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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Crystal Silence

Fujisaki Shingo

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To purchase Crystal Silence

Title: Crystal Silence
Author: Fujisaki Shingo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999; rev. 2005 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 344 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Crystal Silence - US
Crystal Silence - UK
Crystal Silence - Canada
  • Japanese title: クリスタルサイレンス
  • Translated by Kathleen Taji

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Our Assessment:

B : solid sci fi, but a bit overwhelmed by what it tries to present

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       What seems to be the basic story in Crystal Silence is fairly straightforward: the year is 2071 and humanity has begun terraforming Mars (though that is still in the very early stages). Some fifty colonies, built by a number of different countries (no international collaboration here), are on Mars already, and about 10,000 people are working there. The earth has become a decidedly less comfortable place -- global warming has made Tokyo almost unbearable in the summer months for example, leading to its decline as a commercial center and with even the Japanese Diet (parliament) set to relocate to the city of Sendai. While mining on Mars, the Japanese have found a mound of shells -- what appear to be the remains of some sort of organism -- and the nature of the find suggests these were collected and placed there (i.e. it's not just a random fossil find); they call them 'Sagan Organisms'. Twenty-five year old archaeologist Askai Saya, who specializes in the Jōmon period (ca 10,000 to 300 BC), is asked to join an expedition to Mars to look into the discovery and see if she can offer any insight. Going on the lengthy expedition is a great career opportunity, but it also means leaving behind her boyfriend, Keren Su -- and Saya is someone with some relationship issues ("To Saya, love was like data, to be obliterated with a single word: delete").
       There are those who don't want to see the expedition succeed. In particular, the enormous and powerful arms manufacturer, the Wild West Company, thinks continued unrest is just what the planet needs -- so that they can continue selling arms into a constantly escalating arms race. And, indeed, with tensions high among the various nations with bases on Mars, much of their effort there is focused on military defense.
       Saya gets to Mars and looks into the unusual 'Sagan Organisms' find. They're not the only unusual things there: powerful gravitational waves of unknown origin register as well, and other problems arise with the spread of some strange crystalline growths with unusual properties. And there are also those much more pedestrian (if not always entirely human) attacks.
       In part, then, Crystal Silence is a novel about encountering an alien life-form and trying to determine its nature and origin, with a subsidiary story-line of greedy corporate interests trying to take advantage of a rapidly changing economy (and ecology and technologies ...) -- and willing to do absolutely anything to get their way. But there's an additional significant layer to the story, involving the advances in computing power, artificial intelligence, virtual realities, and robotics. So, for example, there is a "virtual electronic world, Virdig" that can be used for everything from scientific research (Saya plans to reproduce all the fragments she finds on Mars in Virdig, so as to better be able to analyze them) to purely recreational use. Saya has also created a "multisensory artwork called 'Crystal Silence'" that runs on a computer; it was via Crystal Silence that she first met Keren, too.
       Ultimately, questions of reality and identity play an important part in the novel. From Saya's childhood virtual playmate -- cruelly unplugged and erased by her mother -- to far more complex beings, the nature of 'being' is central to the novel. As one character eventually asks himself:

     Was he really going to die ? It was really a meaningless question because there was another he had to answer first: Was he alive ?
     But even that was superseded by yet others that had to be answered before he could even begin thinking about getting out of this fix: What am I ? and What does it mean to be alive ?
       With characters identified as the 'Invisible Man', 'Brain', and 'Phantom', among others, Fujisaki occasionally comes dangerously close to losing his way in abstraction. Fortunately, he does not allow the novel to bog down too much in philosophical speculation; nevertheless, it's an uneasy balance with the more mundane parts of the story.
       There's good and clever adventure here, but the mix of cyber-action and more traditional combat is tough to balance. Yes, the little mechanical devouring insects are pretty cool, and the goblins a decent idea, but it is all a lot to juggle. Fujisaki plays reasonably well with these often ambitious and audacious ideas, and there's enough cat-and-mouse play to make for decent tension, but the result is not quite as taut as, say, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Ultimately, Fujisaki tries to fit too much in, and in doing so loses sight (and occasional control) over elements in this very far-flung novel.
       Still, one does have to admire the ambition here, and as far as action-adventure -- on physical as well as virtual levels -- Crystal Silence offers solid entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 August 2012

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Crystal Silence: Fujisaki Shingo: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Fujisaki Shingo (藤崎 慎吾) was born in 1962.

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© 2012 the complete review

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