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the Complete Review
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Project Itoh

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To purchase Harmony

Title: Harmony
Author: Project Itoh
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 252 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Harmony - US
Harmony - UK
Harmony - Canada
Harmony - India
  • Japanese title: ハーモニー
  • Translated by Alexander O. Smith

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Our Assessment:

B : good premise, fairly well-handled -- and appealing story-telling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Strange Horizons . 2/5/2011 Adam Roberts

  From the Reviews:
  • "This memorable novel is both a sort of satirical utopia and a punchy mystery-and-chase adventure yarn; a sort of thriller of ideas. (...) Itoh styles his novel as a thriller: mystery, investigation, global conspiracy, some eye-watering ultraviolence and breathless chase to uncover the truth and save the world. (...) On the level of plot and character Harmony is sometimes cartoonish, but this doesn't detract from the intellectual content; cartoonishness as such is a perfectly valid aesthetic, after all." - Adam Roberts, Strange Horizons

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Harmony is a set in a post-'Maelstrom' future, and things have changed after that mid-twenty-first century conflagration that culminated in a few nuclear bombs being set off. Few old-style nation-states now remain, as a different controlling regime dominates. Technological advances now allow for a state of individual -- and thus also societal -- harmony, as billions of people worldwide are integrated into the WatchMe system, each person with:

     A regiment of medicules inside you, watching you, snitching on you. Little nanoparticles turning our bodies into what ? Into data. They reduce our physical state to medical terminology and hand the information, our bodies, over wholesale to some well-meaning admedistration bureaucrat.
       This system ensures that everyone is in ideal health, counteracting any viruses that may attack the body -- so no one gets sick -- but also controlling what people consume and and other basic life functions to ensure peak health and well-being. The reach of the system is, however, far and deep: so, for example, to ensure psychological well-being, too, works of art are automatically redacted to suit the consumer, anything that might be upsetting simply filtered out (in an electronic age where, for example, printed books are obsolete artifacts).
       The novel is narrated by Tuan Kirie. She happens to be the daughter of a scientist who has played a leading role in the development of this system, but is also noteworthy for having tried to beat it in her youth: under the influence of classmate Miach Mihie, and along with another friend, Cian Reikado, the trio of girls tried, when they were teenagers, to undermine and beat the system, in the most dramatic possible fashion: they tried to commit suicide.
       Tuan, now twenty-eight and working for the World Health Organization, obviously failed (while also continuing to feel that, in failing, she failed Miach), but she remains dissatisfied about the system, lamenting:
     And so I found myself stranded in the desert called normal life. A vast wasteland of public correctness and people as resources.
     Stuck in a sinkhole called harmony.
       Tuan also continues to challenge the limits of the system, at least at the edges. Her work gets her away from the most prying eyes (and computers), and though she can't entirely opt out of WatchMe she does have a few tricks up her sleeve -- and the DummyMe program installed, feeding false data back ..... She enjoys a good cigar and a glass of fine wine -- in a world where tobacco and alcohol are no longer consumed -- and generally isn't too pleased with this straight-jacket of a world-dominating system.
       All may be (relatively) harmonious in this brave new world, but WatchMe's deep reach turns out to have a major downside, as such complete control limits free will and can just as readily force individuals to take decidedly less harmonious actions, which is what happens here (in impressively orchestrated fashion). In trying to determine what has gone wrong -- and how things might be righted -- Tuan turns to the father she has long been separated from. In addition, all roads and memories also lead back to the leader of their little pack back in the day, Miach, and her ideas and ideals, which turn out to be both current and relevant.
       Tuan's narrative, shifting between memories of those teenage years and the present, is nicely handled by Project Itoh. Rather than just straightforward narrative, the text is also interspersed with the computer-code-like 'Emotional-in-Text Markup Language' (EMTL, in contrast to HTML), which provides a sort of second, underlying layer to the story and what Tuan describes, giving a bit more texture to the whole narrative; if occasionally annoying, overall it's a welcome added dimension.
       Harmony is, of course, very much a morality play, centered around the question of free will. Parts of this are very clever -- suicide is presented as both the ultimate act of free will, and as one that these individuals have no control over -- and for the most part Itoh blends in the loftier questions and issues in a solid story. If parts of the resolution seem a bit too forced -- Miach's background, and the reasons she is the way she is -- Itoh nevertheless fashions a satisfying science fiction thriller here.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 February 2013

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Harmony: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese writer Project Itoh (Itō Keikaku; 伊藤 計劃) lived 1974 to 2009.

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© 2013 the complete review

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