First thoughts – SF Magajin

SF MagajinOne of the few good primary sources on Japanese SF available in the US is this magazine, SF Magazine SFマガジン, held by the University of Kansas.  I had a chance to scope out a few of the early issues for a project a couple years ago, but I’ve been eager to return to the publication to see what else I can get out of it.  A lot of my time this summer has been taken up with doing just that.  Specifically, I’m focusing on the issues from the 1960s, as that’s where my committee want me to focus my dissertation efforts for now.  I’m looking for evidence to use in my argument that the body remains a crucial element of contestation in SF of the Cold War period.  Today, I want to throw out a few inchoate thoughts on one issue in particular that I’ve found really interesting.  In August 1963, there was a special issue (臨時増刊, technically an “expansion” of issue 8, so there were two issue 8s that year) devoted to the topic of “SF Sexology”.  If we’re looking for SF’s thoughts on the body, this seems like a pretty good place to find them!  I’ve yet to read it cover to cover, but read on for some early impressions.  

1963 was quite a year for SF Magazine.  Having been in publication since 1960 (though the first issue is billed as December of 1959, it actually debuted in January), the February issue of 1963 was an issue celebrating 3 full years of publication, with SF Magazine‘s first issue devoted to Japanese authors of SF.  Six months later, we have this special issue of SF Sexology.

In his customary editor’s note on the first page, Fukushima Masami opines that SF isn’t much regarded as a genre interested in humor and eroticism.  “There are still entirely too many people who believe SF is tightly bound up with the inflexible discipline of science,” he says.  “This is an issue devoted to proving that is not so.”  This is in keeping with Fukushima’s habit of dispelling some “incorrect” notion or other of SF in his editor’s introductions each month, an interesting pedagogy of negation that may deserve further scrutiny.  This issue, he goes on to say, is dedicated to those stories displaying SF’s compatibility with humor and eroticism (ユーモアと、エロチシズム), partly to dispel any illusions like those mentioned above, and partly to bring relief from the summer heat.  About half of the works listed in the table of contents that follows are translations of foreign works, the other half domestically produced fiction and non-fiction.  The magazine had started off publishing almost exclusively translations of foreign works, so this many translations isn’t surprising at all.  Big names like Hanmura Ryo, Tsutsui Yasutaka, and Komatsu Sakyo appear, the latter having recently won SF Magazine‘s 2nd “Japanese SF Contest” for his short story “The Taste of Ochazuke” 「お茶漬けの味」.  Halfway through the issue is a color insert billed as a “parody of a newspaper written 100 years from now” that was the result of a collaboration between almost a dozen writers, notably including Hoshi Shin’ichi.

Fascinatingly, despite the introduction’s promises of a “pink mood” contained within, the stories by Japanese authors are actually sardonically tongue-in-cheek about sex, containing little in the way of titillation and instead painting their male protagonists as romantically incompetent.  We are forced to assume that this implies the same of their sexual prowess, or lack thereof.  In Tsutsui’s story “Bulldog,” we find a telepathic narrator (sound familiar?) who suddenly finds himself able to communicate with his pet bulldog, only to have the dog seduce his wife after it is rejected by a German shepherd at the pet store.  Komatsu’s “Everlasting Responsibility” 「三界の首枷」, meanwhile, features a narrator who is a self-described “clairvoyeur” (a portmanteau of clairvoyant and voyeur: think X-ray vision applied to women’s clothing) that finds himself unwittingly marrying another clairvoyant who is able to bend him to her will in a kind of ESP-enabled henpecking.  If this issue is supposed to be about sex, that sex is more neurotic than erotic.

It’s interesting, then, that all of this is couched within the simultaneous theme of humor.  Is it perhaps the case that we’re meant to read all these stories of cuckolding and impotence from behind the protective disavowal of laughter?  Indeed, the “future newspaper” (titled The Future Herald) that apparently comes to the pages of SF Magazine from the year 2063 seems to contain no mentions of eroticism, possibly implying that we are moving toward a sexless future that belies editor Fukushima’s assertion that eroticism is here to stay in SF.  Like I said, I haven’t read every word of this issue yet (eg the works by Western writers), so it’s possible I’ve just missed something that would deflate this theory, but what I’ve seen thus far skews toward a defensive tactic of sarcastic separation between the male authors (and presumably readers) and engagement with sexualized bodies in SF.

We might chalk some of this up to SF Magazine‘s status as the first “official” industry-sponsored magazine of SF (its only predecessor being a fan publication known as Space Dust 宇宙塵), and potentially more conservative as a result of this insider status.  No issue of SF Magazine that I’ve yet seen has carried a story by a female author, and the stories and ads in these early issues paint a very male-dominated picture (the back cover for every issue of 1963 advertises a pen targeted at young businessmen).  The perspective on sexualized bodies we’re given in this issue is similarly universal in its male heterosexuality.

Another possible explanation lies in the Cold War moment of this issue.  The January issue of 1963’s editor’s note opened with an understandably shaken account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had just occurred two months before.  Faced with nuclear annihilation, it is not hard to imagine the body – in all its fragility – positioned as a liability that needs to be disavowed in order to feel secure again.  Especially given that the end of the world was in American and Soviet (that is, not Japanese) hands, the readers of SF Magazine would not have been able to exert any control over their own extinction.  We might therefore understand this issue as a pressure release valve, inviting its readers to laugh at the absurdity of our bodily struggle to procreate and thereby distance themselves from their own precarious embodiment.  I’ll be eager to keep reading this issue and determining whether either of these readings proves to have wheels.  Look out for more reports on SF Magazine in the near future.

…Get it?  Future?  I crack myself up.

Posted in SF

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