Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kachikachi Yama

Short Story by Michael R. Underwood
Read for Escape Pod by Lauren Harris

An extended, stealthy pokémon joke or an oddly generic cyberpunk/samurai tale. Yuriko lives in a future Japan where samurai are back, with all the service to feudal lords and whatnot intact. But due to some modernization, women are now allowed to be samurai warriors, and Yuriko is one of these female samurai. Sadly, her lord doesn't treat her with any respect, demanding she prostitute herself out in the course of an increasingly petty vengeance mission. Having already caused her father's death with similarly dishonorable orders, Yuriko doesn't seem willing to die for her own personal honor.

This is both where the story is, and where I think it fails. First, there isn't much plot-wise. Yuriko seduces the guy her boss wants embarrassed, embarrasses him, and kills him, before even thinking about what she should be doing in the bigger picture. Then we have a much shorter amount of story devoted to wrap-up with the boss, which should have been the main story, since he basically killed her father and is the real villain of the piece.

Second, Yuriko does an amazingly small amount of thinking about honor for how much she claims to be bound by it all the time. Maybe that is the point, that it is fear of death keeping her in line rather than any devotion or honor, and she takes her first escape when she has the chance, but why kill Tanuki then? Especially given how haunted she's supposed to be by previous kills. She shows none of the personal growth it's implied she should be showing, she neither finally understands honor (would probably require her dying at the end, a better story) or finally renounces the whole thing, tells tradition to go to hell, and does what she thinks is right (also a better story). Committing to either resolution would be fine, but the author, like Yuriko, can't seem to figure out which way to go. There is no emotional resolution besides a touch of revenge, and it seems like we're expected to see her growing, but she is still stuck in limbo.

Third, Tanuki's crime is a lot more serious and rape-y than author or any characters seem to be admitting. Sure he embarrassed a lord or whatever, but neither he, nor the lord, nor any of the female characters seem to think about the surprise-sex implications for the helpless wife. I mean I know he isn't supposed to be a good person, but Yuriko doesn't even seem bothered by it (after whoring herself out to him against her will too), and he thinks it is a funny joke. Moral relativity isn't a good defense for this also being a future story with women's rights and trying to make sense to a modern audience. It should at least be addressed, although I think the story would work better with a legitimately more petty affront.

Finally, the real sin of this story: it did nothing for me. It wasn't exciting, it didn't inspire any deep thoughts, suspense, surprise, or emotion at all. I could forget the setting by tomorrow, and it should have been an interesting one. I took Japanese, I'm interested in these things, so how did it lose me? Maybe because I've read real cyberpunk, reducing the novelty value to zero here. OMG he had a computer interface in his neck!!1!

And another thing! Hacking-as-magic got obnoxious by about 1990, that isn't how computers work. I love a good pokémon joke. I was just too annoyed by that point to even laugh.
1.5 out of 5 Magikarp used Splash... but nothing happened.

Trivia: カチカチ山, the title of this story, is the title of a Japanese folktale (translating roughly as "Fire-Crackle Mountain"). You can find an English version here, and read a summary and some modern references on wikipedia.

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