Sixteen years after it was originally released, TOBI Hirotaka’s 2002 sci-fi novel The Thousand Year Beach (paperback, Kindle) is finally being released in English by Haikasoru. In the following email interview — which was kindly translated by Evan Galloway — Hirotaka explains what inspired this story, the other books that influenced it, and whether its sequel, Ragged Girl, will be getting an English edition as well.
To start, what is The Thousand Year Beach about?
The Thousand Year Beach begins with a boy waking up in a town that resembles a Mediterranean beach resort. This town is a virtual resort that was created digitally and exists in virtual reality, and the boy, along with all of the other characters, are A.I., and are aware of that fact. This town was created for humans to visit, but suddenly, a thousand years ago, people stopped coming, and there hasn’t been a guest visitor since. The boy visits the shore with an older girl and encounters the Spiders, grotesque invaders who have come to terminate this place and the people who live within it with their supernatural powers, thus setting in motion a desperate battle over their fate.
The Thousand Year Beach has been described as a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk science fiction story. But is there another subgenre of sci-fi, or combination of them, that you think describes this novel better?
To be honest, The Thousand Year Beach isn’t much of a cyberpunk story at all. It starts out like a classic European movie, then switches gears to become a monster horror movie, then you get supernatural battles more akin to a Japanese manga or anime. As it progresses further, it becomes a lurid and serious drama. Finally, its conclusion raises such literary themes as the ethical issue of consuming exploitative entertainment and how one can mentally survive in a closed-off and abusive environment.
Are there any writers or individual stories that had a big influence on The Thousand Year Beach but not on your other stories?
One of the goals I had when writing this novel was to “digitally remaster” some of the great science fiction stories from the 1960s and ’70s. Thus, I believe you can see influences from such writers as Roger Zelazny and Samuel R. Delany. [Delany’s short story collection] Driftglass in particular played a very important role. Some people see J.G. Ballard in it as well. I tried to use some of the things I learned from the great Stephen King in the horror portions. I think it might be a little inspired by Eastern themes such as the Buddhist concept of “impermanence,” which you occasionally run into in Japanese literature, as well.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had an impact on what you wrote in The Thousand Year Beach or how you wrote it?
I was born in 1960, so my formative years were spent watching a lot of early Japanese tokusatsu and anime. I think the visual impact I received from those shows provided the basis for this novel. In manga, you often have the contrapuntal arrangement of lines of dialogue in balloons paired with characters’ internal monologues and additional explanation from the author, and this novel uses a similar technique. Therefore, it might feel a bit like you’re reading manga in literary form.
The Thousand Year Beach was originally published in 2002, but this Haikasoru edition is the first time it’s been published in English in America. What do you think of your novel finally being translated sixteen years after its original publication?
As I mentioned earlier, The Thousand Year Beach purposefully took inspiration from old movies and science fiction novels. I didn’t do what was modern and fashionable at the time it was written sixteen years ago, and I hope that by doing so it hasn’t aged poorly. T.T.Y.B. is still gaining new young readers in Japan, some of who weren’t even born when the novel was originally written, and it’s exciting to see the impact it has on them.
In the years since The Thousand Year Beach came out, you wrote a sequel called Ragged Girl. Have you talked to Haikasoru about doing an English language version of that novel?
We still need to discuss it. I really hope Ragged Girl is translated as well, because The Thousand Year Beachdoesn’t reveal anything about the sci-fi setting itself. I think Ragged Girl will have an even bigger impact than T.T.Y.B., and T.T.Y.B. is made just that much better after you’ve read Ragged Girl.
And is Ragged Girl the end of the story, or are you planning to write other novels set in the fictional universe of The Thousand Year Beach?
Ragged Girl finishes the story of The Thousand Year Beach, and together, they form the first step into the T.T.Y.B. universe. However, I still need to write at least two more novels. The next one is The Glass-Eyed Monster, which is set in [a virtual resort modeled after] a suburban Japanese city in 1977, where high school students take part in supernatural battles all while acute questions are posed about the existence of mankind. Now all I have to do is write it.
So in the sixteen years since The Thousand Year Beach came out, has there been any interesting in making it into a movie, TV show, or video game?
Nothing like that, but it’s actually been performed on the stage in the form of contemporary dance! It was quite a sight to behold, as you can see here and here. Imagine the degenerate and bizarre “aesthetic” of The Thousand Year Beach expressed artistically in that form. Really strange, right?
There are other sides to The Thousand Year Beach as well, though. A lot of people tweeted saying that the TV series Westworld reminds them of it.
Finally, if someone’s enjoyed The Thousand Year Beach, what post-apocalyptic cyberpunk science fiction would you suggest they read next and why?
Maybe Westworld? I’d also recommend Dempow Torishima’s Sisyphean, available from Haikasoru. Don’t forget about their anthology, The Future Is Japanese, either. My novella “Autogenic Dreaming” is in there.