CBRIII Maneuver #7 – Harmony
Profile: Speculative Fiction, Utopian/Dystopian, Medical Fiction
Summary: From the back of the book, “In the future, Utopia has finally been achieved thanks to medical nanotechnology and a powerful ethic of social welfare and mutual consideration. This perfect world isn’t that perfect though, and three young girls stand up to totalitarian kindness and super-medicine by attempting suicide via starvation. It doesn’t work, but one of the girls – Tuan Kirie – grows up to be a member of the World Heath Organization. As a crisis threatens the harmony of the new world, Tuan rediscovers another member of the suicide pact, and together they must help save the planet… from itself.”
After Action Report:
Japanese science fiction is messed up stuff. I haven’t read a huge amount of it, but the one thing that seems to common to all of it is a pessimism in the ability of humanity, as it stand today, to survive the coming decades. Harmony hypothesizes a Maelstrom, a cataclysmic sequence of events that start with global nuclear conflict and end with rampant ecological and medical devastation. In the wake of this chaos, Itoh proposes a unique post-human society in which it is our minds, and not our bodies, that have become obsolete.
For a definition, Posthumanism is the body of theory dealing with technology and the artificial evolution of humanity. Very vague. The most common aspect of this body of theory is transhumanism, which concerns us, as a species, surpassing various elements of the human condition: aging, death, isolation, ect. Science fiction loves this little playground of morality and ethics, but it usually boils down to artificially superior humans dominating, or failing to dominate the masses.
Itoh’s vision of the future does have us overcoming illness and much of the day to day strife of the human condition through the use of advanced medical technology, but the implications are a little different. The thing that the girls in Harmony are fighting against is the outsourcing of their basic functions, from what they eat to what is socially acceptable, to the organizations dedicated to preserving human life against the possible chaos of another Maelstrom. The protagonist, Tuan, stumbles upon a conspiracy to take these concepts to the next level, by using nanomachines to control people’s minds.
The book is told as a historical archive of past events, everything recorded in a mockup of HTML code. Emotions being experienced by Tuan are expressed as style tags, and the text occasionally shifts to full on machine speak. The effect divorces the reader from the immediacy of the story, but at the same time, Tuan’s insistence that she is an independent person in a world full of carbon copies makes her a sympathetic character.
At this point, it becomes difficult to address the body of the book, as so much could be considered spoilers. It is a deceptively quick read, even for it’s scant 250 pages. The big ideas drop hard and fast, and Itoh doesn’t hesitate to bring out controversial evidence to support his thesis, such as the Nazi’s campaigns for general health; their elimination of cigarettes for their health impacts, or their creation of the PA system to better communicate emergency information to large buildings. His point seems to be that for every horrible dictatorship full of atrocities, there have been some positive, if morally ambiguous, advances. Not a direct correlation to be sure, but there are reasons the everyday person buys into a dystopia.
The end of Harmony is quite disturbing, at least it is if you value the traditionally western ideals of individualism and capitalism. This is the one major reason to read books from other cultures. The things that we might find too disturbing to even dream of, might be the utopia of the people across the ocean…