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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Mr. Turtle

Kitano Yusaku

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To purchase Mr. Turtle

Title: Mr. Turtle
Author: Kitano Yusaku
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 170 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Mr. Turtle - US
Mr. Turtle - UK
Mr. Turtle - Canada
  • Japanese title: かめくん
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Tyran Grillo

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Our Assessment:

B : playful science fiction with effective serious and sinister undertones

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 5/11/2016 C.A.McKean

  From the Reviews:
  • "Kitano loves layers, and there are many to upturn in this deceptive tale of a cyborg turtleís existential awakening. (...) Itís hard to think of a similar story about artificial intelligence that is as deceptively simple." - Cameron Allan McKean, The Japan Times

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:

       The main character in Mr. Turtle is the eponymous Kame-kun -- literally 'Mr. Turtle', and the Japanese title of the novel. Kame-kun is a human-sized turtle-like being -- not an actual turtle but rather: "what some called a replican[t]urtle" -- an artificial turtle. It is also a creature with a sort of artificial intelligence, able to learn -- indeed, its shell functions and grows like a computer that learns:

it builds memories and learns by accumulating experiences, and within that interior fashions a model of that world, which is constantly being overwritten and expanded by way of its feedback loop with the environment.
       The world the action takes place in is technologically more advanced, but fundamentally resembles contemporary times. There was -- or is -- a war on Jupiter, but the information about it remains vague; Kame-kun is dimly aware of a connection to events there, but can't get a clear picture. While he is an outsider in this society, he is not alien to it, and in fact he lives a fairly average 'human' life. His interactions are almost entirely with humans, who recognize his turtle-ness but for the most part treat fairly normally. He has a job, too, mainly as a forklift operator -- the machines apparently tailored to turtle-specifics.
       Kitano never puts any words in Kame-kun's mouth -- the turtle never says anything in the novel, a few grunts being the most that is ascribed to him -- yet Kame-kun seems to participate in activities in the company of humans and interact with them more or less normally. (He doesn't go drinking with them, since he can't hold his liquor, however.) He frequents the library and befriends a woman, Miwako.
       Dressing up with turtle-like shells has become popular among humans, especially teenage girls, while when he first sees Miwako, in her turtleneck sweater and with her small backpack, Kame-kun thinks she looks just like a turtle. Meanwhile, he -- sentient being ? thinking machine ? -- has his own existential identity crisis, the fundamental question of: "Why am I a turtle ?" gnawing at him -- though of course the very definition of the kind of turtle he is proves just as problematic. He is a learning-machine yet what he learns shapes him neither into machine nor turtle: he operates -- and learns from -- an entirely human world (even as he does not really fit in that either).
       Ultimately it seems he will embrace his turtle-identity and destiny -- even as he isn't entirely clear where that will lead.
       Mr. Turtle is a mix of surreal animal-fable and philosophical-technological fantasy. The use of the animal-figure as a stand-in for the usual nuts-and-bolts-AI-machine is effective, as is the lingering mystery about events on Jupiter, and the turtles' role in these. The mundane in Kame-kun's life contrasts nicely with some of the unusual technological advances of the times (as well as some of his odder duties at work). Occasionally, some of the actions seem too far out of place -- Miwako was involved in a research project that involved following cats around everywhere to track all their movements, when surely even with today's technology all you would do is chip them and monitor them electronically from afar -- but for the most part Kitano mixes things up nicely.
       Mr. Turtle is a curious existential-technological work. There's quite a bit of charm to the novel, and a darker serious side lurking below -- though Kitano perhaps ultimately offers too much mystery and too few answers. Still, an agreeably odd read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 July 2016

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Mr. Turtle: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kitano Yusaku (北野勇作) was born in 1962.

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© 2016-2017 the complete review

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