Friday, July 31, 2009

The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa

While we all get tons of science fiction and fantasy from the western world, with works from America and Britain taking the dominant focus, tales from the eastern cultures are far less common. Much of the very well written works in the speculative fiction genre that are from these areas never see the light of day over here, with the small exception of manga, which has never been my thing. So, when the new imprint Haikasoru started releasing Japanese science fiction and fantasy in the United States, I jumped at this opportunity, picking up the first of their books I could find: The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa. My first step into the world of Japanese science fiction was far from disappointing.

Roughly 1800 years ago, Queen Himiko, or Miyo to her friends, rules a Japan that seems a little out of whack with the real Japan in 248. Monsters are real, and as Miyo is out walking one day with her protector Kan, she runs into a large creature that Kan cannot stop. As their deaths seem imminent, out of the sky drops the mysterious Messenger O, a member of the race of Messengers who brought the Law to Miyo’s people long ago. He dispatches the creature with no problems, and the mystery of who he is and why he has traveled back in time begins to unfold.

In alternating flashback chapters, we learn about Messenger O’s past, from being “born” as the cyborg Orville, to learning all about the humanity he is sworn to protect. Orville falls in love, and faces what all soldiers must: the trauma of leaving a loved one behind. He then sets out on an odyssey through the past to stop the alien ET from destroying humanity in the past, where they are weaker than in Orville’s 26th century.

Ogawa creates strong bonds between characters that are quickly ripped apart, and uses the smallest of incidents to ratchet up the emotional tug. The quick changes of setting sometimes give the time periods they are in a bit of a short stick, but overall the settings are well fleshed out, and Ogawa picks interesting times to jump back to, from the dawn of mankind to World War II. Orville and Miyo become very human characters that are easy to relate to, and when they are in danger’s way, suspense fills you over their well-being.

The sense of familiarity is present throughout this novel, as it doesn’t feel too far from the western novels I’m used to, yet it had a sort of lighter flavor that felt distinct in its own right. The translator did a wonderful job of bring the words into English, while retaining the appropriate moods and getting the meanings across. It was done with great skill. This translation of Ogawa’s novel is well worth a look.


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