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Not Just a Gibson Clone: an Interview with Goro Masaki.

Although rumor has it that the man who uses the pen name Goro Masaki was born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1957, the "real" Goro Masaki was born in Tokyo in 1986 on a Fujitsu word processor. He was heavily influenced by science fictions of Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree, Jr., and Cordwainer Smith. His rather incidentally composed first commercial novella, Evil Eyes (1986--excerpted here), vividly describes the conflict between a mind-control software company and a new religious organization, ending up with the revelation that Maria, a full-armored woman working for the company, and Mugen, the charismatic figure of the organization, were produced by a multiple personality, the owner of which had been born a disfigured baby; Evil Eyes--which won the thirteenth Hayakawa SF Contest in 1987 and is regarded as the best example of Japanese cyberpunk science fiction--was eventually included in Masaki's first collection of the same title (1988). In 1993 Masaki further developed the ideas in Evil Eyes and completed the hard-core virtual reality/hypergender novel Venus City, which won the fourteenth Japan SF Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Nebula Award. His other works include a pseudo-autobiograpical story collection Won't Cry for a Cat Anymore (1994) and an erotic hard-core SF novel called The Shadow Orchid (1994). His first English translation, "With Love, to My Eldest Brother" (original, 1988), was published in Fiction International in 1993. Now Goro Masaki is almost completely invisible in Japan, just like his literary influences. (LM)

Sinda Gregory: How did you get interested in SF initially?

Goro Masaki: My first contact as a reader occurred when I read H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. It was not a children's book, and I was six then. Most of the book was too difficult for me to understand. I just wanted to pretend to be a grown-up. But I remember some descriptions of the killing machine were very chilling. I would like to add that The Secret Garden was my first exposure to mystery-oriented literature. It was the only children's story I could enjoy. I confess it is still a part of my standard of a"good story." I began reading Verne, Poe, and Doyle when I was ten or so. My entertainment reading was mostly restricted to the mystery genre when I was in my teens. I read most of the classic detective stories in translation, then moved to hard-boiled mysteries and Kobo Abe. They both seemed to me the same kind of stories, about an individual facing the absurd. The influence from Shozo Numa's Yapoo, the Human Cattle was enormous for me in my formative years. This is a novel several critics regard as the most important SF and the strangest book ever published in postwar Japan. It is about a world in which only Caucasoids--especially white women--are regarded as human beings and dominators, while Negroids and Mongoloids--especially men--are regarded as cattle and used for the "living parts" of various products, from living toilet bowls and drawers to living carpets and diving suits. This unique novel first appeared in 1956, highly appreciated by such mainstream authors as Yukio Mishima, and is still available in Japan.

I had also seen several SF and monster movies when I was a little boy. Like many of us, my father took me to the theater for the monster movies. I think we are the first generation with less need for written SF, since SF imagery was everywhere in the visual media. Imported TV shows such as Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Thunderbirds, and Batman are also imprinted in my memory. American imagery was flooding in, and kids' comics then were full of quasi-scientific images of the future technology. Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy may be the best example. Shotaro Ishimori's Cyborg 009, published as a kids' comic, was where I learned the term cyborg when I was ten or so. It was the futuristic Apollo days, and popular science magazines were full of lines such as "we will change our body parts into more effective machines for working in space" or something like that. I remember when I was thirteen asking my classmate how cyborgs can have sex with their mechanized bodies: one is born to write SF. But the first really important SF writer for me was Philip K. Dick; I remember reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? when I was entering university and thought that this was something very different from what I had regarded as SF. It was a very unusual reading experience--the first time for me to discover a genre SF novel that mattered. I was nineteen then, and with so many SF-oriented media around me, I had little need for SF literature. I had thought that written SF was already dated. Audiovisual media were far more compelling. But I changed my opinion after reading Dick. I bought more than ten copies of that novel, because I have a habit of giving my favorite books to my friends who haven't read it.

SG: What was it about that book that made it seem so interesting and powerful to you?

GM: Using traditional SF gadgets, Dick examines what human nature is and the ways that technology affected it in our day. The theme of the book is, in short, "What is it that can be thought of as a human being and how is this different from machines?" This is essentially an ethical question, and, with the aid of SF settings, he could speculate freely on the metaphysical problems in a very concrete way. I thought this is just the power that SF literature can have over and above other SF media; that is, abstract thought experiments based on the concrete examples. Dick didn't use abstract terminology to his end, but simply depicts the situation, using metaphors of humans and androids. In this novel, if he thought a person were lacking humanity, then he depicted him as an android. If a machine is kind enough, then it should be a "human." This is his essential view of the world, and a very humanistic one. It is no surprise that French readers loved him much, given this high humanistic spirituality. We can be both humans and androids, depending on the situation, and his conclusion goes: what is finally important for us is not whether it is an original or a copy. Rather, everything with kindness can be regarded as true and therefore human, while unkind existence is nonhuman. What a straightforward humanistic manifesto gained in the midst of the relativistic universe. He also says that the most important feature of human nature is "empathy," an ability to feel as others do. That is, to go out of ourselves and to see others as they see us. So, in this sense, the book is about human communication; that is, how we can understand each other. Reading the book made me think a lot about communication and empathic ability, which might be a big subject matter in the whole literary tradition.

