01/12/2009. Contributed by Ewan Angus
pub: Haikasoru/VIZ Media. 196 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $13.99 (US), $16.00 (CAN), £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4215-2762-5.
check out websites: www.VIZ.comand www.haikasoru.com
Time paradox's are awesome. There is no disputing it. The idea that things in the future can affect the past whilst the past destroys the future as the past gets taken over by aliens is awesome. That's where 'The Lord Of The Sands Of Time' comes in.
Clocking in at a mere 198 pages, this novella takes its main premise in what if aliens destroyed us and our only hope was to go back in time to fight them? Whilst this goes on, there is a big problem. The aliens can travel back, too, and they are narrow-mindedly determined to annihilate us.
So in the 26th century mankind has had to evacuate Earth and lives in nearby space stations and on the moons of other planets, primarily Neptune, following an invasion of dirty great big bug aliens. Not unlike the 'Starship Troopers' movie, but a little bit less Hollywoodised. After destroying the Earth through covert means and then full scale assault, the aliens have mankind on the back foot. Of course, as this is the 26th century, science has advanced. AI is now almost flawless and our protagonist, Messenger O or Orville, is a humanoid robot who has been created in order to go back through the time stream and rally mankind's troops in by gone eras.
It's not as simple as it sounds however. Humans, as we know, can be stubborn at the best of times and, when advised by people from the future on how to avoid our impending doom, they flunk the chance and try to make a profit.
As the novel deals with timelines and subsequent alternate realities, it stresses the problems as characters from the future disappear in the past as family and creators from the past are destroyed or killed. It's confusing but never head-achingly so. The novel doesn't shove the alternate realities theories down your throat, instead it just kind of blows them against you.
The best part of this novella however isn't the nice little strong shots of Science Fiction violence or the robots with the talking swords. The best part is when our hero O is learning what it means to be human in order to know what he is fighting to save. Although it is only dealt with in a few pages, the love that O encounters and the friends he makes are paramount to the entire book as he finds himself wishing and fighting for people he can never be with as his timeline is diverged and destroyed through the decision to send troops back in time.
The hero finds himself sent back first to the 22nd century where mankind is snuffed out again by the aliens as capitalism rears its ugly head and causes bother.
Next, it's onto World War II or not as the war doesn't break out, instead everyone bandies together to fight the invaders, where again humanity is defeated through its selfishness and because the Americans are portrayed as pig-headed. This book can be realistic when it wants to.
On the subject of realism, the book ultimately achieves quite a lot for such a short read. It took me about 4 hours to read and in that time I actually found myself caring about the enigmatic and heroic O. His robotic counterparts are portrayed in a excellent way with their superior intelligence and abilities being played against them. Their ability to leave a world or timeline in the thick of defeat plays havoc with the characters and leaves them vulnerable and affected in ways you would presume only humans could be. Like 'Ghost In The Shell', this novel deals with what humanity is and what makes us human. It deals implicitly with the idea of the soul, love and how this would be if these things could be artificially created.
The next port of call for poor O is the 3rd century AD in feudal Japan. Here he finds the aliens again and sets about rallying humanity against them, this time to a much better degree. The prophetess Lady Miyo finds herself up against the invasion and with the help of O deals with it, ironically, better than the centuries that precede her. In the course of the violence, O manages to find a form of solace in Miyo, his enigmatic and heroic demeanour enchanting her. For him, Miyo is a form of release for the pent-up frustration and anger of thousands of years of defeat.
As the novel progresses, we are given an insight into thousands of years worth of alternate history and the humanity that derives from each timeline. The defeat and horrors O witnesses dog him throughout his quest. Although the ending is a complete one, it does leave a feeling of a hollow victory on an individual scale. Even though the novels whole premise was victory for an entire race, you can't help but feel a little disheartened by the ending for O, even though you know it's what the character desired.
A novel that does much more than it should in such a small time and considering it's a translation, Ogawa has created a story that highlights the highs and lows of humanity, ironically through a robotic protagonist. The time-lines and characters may just be background for O's mission but it manages with a surprising amount of heart to be a novel that deals with the romance and adventure in ways you wouldn't have thought possible for such a short novel. Whilst reading this, I had someone ask me what I was reading followed by a disparaging remark about how it could never be a classic or achieve the heights of literary greatness. I mumbled my agreement to avoid conflict although I cannot deny that this novel is both insightful and beautiful in its portrayal of humanity, something even canonical works struggle with.
Plus it's got time paradoxes, which are awesome.
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