Skip to main content

BOOKS Prescient visions of the way we live now

Written in the 1970s and 1980s, the manipulation and exploitation described in Izumi Suzuki’s unsettling science fiction has acute contemporary relevance, says ANDY HEDGECOCK

Terminal Boredom
by Izumi Suzuki
(Verso, £10.99)

IN 1986 Izumi Suzuki, whose work as a model, actor and writer made her a countercultural icon in Japan, committed suicide at the age of 36.

Remarkably, this is the first English-language collection of her fiction but Verso has acquired the rights to all her stories and will publish a second volume in 2022.

This is excellent news because Terminal Boredom is a dazzling book, packed with memorable and unsettling ideas.

Sociopolitical commentary in science fiction is notoriously vulnerable to the ravages of time but, four decades after they were written, the seven stories in Terminal Boredom provide a powerful critique of a society based on manipulation and exploitation.

This timelessness, an abstraction achieved by a deliberate lack of precision about location, technology and fashion, does not mean her stories are flat and forgettable and the dialogue between her characters fizzes with feeling, threat and wit.   

Suzuki fuses elements from Kafka, Orwell and Philip K Dick — her recurring themes are powerlessness, conformity and the fluidity of identity and her stories are characterised by the elegance with which they pierce the well-ordered surface of modern life to uncover the corrosion at its heart.

Women and Women, one of Suzuki’s best-known tales in Japan, is set in a tightly controlled matriarchal culture and it seems, at first, to be a simple inversion of the repressive gender relations of our own era.

Following an ecological catastrophe, men have been banished to ghettoes and are treated with revulsion and any speculation about an alternative to this arrangement is suppressed.

The story is elevated to something greater than a satirical thought experiment by the complex response of its narrator to a boy who escapes the ghetto.

Several stories are eerily prophetic. The term virtual reality was coined after Suzuki’s death but in That Old Seaside Club she investigates the dangers posed to social cohesion and personal wellbeing by immersive and technologically mediated fantasy.  

The title story is similarly concerned with behavioural control through neuroscience but presents a more overtly chilling vision of society on the brink of disintegration.

Mass unemployment has fostered apathy and a toxic form of emotional detachment and Ray Bradbury meets Harold Pinter in this near-future narrative, where events unfold in a series of disconnected dialogues that shift from bleak comedy to outright menace.

Two of the stories use traditional sf conceits. Forgotten, a tale of suspicion, betrayal and compromised love, is set against a backdrop of intergalactic imperialism while Night Picnic, a sardonic critique of the nuclear family, involves a group of aliens imitating human habits to grimly humorous effect.

Blending weird invention and emotional honesty, Terminal Boredom is a telling interrogation of the way we live now.

OWNED BY OUR READERS

We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 13,110
We need:£ 4,890
6 Days remaining
Donate today