“Although we are moving in the right direction, one wonders how long it will take humanity to attain a consciousness of ourselves as human beings first and foremost. I only hope the forces seeking to strangle us don’t bring about something unfortunate before then.” If that sounds clunky and expository to you, just pick out a random page out of Sakyo Komatsu’s novel Virus: The Day of Resurrection(1964) and find examples of dialogue just like that. It does not matter that the speaker in this case is a concerned doctor. There is little to distinguish narrative from terrible speech in this supposed triller. Komatsu won awards in both mystery and science fiction writing in Japan, so I can only presume that something was lost in a rough translation. But the painfully slow set up indicates it might not be a language issue.
American astronauts bring an unknown virus to earth, where hapless scientists unwittingly transform it into a killer bug. The plot is loaded with resonant potential, tapping on fears of germ warfare and superbugs that are as much of a concern today as it was when the book was first released almost fifty years ago. But the execution is sorely lacking.
Komatsu takes his time moving his plot along. If only he took this time to establish character. What he does instead is to accumulate detail to a level that makes the eyes glaze over like an influenza victim. One of the first casualties of the titular crisis is stopped literally and figuratively dead in its tracks by a description of technical details of a sports car. It’s the kind of thing J.G. Ballard might have pulled off. Ballard, one of the great science fiction writers, used precise, clinical language to set a chilling tone for horrific tales of the future like Crash. It doesn’t work here.
According to an introduction by a young Japanese author, Virus was a cultural touchstone for Japanese readers. Originally released at a time when the nation was cranking out monster movies, the book preyed on post-atomic dread by offering the anxiety of an unstoppable influenza. But as awkward and badly written as a 1960s Japanese monster movie can be, there was a charming efficiency to them as they foretold the wrath of space or prehistoric creatures. Virus would have made a good low budget science fiction movie. At 300 pages of dull prose, it’s a terribly hard slog of a cautionary tale.Powered by Sidelines