Review copy provided by Haikasoru Books.
This is very, very near future hard science fiction. The vast majority of the action takes place in 2020, which in some ways is bravely near and in some ways safely near: I know that various things will change between now and then, but I was able to buy the world the characters live in being basically the same as ours in ways that would have bugged me if it had been set in 2040 or 2117. There is a lot of “basically right now” stuff in this book, including using brand names for things like the Raspberry Pi. (So many Raspberry Pis. So many. Wow. On the other hand, yay for a science fiction writer noticing they exist and can have stuff done with them.)
This is a very speculation-heavy book. It’s set on and near Earth, and the focus is entirely on the in-orbit technologies. The characters largely exist to fulfill their speculative plot functions; they are sketched in, not delved into deeply. Emotional and personal growth is not the engine of this plot. And that’s okay.
It’s particularly okay if you want a hard SF angle on another culture. Orbital Cloud is a bit like The Three-Body Problem that way, but only that way–it’s about a million times more cheerful. A billion times. Look, I would need to go into scientific notation to express how much more cheerful this book is than The Three-Body Problem in any kind of compact form. But my point is: same tropes plus different authorial cultural background gives a cool new angle. Fujii is also young/enlightened enough that the sexism here is minimal compared to some of the old hard SF I’ve been revisiting of late, which is refreshing. There are still a few moments where something is a little obnoxious, but it’s definitely a book with more modern standards in that regard. It’s also the good kind of mentally dislocating to watch a Japanese author talk about group dynamics among Americans with Japanese cultural assumptions about what people want or will perceive–gives me, as an American, some perspective about what it looks like when Americans do that about people from other cultures in their hard SF.
There were a couple of hilarious moments when translation was an important plot point–I found them funny not just because of the meta, but because this book does have a flavor of “translated from the Japanese,” obvious points where the translator was trying to figure out how to render “so desu ne?” and other things that are completely natural in Japanese but look weird if you repeat them literally in other languages, less obvious points where it was just a different feel. But translation plot points aside, I think it’s generally easier to translate hard SF decently because the technical terms are more obvious and the prose is not haring off after a lyric in the bushes.
I keep saying the genre over and over again: hard SF, hard SF, hard SF. I really think that this is one of the times where it matters a lot to whether you’ll want to read it. If you hate people doing calculations about orbital dynamics, you will straight-up hate this book, because that is the kind of book it is. It is all that flavor of nerd, all the time. But that flavor of nerd is a fine thing to be, and this is a fine example of it.
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