Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights

Author: Ryū Mitsuse
Translator: Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421539041
Released: November 2011
Original release: 1967

Ryū Mitsuse’s Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights is considered to be one of the greatest Japanese science fiction novels to have ever been written. As a lover of both science fiction and Japanese literature, I knew I wanted to read it without any hesitation. I was thrilled when Haikasoru, Viz Media’s Japanese speculative fiction imprint, released the English translation by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander in 2011. Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights was originally published in Japan in 1967 but Mitsuse slightly revised the book in 1973. Haikasoru’s edition is based on this revision. Very little of Mitsuse’s work is currently available in English. The only other two works that I know of are Andromeda Stories, a manga collaboration with Keiko Takemiya which I have read and enjoyed, and his short story “The Sunset, 2217 A.D.” which was included in Best Science Fiction for 1972, edited by Frederik Pohl, which I now plan on tracking down.

Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights begins with the birth of a planet. It ends eons later. From the deepest depths of the sea to the farthest reaches of space, from a time epochs before the existence of humanity to an age beyond its downfall, the journey is epic in its scale. There is the city of Atlantis, its brilliance and its destruction as incomprehensible to its population as it is to those outside. There is Plato and his search for the long lost city, leading him to unexpected places and revelations. There is Prince Siddhārtha, destined to become the Buddha, whose quest for enlightenment changes him completely. There is the unprecedented influence of Jesus of Nazareth, whose presence changes the world. And there is the final confrontation between incredible forces at the end of it all.

The translation of Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights is phenomenal. The prologue is especially stunning in addition to being one of the more immediately accessible portions of the novel. The prologue actually happens to be one of my favorite parts of the book; I’ve already read and reread it several times on its own. Mitsuse’s writing combines the real and the fantastic in wondrous ways. Particularly impressive in Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights is his layering of Buddhist and scientific cosmologies. However, some of the chapters may be a little overwhelming to a reader who does not already have some familiarity with Buddhism. The same is true for Christianity as well, but to a much lesser extent. Granted, after four chapters of setup, more than half of the book, Mitsuse lets loose and challenges readers to reconsider everything they thought they knew, anyway.

Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights is not an easy read. The story is not just there to be consumed passively. Instead, it demands thought and contemplation; the reader is required to make an effort in order to fully appreciate the novel. While reading Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights, I was constantly struck by a heady sense of vertigo, adrift with complete understanding seeming to be just beyond my grasp. It’s a feeling that the characters, too, must deal with. But throughout the novel are threads that tie everything together, so thin that they might not even be noticed at first, but serving as a tenuous anchor. Seemingly unrelated events are shown to be connected and carry a greater significance than might be initially assumed. It is only after finishing the entire novel that things will really begin to fall into place and sink in. I’ve been thinking about Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights ever since I finished the book and my admiration continues to grow. I want, and need, to read it again.

My Week in Manga: May 23-May 29, 2011

My News and Reviews

Last week was the May 2011 Manga Moveable Feast which focusing on Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. I posted a review for the first English volume (equivalent to the first three volumes published in Japan). Next month’s Feast will feature Kazuya Minekura’s Wild Adapter, which is one of my favorites. I’ve got a couple things planned for it that I’m excited about. Or at least I am amused by them.

Since it’s towards the end of the month, I am once again holding a manga giveaway: Oh, Ono! The winner will be announced Wednesday, so you’ve only a couple more days to enter to win a copy of the first volume of Natsume Ono’s first volume of Natsume Ono’s Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso from Viz Media. On a related note, Blogger is having issues posting comments. If you have trouble submitting, please send me an email with the comment and I’ll make sure you get entered in the contest.

I promised I would start posting links again to interesting things I’ve come across recently, so I would like to bring your attention to a great interview with Cathy Hirano: Catching Up with Cathy Hirano. Hirano is the translator for Haikasoru’s editions of Noriko Ogiwara’s Tales of the Magatama (which I haven’t read yet). She also translated the first two Moribito novels by Nahoko Uehashi which I adore (I’ve also reviewed both books). Hirano talks a bit about both series in the interview.

Quick Takes

Andromeda Stories, Volumes 1-3 written by Ryu Mitsuse and illustrated by Keiko Takemiya. Ryu Mitsuse is an award winning science fiction author and Keiko Takemiya is an award winning mangaka who is no stranger to science fiction, so it is fabulous that the two of them were able to come together to collaborate on Andromeda Stories. I loved Takemiya’s artwork in this series. The character designs are attractive and the space imagery is gorgeous. The storyline might not be particularly innovative, and a few shortcuts in plot and characterization are necessary to tie everything together in three volumes, but I still found the manga to be engaging and I particularly liked the ending.

Japan: As Viewed by 17 Creators by Various. Japan is an interesting, and I would say successful, joint effort between French and Japanese comics artists. The French contributors who were invited to visit Japan and their Japanese counterparts each penned a short comic offering their own unique perspective on the country. I wasn’t familiar with most of the creators involved with Japan, but I was very excited to see that both Moyoko Anno and Joann Sfar made contributions. The great thing about anthologies is that they allow readers to get acquainted with a number of different creators and potentially discover artists whose work they would like to follow. At least, I know that was the case for me reading Japan.

Maiden Rose, Volume 2 by Fusanosuke Inariya. I didn’t find the second volume to be quite as strong as the first, but it is still very good. More characters are introduced, but personally I would have liked to see those already established further developed. However, I am interested in seeing how Inariya will bring the new plotlines together. Although there is less graphic sex than in the first volume, the relationship between Taki and Klaus continues to be a very intense and complicated one. I have no idea how things are going to turn out for them and the war makes their relationship even more difficult. I hope we get to see more of this series (which I believe is currently up to four volumes in Japan) available in English.

Between the Folds directed by Vanessa Gould. Origami is a traditional Japanese artform that has become a world-wide phenomenon not only as art but as science. It is incredible what people are able to accomplish and create with a single piece of paper, from very simple shapes to extraordinarily complex ones. The field continues to evolve and develop and more and more practical applications are being discovered. Between the Folds examines and exhibits the work being done by artists, mathematicians, educators, and scientists; the variety and creativity is stunning and beautiful. The documentary is a fantastic and fascinating look at what origami is accomplishing today. I highly recommend watching it!