Larry McCaffery: Were you already thinking about writing SF while you were in college? I take it you didn't major in literature as an undergraduate.

GM: No, my undergraduate study was in social sciences, sociology. Before that I wanted to be a natural scientist; in fact, I studied just about everything except literature.

LM: What was it that drew you to write SF rather than other types of fiction?

GM: I was always very fond of writing, and my writings were always highly graded by my teachers through my school days. But I never wanted to become a professional writer, though I enjoyed writing stories for myself very much. By the time I was thirteen, I was constantly writing stories, not SF but mainly mystery--or fantasy-oriented studies. I stopped making stories when I was nineteen and went to the university; I soon found I was too busy studying social sciences to do any writing other than that. It wasn't until ten years later when I was twenty-eight or twenty-nine that I began again, so there is a ten-year blank in my writing career. In 1986 I felt great pressure both from my work and from private matters, and I suddenly began writing SF. During the blank time, I had read several SF writers who were new to me, such as James Tiptree, Jr., Cordwainer Smith, and John Varley. I am ready to admit their direct influence on me through their works.

LM: But not any of the cyberpunk writers as yet?

GM: I have to admit that I was often regarded as one of the first Japanese cyberpunk writers. Just before I wrote my first commercially published story, Evil Eyes, I had read Gibson's "Burning Chrome" and some other short stories and then Neuromancer, all in translation, but that was the only cyberpunk I had read before Evil Eyes. After my debut, I intentionally stopped reading Gibson because I was always compared to him. So I started to try purposefully not to write like Gibson. It was an uninteresting decision because I liked his writings. I bought a signed copy of his book at the Forbidden Planet in London. But I had to avoid becoming a "Japanese Gibson."

SG: If you were consciously trying not to write in a cyberpunk manner, what was it about your early stories that made others compare them to what the cyberpunks were doing?

GM: Actually, I feel that Evil Eyes was more directly influenced by Tiptree than by Gibson or other cyberpunks. I had been playing with the main idea itself since 1979 or so. I once tried to write it down, but failed. I was too busy then. And I completed the story during the summer and fall of 1986, and it was published in 1987. I thought it would be regarded as a Tiptree-like story, but when it appeared, people immediately said it was a kind of cyberpunk. To be more correct, it was regarded as a Gibson clone.

LM: What was Evil Eyes about?

GM: I would say it is about femininity in highly developed capitalist nations. Literally, it's about a mind-control software designer who is captured by a new religious group who tries to utilize his skill to brainwash the whole world. Somehow he escapes from that religion and destroys that cult, but then it turns out that all this was planned by an opposite power, a mind-control music industry which had produced much mind-controlling software and was firmly competing against the cult for their audience. I think the story criticizes industrial society and some of its consequences. And the cult leader is at first referred to as he, but actually he is a female who doesn't have a body.

LM: What do you mean? And does he have no body?

GM: The cult guru is first introduced as a living Ricca-chan doll. Ricca is a Japanese equivalent of Barbie. But it is revealed that actually the doll-like thing was made solely from human brain tissue. Its doll body is only a kind of plastic container exoskeleton, and it is filled with living human central nerve tissues taken from many others. It absorbs brains and memories of other people. It can change its "clothes" and appears as a beautiful boy elsewhere. And the creature insists that it is a "mind without body." Since mind functions are all that it possesses, the creature is a pure spirit. It has a seemingly twisted logic. Gradually it becomes clear that actually it was born as a girl child, and, by an accident, it lost the chance to live a usual life. Instead, prosthetic technology gave it a chance to evolve into a brain-and-knowledge-sucking superpower, who can utilize others' nerve tissues as some kind of additional memory storage. It becomes a hyperintelligence and then a cult leader.

SG: Were you trying to depict a certain kind of"new femininity" that was actually arising in Japan during the eighties?

GM: If seen from that perspective, yes. At first, our guru, called Mugen, appears and speaks as a male, even though it presents itself as a Licca doll. But it gradually becomes clear that it is actually a female character. It is also shown that this is actually a story of a woman who was torn apart in a highly developed information society. On one side, she tried to objectify herself by becoming a guru leading millions of followers. This shows Mugen's macho aspect. On the other side, it behaves as one who is dominated, deprived, and desperately seeking for the possibility of conceiving a child and being loved. But after all, what she was always trying to do was just to love, even though it lacked the relevant objects, and to take care of the world and other people.

SG: The cyberpunk authors in the eighties presented technology much more ambiguously than their New Wave counterparts of the sixties, who tended to be extremely pessimistic. How would you describe your own feelings about technological change?

