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Usurper of the Sun (Novel) Paperback – September 15, 2009
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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 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 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.
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".
Bad: The characterization was a bit thin. The reading could get a bit dry.
Good: The reading was a bit dry because the author used Science! and Engineering! and discussed Ideas!
Seriously, I get happy when there's one brilliant idea in a sf novel. This book was full of them. I feel that it truly reflected what the nature of an encounter with aliens would be like. It opened my mind up to difficulties and ideas I'd not even considered, which I'm still pondering off and on thoughout the day. And best yet, that encounter was a reflection of humanity more than anything, of us at our best and worst.
I do recommend this novel, bearing in mind that it is hard sf. It does get easier to read about a quarter of the way in though, and I found the concepts within made the dry parts (which are skimmable after all) more than worth it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Couldn't put this one down. Really interesting take on first contact, but also some other concepts like xenobiology and xenopsychology.Published 13 months ago by Mac J.
great way of proposing a different form of travelling of this outsiders. same goes for the structure this aliens form, as a colony.Published 15 months ago by Nicolas
I appreciated the unique perspective of a female protagonist, but she seemed under developed as she was over-shadowed by much of the hard-science or need to just move the plot... Read morePublished 16 months ago by CAH
This novel was a very pleasant read. A restrained, thoughtful, character-focused hard science fiction yarn with a maddening yet tantalizing mystery all throughout - Why won't they... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Hecatoncheire
A good first contact novel that explores the questions and potential solutions and pitfalls of Humanity crossing paths with another race. Read morePublished on August 4, 2014 by Joe E.
Harkening back to Isaac Asimov stories. This is a brilliant if a little disjointed story along the lines of 2001, Rama and 3001. All scifi masterpieces. Read morePublished on June 1, 2014 by Rohon Nag
Housuke Nojiri is simply a master at what he does. Books like usurper and "all you need is kill" are great for quick reads and both are well written.Published on May 22, 2014 by Jeffery Wilson
Great book. One of those you hate to put down and go to sleep at night. It accurately captures the give and take of the small bellicose reptilian minds that are only interested in... Read morePublished on September 20, 2013 by Gary
The other reviews are glowing, which is why I bought this book, but it doesn't live up to the ratings. Read morePublished on April 29, 2013 by Sitting in Seattle