Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sky Town 008

空中都市008 (kuuchuu toshi zero zero eito, Sky Town 008, 1968) by KOMATSU Sakyou (小松左京, 1931-2011) is a children's science fiction novel. Komatsu was Japan's most famous science fiction writer, probably best known in the west for 日本沈没 (nihon chinbotsu, Japan Sinks, 1973), which was filmed twice, in 1973 and in 2006. Sky Town 008 got an adaptation too, a 1969 television puppet drama by NHK.

The story is aimed at young children and gives an optimistic view of the world in the twenty first century. The main character is a primary school aged boy Hoshio, whose family (mother, father and younger sister Tsukiko) move to the city. Its name makes it sound like a city in midair; but anyone expecting James Blish style cities in flight will be disappointed. It is a more realistic earthbound city of skyscrapers, differing from those of the twentieth century in the more sophisticated use of the higher levels. Hoshio's new home is many stories up in the air, but is still a proper house with a garden. The houses and gardens wind upwards round the building in a spiral, which allows each to have light.

Each chapter brings a new episode, exporing different aspects of the town and of the world of the future. Hoshio explores the city with his neighbour Ginny (although the setting is Japan, Komatsu imagines a more international country than Japan in the sixties, and many characters are from other countries). They build a robot for a school club project, with the help of a robotics expert they know. The central computer malfunctions causing various mishaps, most amusing, some alarming, for people in the city. They have a school trip to the nearby city under the sea and make friends with an intelligent dolphin.

Most of the episodes are within the realistic mode of near future science fiction, and the kinds of adventures the children are allowed to get into are mostly close to the minor scrapes that a small child could really experience. That means that expectations of a thrilling adventure may be disappointed. There are no bad characters; in fact Hoshio and his family and friends don't even have to deal with any persistently stupid or misguided characters. The only sense in which the book rises to a climax is in saving the most exciting outing, a tourist trip to the moon, for the last chapter. I imagine though, that I would have liked this book a lot if I'd met it as a child. It reminds me strongly of Arthur C. Clarke's Islands in the Sky, which I loved, but which I see is sometimes criticised for the same lack of major tension as Sky Town 008.

 The technological developments Komatsu imagines are based on inventions and research of the sixties. There are footnotes from the original book, explaining where the ideas come from. These make for interesting reading fifty years later. Some predictions are completely wrong. Others are very close to reality, or imagine real developments, but ones which came about in a quite different way to the book.

No comments:

Post a Comment