Nicholas FitzRoy-Dale's personal journal. I also write a programming blog and a tumble log. Contact me at or subscribe to my RSS feed.

Jul 3, 2021
Book review: Terminal Boredom, by Izumi Suzuki

"Sounds like my kind of world. But I'd prefer living in a nightmare."

This mercilessly-bleak collection grabbed my attention and held it, but it seemed to do so as if by force -- reading was both enjoyable and horrifying. I read it over several evenings, and by the last story the book had actually started almost physically to loom on my bedside table. I'd always pick it up, but with trepidation. I was scared of what was coming next.

Technically, the stories are excellent -- I think they all hold up roughly equally well. The characters, or character copies, rather, as the protagonists of each story have a lot in common, are well-sketched: a girl or woman, coming to terms, and ultimately accepting, her lack of agency in the face of what can only be described as utter dystopia. Accepting unhappily, accepting with regret, accepting sometimes with a half-hearted rebellion or a fight, but accepting nonetheless. As you can imagine, this is not a theme that lends itself to happy endings, and in fact these stories (with perhaps one exception) don't really end. They just run out of words.

It's not perfect. These are sci-fi stories from the 70s and 80s, and some of the plot points around sci-fi tech seem hackneyed now. Fortunately, these parts are never major aspects of the story, so, for example, a story which has a wireheading plot would actually function just fine with a slightly different sci-fi deus ex, or indeed none at all. A more difficult aspect for me was the translation. It's not that it's bad, it's just that ... well, these are stories written in Japanese by a woman living in Japan, forty years ago, so it already felt difficult for me to try to take the point of view that Suzuki would have expected her readers to have. But on top of that, each story has a different translator, and for a couple of the stories I found myself rereading passages trying to work out if the reason I hadn't understood the overt plot points, let alone picked up on any nuance, was because I lacked the relevant cultural context, or because I was just thick (or, more likely, both).

I have a low opinion of sci-fi as a genre because it conjures images of usually-white mostly-men heading bravely out into the galaxy to show off their superior culture to the lesser beings (thus enlightening them or making them come to terms with their inferiority, depending on the author), but I'm slowly realising that this is a very narrow-minded view. Terminal Boredom is nothing like this, of course: the sci-fi elements are mostly tools to bring about or enforce dystopic laws or cultural norms.

The overall message I got from this collection is: Submit. You are powerless to resist, and you probably don't really want to anyway. I enjoyed the book and I recommend it, but I found it quite tough to read in parts. If you personally are feeling particularly unhappy with the world and your place in it, you may wish to put it aside for a little while.