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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Ten Billion Days and
One Hundred Billion Nights

Mitsuse Ryu

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To purchase Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights

Title: 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights
Author: Mitsuse Ryu
Genre: Novel
Written: 1967, rev. 1973 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 284 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights - US
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Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights - India
  • Japanese title: 百億の昼と千億の夜
  • Translated by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander
  • With an Afterword by Oshii Mamoru

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Our Assessment:

B+ : wonderfully ambitious -- but also overwhelmingly so

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       As the title suggests, Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights thinks big. Very big. While a good chunk of the novel takes place during the early civilized era on earth, it also extends much, much further -- in both time and place.
       A Prologue and first chapter begin to set the scene -- of world-creation, including the biological foundations of life on earth -- but by the second chapter a familiar face -- Plato -- pops up. And in the following chapters Mitsuse brings in several other larger-than-life historical figures -- Siddhārtha, the big Buddha himself, and Jesus Christ. They are introduced in circumstances that at first seem fairly familiar: Mitsuse offers a take on Jesus' last days, while Siddhārtha and Plato set out on other sorts of journeys and quests. Sure, Plato is looking for Atlantis, but for the most part Mitsuse doesn't rewrite history and legend too much -- at least not in the parts that have his characters setting out on their journeys. But soon enough .....
       Plato certainly finds more than he bargained and could have hoped for (including the new moniker 'Lord Orionae'). Never mind Atlantis being real, or shadows in caves -- there's a whole lot more to this entire universe than his philosophy had conceived. And he finds himself asking -- rather desperately -- why humans had been kept in such misguided ignorance:

Why did you tell them there were gods and not tell them about the Planetary Development Committee ?
       Yes, Mitsuse is proposing a very different universal story than the ones familiar from myth, religion -- and even most current science.
       The historic characters come with their own ideas about where things are headed: Jesus is selling that whole 'final judgment'-concept ("an interesting one", Pontius Pilate admits, though he is not convinced) and Siddhārtha had been taught that a mere 5,670,000,000 years in the future the being Maitreya: "would save humanity by opening the way to a perfect world". It seems there's more to all of this, however, and they find themselves transported across time and space -- far beyond what is soon failed earth (time flies on the cosmic scale, and even Tokyo -- "Capital of the Inner Planetary Alliance" -- is a mess already by 3905) -- in a cosmic chase and puzzle.
       There may be a guiding Planetary Development Committee out there, but, as is so often the case with committees, they apparently don't have an adequately strong grasp on this whole universe-controlling and stabilizing idea. With the occasional hell-in-a-handbasket conflagrations -- "There was an overall trend toward destruction and ruin in all that he had seen", Siddhārtha notes, and that's an observation that can repeatedly be made by several of the characters -- it's nevertheless also often hard to tell where exactly things are going right, so different are these various realities they encounter from life on earth as they knew it. But these varieties of brave new worlds out there are nicely (and creatively) conceived by Mitsuse, even as in the mad rush through time and catastrophes there's rarely opportunity for much more than incidental description.
       Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights is an ambitious novel of and for the ages. What American science fiction tradition would likely plump up into a multi-volume space saga, Mitsuse compresses into a relatively short novel that nevertheless manages to take things slowly in part as well -- Jesus' end, for example, is presented in conventional leisurely style. The pace is unusual -- ranging from the slow and casual to the vertiginous, truly a roller-coaster read -- and in keeping with the repeated radical transformations the worlds that are presented undergo. There is little stability in Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights -- which is also part of the point.
       Mitsuse mixes philosophical, scientific, and theological speculation into a vey heady brew -- and it's no wonder the characters repeatedly voice uncertainty about what exactly they're dealing with; readers at times face a similar problem. Yet it's also a very impressively presented Gedankenexperiment, as Mitsuse really is trying (and largely succeeding) to convey a whole vision of nothing less than the entire universe, from conception to end (two terms that take on much looser meanings in his picture). One might regret that parts are underdeveloped -- there are some ingenious ideas here that could be spun out in far greater detail -- but the novel still works well. Mitsuse does heap on a bit much after a while, ambition complicating his ambitions, but it is an intriguing work, and even if it is ultimately too restless to completely satisfy, there's a lot here that is very well done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 December 2012

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Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Leading Japanese science fiction author Mitsuse Ryu (光瀬龍) lived 1928 to 1999.

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© 2012 the complete review

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