In his introduction to The Future is Japanese, co-editor Nick Mamatas notes that Japanese Science Fiction is just like "Western Science Fiction, in that it is hard and soft, dark and whimsical, rigorous and fantastical." And Mamatas' new book, coedited with Masumi Washington, serves as a fantastic bridge between Western and Japanese SF. The anthology brings over some authors who aren't well known in the West and takes some well-known Western authors over.
The Future is Japanese collects a bunch of short stories that look at the present and far future of Japan. The result is an utterly gripping collection of authors across thirteen stories, all relating to Japan or Japanese culture. For someone like me who's never been to Japan, this anthology presents a vivid, diverse and very interesting take on Japan and its future.
There's nary a story in here that doesn't capture the imagination. The book starts off with a bang in "Mono No Aware" by Ken Liu, a great story about nationality, after Earth is struck by the Hammer, a massive, planet-killing asteroid. (Disclaimer - I read a copy of this story when it was in draft form). This story sets the tone for the anthology: What's covered here isn't just the physical location of Japan, (although that figures in heavily for most stories), but the culture of Japan.
Recently, there seems to be a collective desire for science fiction that isn't about a future United States, and The Future is Japanese is a great move in that direction.
Other stories rapidly follow suit: "The Sound of Breaking Up" by Felicity Savage takes on an increasingly isolated, internet based culture, while mixing in a good dose of time travel and an end-of-civilization vibe that would work well as a Fringe episode. "The Indifference Engine" by Project Itoh is an incredibly difficult and emotional story about ethnic warfare, and the lengths that people will go to 'solve' the problem. Bruce Sterling's "Goddess of Mercy" is a fascinating take on piracy in a post-apocalyptic Japan. "The Sea of Trees" by Rachel Swirsky is a break from the science fiction and into contemporary fantasy with an off-kilter ghost story.
The highlight of the entire anthology, however, is saved until the end, with "Autogenic Dreaming: Interview with the Columns of Clouds" by TOBI Hirotaka, which presents a wonderfully complex and beautiful story about a serial killer, cloud computing and the future of creativity.
I can't speak for how much of an 'authentic' view of the future of Japan this is: There's a wide mix of authors and ethnic backgrounds here, and this has been something on my mind as I went through the book: speculation aside, does this really present an authentic view of Japan and its culture? But by the end of the volume, I came away with the great feeling that this was an excellent anthology of speculative fiction, with a collection of stories that are genuinely unique, interesting and relevant.