Yasuoka Yukiko and SF Parenthood (1/2)

I want to talk a bit about an author whose name I’ve come across a few times in the pages of Uchuujin.  Her name is Yasuoka Yukiko, and I can find precisely no biographical details about her, so we’ll just have to stick to her works.  I’ve read two of those in the last week, and they’ve stuck with me, so I figure what better excuse to write an update to this wilting blog?  Two stories is a small sample size, but they share a number of common concerns: parenthood, Greek myth, interesting POV choices, and more.  What can her stories tell us about SF in the mid-60s?  Read on to find out! 

The elusive Yasuoka first appears (on my radar, at least) in the August 1964 issue of Uchuujin.  Her short story “Mama” ran alongside a story by Mitsunami Youko, making this a month in which all the short stories in Uchuujin were published by women.  Quite an accomplishment in the SF world at this stage!  (Incidentally, the story by Mitsunami Youko – whose real name the internet tells me was Morimoto Masako – was titled “Omoide no naka ni”.  I haven’t gotten to that one yet, unfortunately. Stay tuned!)  Yasuoka would publish “Io” in the same magazine in January the following year, as well as “Fune” in May and June.  In July, the magazine ran her translation of American author C.L. Moore’s 1933 “Shambleau” (this would later be reprinted in SF Magazine).  After that, however, I haven’t been able to find any further mention of her.  So in the span of a year, Yasuoka becomes one of the most prodigious female authors writing for Uchuujin, as well as bringing the work of an American woman to the same venue as one of its first published works in translation, then disappears into the ether.  So mysterious!

What I find just as interesting is the stories themselves.  Maybe I should have waited to write this post until after I’d read “Fune,” but I’m too impatient, and these stories are too cool.  I’ll start off with “Io,” despite it being the second story she published, because I read it first and I think I have more to say about “Mama.”  Yasuoka shows off her penchant for non-standard narrative positions from the very first lines of “Io.”  We learn that, by the time Yamada is brought to the hospital after the crash, it’s already hopeless.  He’s dying.  Yet we nevertheless spend most of the story inside his head.  We come to learn that he’s a time traveling cop from the Time Bureau; that his boss in this timeline is ALSO a time cop, undercover and monitoring him; that his boss was the one that caused the accident in the first place; and that he did it because Yamada’s newborn daughter is critical to the timeline and Yamada was planning to kill her because he thought he’d screwed up by fathering a child in the past in the first place.

What’s more, by the end, we are told that Yamada’s boss is none other than Argos, the mythological Greek watchman with 100 eyes tasked by Hera to watch over Zeus’s lover Io, who has been turned into a heifer by Zeus to cover up his indiscretion.  Yamada’s daughter is therefore Io, who is apparently the progenitor of all telepaths (oh yeah, did I mention that this entire story is told via a telepathic conversation between the two time cops?) and thus, somehow, the Time Bureau itself.  Yamada eventually dies, and Argos is left in the hospital room with Yamada’s grieving wife, the mother of Io.  Yasuoka keeps the wife, Emi, always just outside the edges of the picture, a felt silence in terms of narrative voice.  Those few moments where she does speak are only to ask about her husband’s condition or to keen and wail and beg his forgiveness for having a child when he said he didn’t really want to.  In short, the narrative structure of this story lends itself to a reading that boils down to, “Not now, irrational woman, the intellectual men are talking using only their brains, which are very advanced.  Isn’t it enough that we constantly have to keep an eye on you?”

I’ll admit, right after I finished it, I felt kind of disappointed by that aspect of “Io.”  I wanted Emi to step into the limelight as a sleeper agent ready to bring down the Time Bureau or some such, and it felt like Yasuoka had avoided that possibility and instead went for a relatively uninspired “The Greek myths were real!” angle.  The more I think about it, though, the more possibility I see in this story.  And this is mainly because one of the biggest things Yasuoka is doing in this story is destabilizing received ideas of historical teleology what counts as “real history.”  First, the linear model of history is completely shattered, as any good time travel narrative does, and replaced with a model of radical connectivity.  The characters influence and are influenced by all of history in a very direct way.  Emi, for example, is a repressed time traveler who has lost her memories of coming from the far future (the twenty-first century!) due to trauma, but nevertheless is able to foresee the assassination of JFK.  Her daughter, in turn, will apparently travel back to ancient Greece to be romanced by a god.  Casual.  What this does, though, is completely scrap the idea that we are smarter today than we were two thousand years ago, since two thousand years ago there were apparently time traveling people from the present and future all intermingling.  This goes against the common position within SF circles at the time that they were at the forefront of human intellectual development, that their trajectory was carrying them steadily and consistently upwards toward a utopian future that was within reach.  The “common knowledge” of the SF community was that humanity was steadily improving through continuous study, unlocking answers to new mysteries and thereby improving its condition.  Yasuoka tosses this linear progression model out the window and says instead that we are, and have always been, looped in on ourselves, that going forward is as much a matter of going backward and seeing the ways in which we are connected to the past.

The other thing Yasuoka does here is center “minor” or “marginal” histories as mainstream, “major” history.  It goes without saying that “major” history, traditionally conceived, is masculine history, forged in military blood and political force of will.  By putting Io – a woman who is victim both of Zeus’s lust and Hera’s envy – into the position of the motive force behind humanity’s progress, Yasuoka says that those histories we dismiss as mythological or minor (in other words, “not real”) are in fact the most important to our development as a species.  Argos’s murder of Yamada is perhaps monstrous, but even more monstrous might be Yamada’s belief that he had the right – the obligation, even – to kill his own daughter in defense of a concept of history that progressed steadily from “primitive” to “advanced,” with each epoch allotted its given place within this teleology.

Wow, holy cow, I’ve already written 1,200 words about Yasuoka’s stories, and I’m not even on “Mama” yet.  Let’s cut ourselves off here and pick back up in a Part 2.


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