The first English-language publication of Izumi Suzuki’s darkly humorous dystopias packs a punky, prescient punch.
Science fiction asks us to suspend disbelief, to accompany the author on a voyage to an imagined world that hinges on possibility. Using the existing boundaries of her particular zeitgeist as a springboard for departure, Izumi Suzuki’s Terminal Boredom (translated by Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi, and Helen O’Horan) is both prescient and tragic, as the possible is ensared by the probable.
Across these seven cinematic stories, her wry voice captures the fraught limitations of gendered relations, the hedonism sought by disaffected youth, and the generational fear of another nuclear fallout and environmental concerns. Combining fantastical elements of space travel, cryosleep, and mindmerging with well-drawn characters and their everyday annoyances, the reader travels alongside Suzuki’s characters’ unpredictable trajectories that unfold with a looming air of inescapable conclusion.
In the opening story, ‘Women and Women’, the unamused teenage narrator begins to question the seeming utopia of queer matriarchal society, in which men are contained in state-sanctioned ghettos – the Gender Exclusion Terminal Occupancy zone – and can be visited on school field trips. She drolly recounts the long societal domination of men, ‘They seemed to find their raison d’être in conflicts both great and small. War found its way even into everyday life, and so were born ‘traffic wars’ and ‘admission wars’’. Yet, as this dominance extends over the environment through factories pumping out pollution, the male birthright declines so sharply they become anomalies, leaving the mostly queer young girls to form their ideals about the opposite sex from manga. That is, until the protagonist sees one – a man – in real life and soon learns why her mother is held by the state as a criminal.
‘That Old Seaside Club’ evokes Black Mirror’s nostalgic, queer “San Junipero” episode with an uncanny similarity and tenderness — particularly as it was written around 40 years prior. On a distant planet, memory permeates the air and the characters seem to be battling with the weight of something unsaid, each carrying some sort of ‘illness’ that is just out of their capacity to acknowledge. This breezy holiday resort both obfuscates and reveals these burdens gradually: ‘I float around, dazed, and any memories of the past are blurred and hard to pin down,’ as the protagonist is pushed towards acknowledging her reality through the mean reminders of a sentient chair in her apartment.
While all Suzuki’s stories are gems, ‘Night Picnic’ is a particular standout. Taking place after some sort of nuclear fallout, the last family on the planet are keeping up appearances. Their prime concerns are effectively mimicking the behaviour of Earthlings, from their sartorial choices to psychological behaviour. Suzuki’s knowing tone mocks the performativity of the 1960s Americana ideal family life, as each member of the unit struggles with the believability of their position and looks to popular culture to guide their interpersonal relations, which even extends to the parents deciding the gender of their children, ‘Mom and Dad decided that having one boy and one girl would make for more variety’. This family stroll to the middle of the uncanny valley and set up their picnic blanket amongst the wasteland before realising they were not as alone as they imagined.
In addition to creating these tangible dystopias, Suzuki’s strength lies in her construction of the entrapment felt by her characters. Against these governmentally regulated worlds, their internal narratives express a longing for clarity and peace as they rail against the situations they find themselves within. This stasis is compounded by the nonlinearity of time within these stories. While this is impacted on by the characters’ drug-taking or ennui, time is incredibly slippery, making it difficult for them to move towards a positive outcome. Instead, Suzuki’s characters are suspended between possibility and inevitability, their desires tantalisingly out of reach.
Suzuki’s science fiction isn’t neatly categorisable; her stories span cyberpunk, dystopian, dreamlike narratives that layer a wicked humour over a sinister social commentary. Her voice is fiercely unique and her stories linger in the corner of the mind’s eye long after reading – devour them.
Terminal Boredom: Stories by Izumi Suzuki is published by Verso as part of their fiction series and is available to purchase online. To read the little we know about the late Suzuki and her work, click here.
Feature image of Izumi Suzuki is by Nobuyoshi Araki, courtesy of Verso.