Two years ago, Haikasoru — a division of Viz Media that translates and publishes English-language versions of Japanese science fiction novels — issued Fujii Taiyo’s 2013 debut novel, Gene Mapper, marking both it and Fujii’s debut in the United States. With Haikasoru’s version of Taiyo’s second novel, Orbital Cloud (paperback, digital), recently released in the U.S., I sent a bunch of questions to Taiyo via email, hoping that my inquiries into this books’ origins and influences would translate as well.
To begin, what is Orbital Cloud about?
It’s hard science fiction about various forms of passion for space development by have-nots. The protagonist, Kazumi, has talent for observing orbital objects, and a great desire to be part of the space industry, but doesn’t have a path to prominence. The antagonist, Ageha, has passion for space development, hacking skills, and business, but lacks essential talent or a sense of fairness. Much of the cast of Orbital Cloud is looking to the sky above, in space and in orbit, but have no way to reach space by many reasons.
I wrote this novel to express my own passion for space exploration.
One critic called Orbital Cloud, “[an] epic sci-fi international spy thriller.” Do you agree with this assessment?
I appreciate that the review says so. I wrote Orbital Cloud based on the four rules of thriller-writing today: 1: Hackers don’t guess passwords. 2: Strong cyphers can’t be easily decoded. 3: Government tracks every communication, and legally. 4, GPS is GPS; it isn’t the magic location device Hollywood depicts. I think the background tech in Orbital Cloud is super-realistic.
So what authors, and which of their works, do you see as being the biggest influences on the sci-fi aspects of Orbital Cloud?
Michael Crichton. I set his Jurassic Park as goal to be exceeded, and read it a dozen times while writing Orbital Cloud. Crichton built a strong archetype of fiction that asks us to consider if humans could handle the stampede of science and technology. He filled his works with tons of technical terms, and with visual, readable, and emotional words. I challenged myself to write in a similar style to Crichton’s, and to offer this in answer to his question: “Yes, we can!”
I also love the masterpiece of Fredric Brown’s The Lights In The Sky Are Stars.
And since you agree with it being a “spy thriller,” what authors, and which of their works, do you see as being the biggest influences on the spy aspects of Orbital Cloud?
Frederick Forsyth’s The Day Of The Jackal is the main influence. It’s set in Paris, and describes a well-planned attempt to assassinate de Gaulle. Forsyth created in this novel a fantastic show-down between professionals, and made excellent use of setting. Paris is a well-known city and all readers knew de Gaulle was never assassinated. But The Day Of The Jackal is a masterpiece of tension due to its depiction of tradecraft. For me, I tried with realistic computer technology and space tether theory in Orbital Cloud to create a similar tension.
What about non-literary influences, what movies, TV shows, video games, and manga do you see as having the biggest impact on Orbital Cloud, and in what ways?
Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I was moved by his desire to see deep space.
Now, I don’t know if this is true in Japan or not, but in the U.S., the big trend in science fiction novels is for books to not be stand-alone, one-off stories, but to instead be part of a series. So, is Orbital Cloud a stand-alone novel, or the first in a series?
In Japan, some sci-fi writers create long series. Kaoru Kurimoto wrote 120 books of the Guin Saga, which is the longest series of novel written by one person in world. You can read the first several volumes of Yoshiki Tanaka’s ten book The Legend Of Galactic Heroes series in English. My friend Issui Ogawa is going to finish an eighteen-volume series called Tenmei No Shirube soon. We’re familiar with the series novel in Japan. But Orbital Cloud is stand-alone. I want to write many stories, in different settings.
This version of Orbital Cloud was translated from Japanese to English. In doing this version, did the translator ask you about making any changes to the text because of cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan?
When I read the translated Orbital Cloud, I felt as if I wrote it. Translator Timothy Silver did not lose any part of the original. Several parts of Orbital Cloud even have identical paragraph structures between languages. There were no cultural question and changes, but the team at Haikasoru pointed out several small errors in the Japanese original. Several character names were changed because I choose wrong surnames on original work. Haikasoru did not only translate well, but polished the work.
And the translation was smooth despite major challenges. Orbital Cloud contains many technical terms. In Japanese, many computer terms are a bit awkward: we write “did submit” not just “submitted,” “do download” not just “downloaded,” and “did compile” not just “compiled.” I struggled to get rid of “DO SOMETHING” from original work, but couldn’t. I want to write just “compiled” in Japanese.
So has there been any talk of your other books being translated into English?
Haikasoru told me that they are considering a translation of my short novel about a bitcoin-like currency, but nothing confirmed yet. Keep an eye on their social media for announcements.
What about making a movie out of Orbital Cloud, has there been any interest in that? Because I could see there being some, especially after the success of the movie Edge Of Tomorrow, which was based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill.
There have been no offers yet. If an offer comes, I’ll say “Do anything.” In Japan, many readers say that they want to see it on screen. I appreciate the thought, but I could not imagine my original story on screen. Eighty percent of this story involves characters discussing math in front of computer screens. I wanted the conversations to be interesting, and I think I succeeded literally, but not visually. A movie studio would need to rewrite the story from the ground up.
Finally, if someone really enjoys Orbital Cloud, what Japanese sci-fi novel that’s been translated into English would you suggest they read next and why?
If you love hard sci-fi, Yukikaze by Chohei Kanbayashi, Rocket Girls by Hosuke Nojiri, The Ouroboros Wave by Jyouji Hayashi, and The Next Continent by Issui Ogawa are best. You’ll be satisfied with their minimalism. All components, character, and settings are well-meshed, like a well-made physical product from Japan.