Monday, March 16, 2009

"The Lords of the Sands of Time" by Issui Ogawa

Title: The Lords of the Sands of Time
Author: Issui Ogawa
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 203
Publisher: Haikasoru

Sixty-two years after human life on earth was annihilated by rampaging aliens, the enigmatic cyborg Messenger O is sent back in time with the mission to unite the humanity of past eras—during World War II and in ancient Japan, even back at the dawn of humanity—in order to defeat the alien invasion before it begins. But amidst a future shredded by war, love also waits for O. Will O save humanity only to doom himself?

Classification & Literary Class: This is the second Japanese sci-fi title I had the pleasure to receive and review for the July launch of the new VIZ Media imprint “Haikasoru”. As I stated in my review of “All You Need is Kill” sci-fi in Japanese culture is something beyond the usual understanding of it and the way it is shaped and presented. Some of the characteristics such as density and concentration of content and heavy packed internals resurface, but in “The Lords of the Sands of Time” there is more action, more dialogue, more military strategy and action, plus the trademark dramatic tension.

Though similar to “All You Need is Kill” in its exploration of time, “The Lords of the Sands of Time” explores another spectrum of time: time travel and the alternative timeline theory. For me it was interesting to explore the alternative Earth’s survival strategy and the irony in the whole enterprise that the human saviors are in fact pretty darn good composed androids [AI]. Time is the most speculated and mysterious element in the universe and everyone is free to interpret and label it as they will. In “The Lords of the Sands of Time” author Issui Ogawa takes the reader on a journey through too many time lines, too many alternative Earths too different from our own, until there is no going back from.

Characters & Depth: Considering the length, it would be surprising to encounter more than three or four fairly well developed characters. Yet every name you will read on these pages can easily be attached to a real person. Though Spartan in the storytelling mechanics and scenes, “The Lords of the Sands of Time” manages to create three dimensional characters or so at least I perceive them as. From the protagonist Orville to the secondary characters like Alexander.

Intriguing to read about was Orville’s growth and development, considering the fact that he is not a human, though he is engineered as a replica of the species, yet he fights for this race without any reason to feel burdened apart from the purpose of his creation. In a sense this is a modern Pinocchio, who discovers what it means to be human and for the audience it is the rediscovery of our purpose. But I won’t delve deep into the psychological implications of such a character and the intent of the author.

There is a lot of ingenuity behind the storytelling technique. The novel itself develops through two main storylines. Orville’s desperate attempts to stop the world’s destruction in Ancient Japan and his journey from the future down through time line to time line, losing battle after battle. There are constant jump from age to age, from state of mind to state of mind, yet all feels right and organic. Through this complexity Ogawa builds an almost invisible love triangle between Orville, the shaman queen in Japan Himiko, who shares his bed and Sayaka, the woman to teach him love and the idea of humanity, who remains as a connection to the world he left and won’t return to ever again. Since this occurs mostly in Orville’s heart, being torn like this between past and present, I can say it is at least a subtle triangle.

Worldbuilding & Believability: In this category two major elements play hard to grab the attention and claim Issui Ogawa mastery over the genre. First one is the sci-fi credibility and the mechanics behind the technology and the story behind the invasion. Second one is actual historical authenticity with known facts about the ages Orville has been to.

On both accounts “The Lords of the Sands of Time” offers entertainment for those, who value worldbuilding. As a person, who loves being shown how the impossible in our world would function with iron logic in another world, I had a kick out of the sci-fi elements. Starting with the back story of the survival from the invasion and then moving down to the specifics such as the blueprints of the Messengers and the theory behind time travel, I literally got transported in a world all together. Time travel is an interesting enough hook to read a novel, but waging wars across different time fragments and applying strategy to something so changeable and fickle is a whole new level for me.

History wise, though my opinion is of no consequence, since I am not particularly fond of the subject, I feel that Ogawa did a formidable job portraying human society before the first invasion, during World War ІІ and in Ancient Japan and Egypt.

The Verdict: Despite the cultural differences, which caused me some strange moments to adapt and get used to the methods, I had a fun time with “The Lords of the Sands of Time”. There is not much I wouldn’t give a shot and from the author’s side everything has been tweaked to perfection. Within the pages, there is some small bit of universal truth about the world of man and his mentality.

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