book review: usurper of the sun

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.

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