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Book Review: The Ouroboros Wave by Jyouhi Hayashi

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The Ouroboros Wave is a textbook example of diamond-hard science fiction: in this somewhat philosophical space opera, one suspects author Hayashi didn’t simply look up gravitational strengths and orbital periods, but calculated them himself. As in all good hard sci-fi, the technical details are an integral part of the setting and plot, and as in all good hard sci-fi, those details are right.

This book is not a novel, but a collection of six linked stories, spanning much of the 22nd century, and a good portion of our Solar System as well. In Hayashi’s future history, humanity discovers a small black hole in the outer reaches of our Solar System, whose unstable orbit would put it on an eventual collision course with our sun, though not for centuries at the very least. The most far-seeing of our race pushed forward an ambitious program, not merely to prevent “Kali,” as the black hole was dubbed, from making contact with the sun, but to actually capture and use it as an energy source. Thus the Artificial Accretion Disc Development association (or AADD) was born.

There are two common themes to these six stories: the nature of intelligence (and possibility of non-human intelligence); the socio-political changes (and conflicts) that occur when the most adventurous and, arguably, most intelligent of our species leave the home planet for a massive scientific enterprise, and the rest . . . don’t.

The science is epic. We get to check in on a multi-generational project at various times throughout the century. Early on, as the black hole is still moving towards its stable orbit around Uranus, later on, as the initial, thread-like rings are being expanded into a true Dyson sphere. We also get a sense of the changes wrought throughout the Solar System as a direct result of the energy provided by, and organization built up around this project. This includes the increased strain between the Earth government and the society that has developed away from it.

Hayashi is fascinated by the idea of leaving this planet behind and taking our next step as a species: terraforming Mars, exploring Jupiter’s moons, sending the first manned probes to another star system. He imagines Kali as the economic and political push to finally make this happen. His stories also suggest that the accelerated scientific progress resulting from AADD is just the thing to start making our next big discoveries about the universe, like whether or not we’re alone in it.

The Ouroboros Wave, like the recently reviewed Dragon Sword and Wind Child, is a release from VIZ Media’s Haikasoru imprint, which focuses on translating and releasing to English audiences Japanese contemporary speculative fiction. This may be relevant, because one of the weaknesses of this book is its character development, including its unnatural dialogue.

The main issue is the characters’ inability to understand each other almost whenever they had a conversation. It’s amazing how often characters “replied in confusion,” “answered in surprise,” or something of that sort. Either due to poor translation or a misguided sense of drama, everything a character says is treated as a revelation. Given the intelligence and scientific training of most of the characters in this book, it’s amazing that no one is ever able to anticipate another person’s point before they spell it out. More than once, a character even forgets his own point, starting to argue one thing, then arguing against the same thread as it is picked up by someone else. At times like that, I strongly suspect the translator lost track of the dialogue attribution.

Ignoring these surface issues, The Ouroboros Wave offers an intriguing future. He imagines a new kind of society developing around the AADD project, less hierarchical and more rational, though he frequently undermines his point by telling us his characters have a different way of thinking but not really showing it in a consistent or believable way. His stories include some hints that there is more than meets the eye in our universe, but by the end of the book we’ve only had hints. A novel this length would have had us meet the aliens by the end, or create a true Artificial Intelligence. Instead, all we get is a small wrap-around narrative, foreshadowing a climax we don’t actually see.

About J.J.S. Boyce