“Reiko’s Universe Box,” by Kajio Shinji

Where “Story of Your Life” is a story about almost too much science, in “Reiko’s Universe Box,” by Kajio Shinji, the science only functions metaphorically. Gill said it gave him insight into what kind of writer he is. “I’m more ‘Reiko.’”

Not Reiko.

“Reiko’s Universe Box,” by Kajio Shinji (published 1981, translated into English in 2007). This translation time lag led to a tangent about the western sci-fi scene naively “discovering” sci-fi which had always been in Asia -China, Japan, Russia, India – when they’d been reading ours the whole time.

A clean 3 act structure
1. Set up the characters and the situation, boom: universe in a box.
2. Husband punches the universe box.
3. Shit goes down. Black hole style.

From Indiana.edu

Sparse physical description, much is left to the reader’s imagination, and deftly. This story is about the marriage, their mismatch,  and the divergent relationship imploding.

Gill: “A superego marriage where society and social similarities have mandated that we be together.”

by Yoriko Nagasaki. Click for more...Cool, funky, red herrings; stuff like the anonymity of the gift giver, the detail about the manufacturer, all the false leads. Stuff you get excited about that goes nowhere. Some tangential stuff about how this is a pattern in Japanese erotic writing; little useless ancillary pleasures that function as foreplay.

The progression of their negligence of the marriage is very tidy. First he warns her about working late, then calling when late, then occasionally calling when late, never calling when late, then late more often. Their seperate lives are forming while Reiko gets more and more engrossed in the universe box. So by the time he is cheating on her, she isn’t even remembering to make him dinner anyway. And it is interesting the way her husband gets angry at her for not getting angry at his habits. Well, hey, you warned me, so what do I have to get angry at?

Each of them failed at the marriage. Like the universe box, the marriage was accelerated to its end within months.

In an improvisational way, the marriage is a universe box. Their marriage is predicated on their mismatch. There unimpassioned bond. “A superego marriage,” Gill called it. They’re both good but they don’t link up quite right and they consequently don’t have harmony. Then some forces come along that need harmony. Their lack of it affects the changes.

When the husband punches the universe box, things speed up. He shows violence. Gill referenced the “Confrontation Curve” at the husband’s outburst. A psychedelic time lapse of their marriage deteriorating. The sun is named after him, and the planets are their children.

Gill: “I’d be curious to learn about the translation process, because the way it’s described, it’s more of a solar-system box. The story has almost nothing to do with science. It is all about this couple, and what their worlds are, and what their engagement to their worlds does to them.

p. 718 “The flow of time of the universe box had accelerated drastically.”
p.    “The white giant had turned into a major black hole.”
A refrain of that theme of the two being mismatched in the beginning.
p.   “He must be a good guy, she would tell herself.”

From UniverseToday.comStock characters for the exploration. Reiko goes out and finds books and learns elementary astronomy. She becomes more addicted to staring at it. The husband stays stock, but his negligence of the marriage progresses in step with Reiko’s increased involvement with the universe box.

Did the husband become a black hole, too? (Being the namesake of the star and all.)

Given the theme of infinite regression (when Reiko speculates on another Reiko in her universe box), perhaps instead of dying like her husband, perhaps Reiko was quantum transported like an electron. Yeah, sure – no.

Tune in next week when we discuss the master of mysticism, Jorge Luis Borges‘ “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” [Download PDF]

Thank you for reading. Reading rules!

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Uncanny Valley Digest: Ted Chiang

“Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang

This skillfully and scientifically executed short story (published 1998) was recently released as the film, Arrival, which I enjoyed very much. If you’ve seen it, good, because this is an instance where the screenwriting effectively enhances the story. As a short story, it is cerebral, nostalgic, thought provoking, and in some ways underwhelming. As a movie, many of the storytelling elements, like tension and conflict, are filled out much better.

Gill says the thing that caused the salty discharge from his eyes was the parent’s choice to have the child, no matter what the future. The notion that Chiang toys with is that even if you know the future, you can’t change it. In fact, knowing the future obliges you to fulfill it.
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The heptapods bring a new temporal awareness to humanity, conveyed through their written language. Non-causal, telelogical reality. Knowing the end as you begin and going through all of the performance of communication anyway to get there. Similar ends, different means.

Nope.

Set in opposition, narratively speaking, to the human’s causal linear historical style of thinking. Word order is entirely irrelevant to heptapods, as is the practical difference between the present and the future. One tempting anecdotal illustration of the concept in humans: the child insisting on the story being read to her, not because she wants to know the end, but because she wants to hear it read aloud; the performance, like listing to the music of life, like listening to a good album. You know exactly how it ends before you begin, then immerse yourself in the cycle of songs. A good album can be listened to hundreds of times without losing relevance. That is what the heptapod time perception resembles, based on the clues in their languages. And since linguistic context builds a person’s world (the controversial [is language a technology or a biology?] Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a cultural comparison through language. Which engenders the old sink hole of “aliens” basically just being some other terrestrial ethnicity. How outside the box is it possible to get?) Again, same ends, different means, but in heptapod, ends and means are essentially interchangeable and each integral.

More like this.

Of course Arrival was a pleasing enhancement of “Story of Your Life.” The short story uses scant suspense or tension, all of the surprises aren’t; because well, that’s the nature of heptapod’s temporal awareness – no surprises. The bits that the movie did which were very satisfying, like the Chinese prime minister stuff (the secret he gives her in the future), the keyed up military intrigue, and the explanation that the heptapods came to us now because they already knew they would be helped by us in the far future (which echos the Chinese prime minister stuff) – none of that is in the short story. Kudos, Arrival. Way to use a good screenplay.

Telelogical vs. Causal
When you know the future, if you can see the future, you can’t choose to live otherwise; having the child or not, though already knowing the future of the child.

Gill: “Philosophically, it’s bullshit. A good existentialist would say that’s not some choice you can make.”

Heptapod, by Anna Deef
by Anna Deef

Knowing the future doesn’t empower you to change it, even if you have the illusion that you can change it. Living out the present becomes a performance of well-known music, rather than a causal chain of events.

A good pairing/contrast with Reiko’s Universe Box. Where “Story of Your Life” is about almost too much science, in “Reiko’s” the science only functions metaphorically (except for the elementary astronomy Reiko begins reading).

Gill: “This contrast of the two stories, these two uses of science, gave me some insight into the kind of science fiction writer I am.”

Tune in next time for more on science fiction that does not ask you to learn science, and trip out with us over “Reiko’s Universe Box.”

Thank you for reading. Reading rules!