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Usurper of the Sun (Novel) Paperback – September 15, 2009
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About the Author
Housuke Nojiri was born in Mie, Japan, in 1961. After working in instrumentation control, CAD programming and video game design, he published his first work, The Blind Spot of Veis, based on the video game Creguian, in 1992. He gained popularity with his subsequent works, the Creguian series and the Rocket Girl series. In 2002, he published Usurper of the Sun, ushering in a new era of space science fiction in Japan. After first appearing as a series of short stories, Usurper won the Seiun Award for best Japanese science fiction novel of 2002. His other works include Pendulum of Pinieru and Fuwa-Fuwa no Izumi. More information can be found on his website: http://njb.virtualave.net/web/ (Japanese only)
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Top Customer Reviews
The plot is clever, and the first-contact part of the story is very well-imagined with some notion of just how alien aliens might be.
A good read.
The discovery in 2006 of a large tower protruding from the planet Mercury is the first sign that something unusual is happening (although it would seem from the prologue that preparations for what is to occur start back as far as 1424). It's first spotted by a young Japanese high-school student Aki Shiraishi as part of her astronomy studies, but fascinated speculation about its origins turn to fear as a vast ring is created around the planet that threatens to block out light from the sun. As disaster beckons in the subsequent years, Aki's long interest in the construct created by what become known as the 'Builders' takes her on the first manned probe in 2022 to investigate the phenomenon and, if possible, destroy it before it destroys the earth...
The huge amounts of speculation given over to scientific concepts can make Usurper of the Sun a little bit heavy and dry reading for certain passages of the novel, but only because Housuke Nojiri takes the time to consider the matter deeply, from a scientific as well as a from a human viewpoint. It takes in the nature of intelligence and communication - and how artificial intelligence may provide us with the means to communicate, and more importantly, 'think' about the universe around us on another level if we are to make any significant breakthroughs in how to reach beyond. What is marvellous is that the author is able to consider these ideas within the context of what remains a fascinating and often thrilling science-fiction adventure.
The book tells the story of the ambitious Aki, the first person to see the construction of the ring around the sun. As the story unfolds, we see her great desire to make first contact and how this desire is channeled. The story shows a woman who continues to follow her earliest ambitions to the end. However, this ambition seems to come at a great cost to her, personally. I've read some Japanese horror/sci fi in the past and have come to expect characters that aren't as developed as they could be...there isn't a lot of writing with a great depth and breadth of emotions. Maybe it was the limitations of the short story format (as the three parts were originally short stories) but I wanted more about Aki.
However, the actual contact at the end is interesting and worth the read. It literally took my breath away as I read the descriptions of the aliens and the way they acted when confronted by the humans. It really took the whole idea of first contact and turned it upside down--actually imagining something completely alien is something that not only takes guts--your aliens could be so alien that the reader doesn't see them as "real characters" (ala Aliens in Aliens) or they become too much like humans--but also real skill on the part of the writer. And while I love Schismatrix, Bruce Sterling's aliens,seemed parodies of aliens, while these aliens truly seemed alien in a good, interesting, yet strange way. This was great balancing act on the part Nojiri. We got aliens that were really alien and yet managed to be human as well. This is really what saved the whole book for me.
If you haven't read Japanese fiction before, you might want to try something else first, but if you want a great first contact book, this might be it.
I don't intend to write a novel myself, but I will say the conclusion is at once surprising, eminently plausible, and satisfying. As someone with a background in neuroscience and psychology, I found the revelations about the nature of consciousness and communication that come at the end are spot on and fascinating to see applied in the context of a sci fi story. Recommended both for the tale, and the introspection at the end.
The best thing I can compare it to in western media that people would recognize would be Carl Sagan's "Contact", though besides being well written, (mostly) scientifically accurate, first-contact stories, they aren't otherwise very similar to each other.
In my personal opinion I liked "Usurper of the Sun" better, though I did read "Contact" last several years ago, but I get similar "feelings" from this book as I remember having from reading "Contact".