GM: I tend to write rather pessimistically and critically, because things suspicious and distrustful are easier to be accepted and passed as the signs of careful professional attitude. But Venus City shows a more openly positive view of the future. A more cheerful aspect of myself. I myself was astonished by this. My typical writing style is shown in my early short story "The Weather Won't Stop" (1988) in which I have depicted an idea of heaven's atmosphere directly influencing mental atmospheres of people. For the story I used the synergistic theory by Hermann Haken, and I wrote the whole thing in a narrative style of a teenagers' romance. That is my usual way of hiding myself. But a smart way is not always a wise way, and after having a child, I lost a certain degree of my hiding instinct. After all, our son is the proof and he's there. Now I can write a little more straight tale with some positive nice views. I think it's okay for all of us.

SG: Is the world you depict in Venus City the world of Japan as you imagine it will be in the future? Or is it the world of Japan now?

GM: Venus City is mainly about Japan in the twenty-first century. In this world Japan has become a kind of network nation and a very influential international power. Also, there is a presence of anti-Japanese extremist groups from America.

LM: Was this anti-Japanese aspect of the novel partly a reaction on your part to the Japan-bashing which was so common in the U.S. and elsewhere during the eighties and early nineties?

GM: Yes. The protagonist Sakiko is a Japanese woman who hates American people, at least partly because her boss is a male American in a Japanese company. So there is already a kind of racial tension that is a very significant feature of the novel. I wanted to present my story as evenly as possible, so it is composed of three sections: the first is told in the first person of the Japanese woman, the second from the perspective of the American boss, and the third is the objective, third person, where I tried to be perfectly neutral.

LM: Have you been tempted to move outside the SF genre?

GM: I am attracted to SF because I wanted to write freely. This freedom to experiment may be one reason why I'm writing in SF genre, but insofar as I can write with much freedom, the genre is not very important to me. And, to be honest, I soon found out that there existed many norms and restrictions even in the SF genre. Besides, I never seriously thought of a professional writer's career.

LM: Tell me a little about the background of"With Love, to My Eldest Brother," the story I published in Fiction International. It seems to be almost like a holocaust or postbomb, apocalypse story.

GM: "With Love" was actually about the secondary influences of atomic bombs on the next generation after an atomic-bomb blast. I wanted to write this because I myself am the son of a Hiroshima survivor. My father was a lieutenant of the Japan Imperial Army and was sent to China only months after graduation from the university. There he served as an educational officer for the Chinese people. Then he was sent back to Japan and was trained as a commando of kamikaze-type human torpedo. He was staying at Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. By some chance he went to a nearby town just one day before the A-bomb was dropped, so he survived; but he went back to Hiroshima City and searched for his fellow soldiers the day after the explosion. So he too suffered from the A-bomb, to a certain degree. For instance, he lost most of the hair on his legs and arms, and his liver was also affected, so his skin is more yellow than usual Japanese. I have heard that my parents hesitated to have a child for a while, because they feared there might be some secondary effects on the children. Luckily my father was not so badly affected, but I had heard these stories while very young, and all these things strongly inspired me to write the story. For Hiroshima victims and survivors and their relatives, "With Love" is not just an interesting tale--it's almost a realistic fear.

LM: Has your writing been influenced by earlier conventions of Japanese storytelling, such as the use of the traditional autobiographical "I" narrator?

GM: In Evil Eyes, for the simple reason that I didn't have much space, I deleted almost all "I's." It's literally condensed, I have written some 150 pages and summed the draft up into just one hundred pages. In Japanese it's very easy to delete the subject `T' from the lines. Also, I wanted to make it very universal, not private or uniquely Japanese, so that it will apply to everyone. So I tried to omit the subject "I." I have an English version of Evil Eyes, which is a close representation of what I have written, but even in it, there are more "I's" than in the original. My second collection of short stories, Won't Cry for a Cat Anymore, is mostly private Japanese autobiographical stories, of the sort that might begin, "one day I went somewhere to see something." I think these are very traditional uses of the Japanese writing style. I tried this style because I had to escape from the puzzling fame of being a Japanese Gibson.

LM: Why did you use a pen name? Did you personally want to split yourself in two?

GM: The reason is simple. I did not want to be known. James Tiptree, Jr., once explained this kind of psychology very well. She said she wanted to be some kind of spirit who could leave what she has written in front of the reader and just disappear. This may be a fundamental instinct of hiding before the unknown. To hide from the unfamiliar is a natural response of an animal. To escape from some objects thrown at oneself is also a normal reaction. I have never known baseball rules very well.

Transcribed by Pam Hasman

The complete interview with Goro Masaki can be accessed at

SINDA GREGORY published an interview with and essay about Rikki Ducornet in the Fall 1998 issue of Review of Contemporary Fiction; the author of Private Investigations: The Fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s, she currently is Professor of English at San Diego State University.

Having received her M.A. in Literature from UC-Berkeley, PAMELA HASMAN is now a poet, fiction writer, housewife, and belly-dancing instructor living in San Diego.

LARRY McCAFFERY's most recent publication was Federman, A to X-X-X-X--A Recyclopedic Narrative (San Diego State University Press); currently a Professor of English at San Diego State University, his main activity is hiking near his home in the Anza Borrego Desert.
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Article Details
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Author:Gregory, Sinda; McCaffery, Larry
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
Previous Article:Oedipus City.
Next Article:The Human Factor (from Evil Eyes).

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