ONE LOVE CHIGUSA by Soji Shimada (BOOK REVIEW)
“He felt cold. There was an unpleasant metallic noise, a ringing coming from somewhere. He saw everything in a flash. The cliff behind him was in fact made of grey metal. Xie’s latent memory had allowed him to see this all as real nature. But the truth was different. Metal the dull colour of lead, iron redded with rust, all piled up together. He had mistaken this for the cliff face. Broken pieces of warped gears on top of one side, all stuck together.”
Red Circle Minis has just started publishing short books by contemporary Japanese writers, each story being written specifically for the series and published in English first. One Love Chigusa (2020) by award-winning Japanese mystery writer Soji Shimada, translated by David Warren, is a dystopian cyberpunkish tale that explores what it means to be human in an increasingly technological world. This is a cool book and an excellent idea for a series, and I look forward to the new voices of Japanese fiction that the line will bring to light for English readers.
Xie Hoyu begins to question the meaning of his life working as an illustrator for a fashionable magazine after he suffers a horrific motorcycle crash and has to have his body largely replaced with mechanical cyborg parts. The only thing that can rescue him from his despair is a relationship with the charming but curiously naïve Chigusa, a beautiful woman he catches sight of outside a coffee shop. What at first appears to be a romantic tale of a manic pixie dream girl helping a depressed man find meaning in life again is soon revealed to be something much more strange, unsettling and cynical.
Shimada’s mastery of the mystery form is demonstrated in One Love Chigusa’s well-crafted structure. Through subtle build-up, misdirection and handling of tension he plays with the reader’s expectations throughout, hinting that there is something off about not just Xie and Chigusa’s relationship but Xie’s worldview as a whole. It is this that gives the story its powerful narrative drive, keeping the reader invested in the lead up to the reveal as they become ever more engaged with the characters.
Following his accident, Xie is now a cyborg, which makes him an appropriate subject for a story that is about humanity’s relationship with technology. For all that technological advancement has saved Xie’s life, he remains cynical about the role technology has had on human development, reflecting on the links between technological advancement, colonial expansion and world conflict. However Shimada is doing something more complex than simply setting up a humanity versus nature dichotomy. As Xie is now a hybrid between human and machine, his goalposts for what consists as “natural” in the first place have been irrevocably shifted. From his visions of his fellow human beings as cruel, calculating automatons and the manicured gardens of his city as technological wastelands, Xie becomes aware that the Faustian pact humanity has made with technology is now a part of human nature. This is also linked to the redemption he finds in Chigusa, and the underlying secret of her nature, which he does not realise until it is too late for both of them.
One Love Chigusa subverts our views of humans as essentially caring and nurturing and machines as harsh and calculating. Underlying the story is the threat of AI judging humanity, finding us wanting, and engineering to replace us. For the Ais who are secretly communicating with Xie, humanity’s cruelty and destruction of the rest of life on Earth puts us on a level with pests or disease, something to be wiped out to maintain the health of the ecosystem. It is within this examination of human cruelty that the story’s ultimate cynicism – is love, that most transcendent of human experiences, merely a glitch in the machine? – is centred.
One Love Chigusa is a fast paced, engaging read that offers an elegantly crafted SF plot with hidden psychological depths. Highly recommended, and I shall be following both Shimada and Red Circle Minis with interest.