereal plots that delve into surrealness- on the hand Tsutsui is brash and wild with it. His moderns are far and wide. ‘Rumours about Me’ focuses on a nobody office worker and the media starting to report his everyday mundane life, turning him into an unwitting celebrity. It’s amazing that something written in 1979 remains so poignantly fresh and relevant now. ‘Farmer Airways’ broaches the subjects of whim, fate and placing your trust into the hands of chaos. ‘Don’t Laugh’ is an absurd almost deliriously drunk vision of time travel that teems with frivolous laughs. In "The Last Smoker," a defiant citizen is hunted by vigilant anti-smoking police, and vows to finish his last cigarettes before committing suicide rather than living a smoke-free life. And in "The World Is Tilting," a city slowly begins to sink into the Pacific Ocean, leaving residents struggling to keep up with their daily lives. The title story lives up to its bizarre name, following a group of research scientists as they explore a sex-crazed earth alternative where libidos run rampant and no one wears clothes. Tsutsui's imagination is vivid, and his prose is enchantingly simple, perfectly chronicling the banality of daily life. While he remains unemotional and focuses on exposition and wild flights of fancy that never really get under the skin of his characters, it’s the situations they find themselves in that make the pieces work. The way the science fiction and surreal landscapes interweave into dreamlike escapes in ‘The Dabba Dabba Tree’ allow the story to breath as a comedy of unerotic errors. The idea of sex as a barrier to be conquered, as something that is just out of the reach of the characters make them all act in delirious feverish ways. This collection is worth seeking out and persisting with. Its quieter bits unfurl slowly but persist as they pay off, as do the wild fun fast-paced pieces. Alma is also publishing three other translated works by Tsutsui.

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