I did not like Housuke Nojiri’s Rocket Girls. It’s a science fiction story about a teenager who goes to the Solomon Islands looking for her father and gets co-opted into a space program because she’s small enough to need less thrust on the rockets they’re trying to launch into space in the next 6 months or the plug will be pulled on the project. It is so fucking stupid.
It seems that Nojiri wanted to write a cool vaguely realistic story about low earth orbit. He probably did a bunch of research on rockets and Mir. But the situation is so stupid. Yukari finds her father on the island and he’s been made chief of an islander band that cheers for explosions of the rockets as fireworks. He has another daughter almost the same size as Yukari. Who can then be her backup on the mission! And if she goes through with the training he’ll come back to Japan with Yukari and get back with her mother and they’ll all live a normal life!
There’s also sketchy bullshit about the islanders cursing the rockets, and a plan Yukari has to get Chinese food delivered so she’ll be too heavy to go on the rocket, media people bursting into her room in the middle of the night for interviews, and gay Russian cosmonauts who accidentally destroy Mir (that was a spoiler).
It’s ridiculous enough that if it was written with a sense of humour, it could be pretty fun. But it’s trying so hard to make us take this seriously, it’s just aggravating. I wonder if it’s a translation issue.
Anyway, I cannot suggest this book unless it’s to someone really into orbital dynamics. Even then the unrealistic mad scientists and complete motiveless changes of character will probably get in the way of any enjoyment.
Usurper of the Sun is a science fiction novel by 野尻 抱介 (Housuke Nojiri). A blurb on the cover said it was a “blend of Arthur C Clarke and Haruki Murakami” which made me grab it off the shelf in the library. Let me warn you: the only similarity with a Murakami novel is that both authors come from the same island nation. Happily, it is very much like an Arthur C Clarke novel, which was enough for me to like it.
Aki is a young girl in high school who is the first person to notice a giant structure on Mercury that will eventually block out the sun. She dedicates her life to science to understand it and find out who built it, why and what can be done to communicate with the Builders all while ensuring human survival in our solar system.
There are a lot of interesting ideas in the book. It’s a good first contact story dealing with communicating with aliens that are entirely different from ourselves, and the assumptions humans bring to communication.
The characterization is pretty terrible. Maybe it’s just the translation, but everything is very declarative about loneliness and how much things mean to the different characters, and it all feels very clumsy and amateurish. But the characters were clear and you could see how better word choices could make it feel less sterile. Maybe it was trying to emulate those old science fiction stories where characters were standins to carry science around. In that case it worked. It felt very classic in its approach.
The ideas were interesting and if it seemed a little simplistic in places, well, there are worse things in the world.