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Science Fiction in Capsules

Hoshi: According to an American Mom

by Kim Hines

I am - by no means - your typical science fiction fan. Like many moms, I don't like things that blow up, zip around at warp speed or vomit blue-green goo. Special effects do nothing for me. Multiple realities don't surprise me, either; I have three teenagers living at home, after all. Nor do I understand the need for an avatar ... unless, of course, she's going to tackle my real laundry room, in which case, bring her on! (And if she must have rock-hard abs while folding my bath towels, so be it.)

For me, Shinichi Hoshi's work is many moons beyond what we know as science fiction today. It relies, not on shock and awe, not on R-rated vulgarity, but on a shared, universal concern for humanity. Mr. Hoshi is both an idealist and a realist, a space-age dreamer and a doomsday bellwether. His characters may be aliens, robots and wacky scientists in futuristic Tokyo, but his tact and discretion are that of an ancient philosopher or a wise, old, pipe-smoking medicine man in the woods. I think of his stories as fortune cookies: each a strict economy of words about which you've got to make sense for yourself.

Editing English versions of Mr. Hoshi's beautiful work is no picnic. I experience a constant gnawing that much is lost in translation. But it is an ethereal loss, and therefore perhaps not mine to wholly reclaim. When I read the translations to my family, usually at dinner, the stories naturally command attention. Of course, some are better than others, and a few duds pop up at times. But overall it's a true gift to see modern American teenagers engaged in stories of this quality and sway.

As a mom, I've got my favorites. On a Dim Planet comes to mind. The premise is simple: two outdated robots, discarded into outer space, reminisce about their human masters as their metallic parts slowly rust and disintegrate away. Life, death, commitment, loyalty, the wisdom and betrayal of the elderly ... it's all in there, well-disguised as a three-page, outer-space, cartoon-like skit. The way Mr. Hoshi squeezed all this human sentiment into unique, tiny capsules strikes me as magical. It's no wonder that many writers and artists attribute the world-wide sensations of anime and manga, in part, to Hoshi's influence.

I never met the man. Rather, I met his daughter, Marina, a year after his passing when we lived in Hawaii,. PTO meetings and our kids' soccer practices brought us together. Now, thousands of miles apart, our commitment to translate her father's work (and a shared love for the sublime in general) keeps us connected. The symbolism is not lost on me. Hoshi's stories were meant to bring humans together, across the miles and cultural divides.

When I tell my kids' friends that I'm a translation editor for a famous Japanese science fiction writer, the response is inevitably the same. "You? Really?" How is it that this straw-hat-wearing, vegetable-growing, video-game-bashing mom got such a cool job, they want to know. I simply smile and bask in their momentary admiration. Like good, thought-provoking, clean-shaven science fiction, it comes ever so fleetingly these days.

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