Japanese Sci-Fi: Bizarre, Illusive

Article excerpt

THE BEST JAPANESE SCIENCE FICTION STORIES

Edited by John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg

New York: Dembner Books, 174 pp., $16.95

THE best science fiction in the world today is written in English, most of it in the United States. This is not chauvinism; it is what one discovers by reading extensively. From Swift's time to our own, sophisticated, probing speculative fiction that takes us deeply within ourselves, as well as out of this world so we can see it better, has been composed (often by superb stylists) in English.

"The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories" will do nothing to alter that perception. Its main appeal will be to those fascinated by how the Japanese psyche manifests itself in this genre.

The foreword by Grania Davis reveals how translation challenges the best and brightest of writers, many of whom feel that it extends their boundaries, making them more original and elastic artists. No reader will ever enjoy this East-West exchange as much as the translators who labored with love to bring another language - and another mode of perception - to life.

The one tale with "mass" appeal would attract aficionados of visceral (rather than psychological) "horror" stories. "The Savage Mouth" consumes the body that sustains it; Sakyo Komatsu provides a gory recipe for humans who prefer to eat themselves up - rather than cruelly cannibalize the whole world. It is the only tale of its kind in the collection; the others are not so much narratives as suggestive arrangements of perceptions, subtle shades of pale so tenuous that describing them seems to falsify them.

The most delectable selection - in the way the tip of one cold asparagus spear is delectable - is "Triceratops," by Tensei Kono. A summary of it seems deceptively cogent, even dramatic; the story itself is more like a confused waking dream.

A universe of dinosaurs intersects with the mundane world of father and son prosaically cycling in the neighborhood. …