The Stories of Ibis (2006)

This is the first book from the Haikasoru label that completely satisfied and even exceeded my expectations. It’s a fix-up novel that bundles together a number of SF stories by Japanese writer Hiroshi Yamamoto. Instead of putting them all in a single chronology, Yamamoto uses a Scheherazade-like structure, with each of the individual stories as accepted fiction inside the fictional framework.

The framework is about a future where humanity is slowly dwindling to nothing while an independent robot society is blooming. The impetus for telling the stories comes from the main, human character being captured by a robot and asked to listen to her stories. Many of them involve human and robot/AI interaction. All that comes to head when the truth about the fall of humanity is revealed, which is not exactly what the humans tell themselves.

This is all excellent stuff. I rarely read collections where I like every story, but Stories of Ibis is definitely one of them. Not only were the individual stories good, I really liked the framework that held them together. That was a neat way to propel you forward and keep you interested even after the individual stories ended, as their content was openly discussed between the human character and Ibis the robot storyteller.

The themes of the stories are very similar to recent western SF with a hard SF or at least high-tech bent. Stuff like AI-emergence, the creation of friendly AI, virtual worlds and uploading human minds gets adressed. In that regard it can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the best SF from the English-speaking world.

On a deeper level it also goes into a similar direction as recent ego-nihilists like Peter Watts or R. Scott Bakker. The difference between Yamamoto and them is that they leave you kind of drained, while his stories manage to be uplifting. Make no mistake, the content itself is not that different. It’s just that the delivery is set on sparing you emotional pain and making you feel better. Our race might be doomed, humans might know themselves less than even their own, artificial creations and there is no hope that humans ever go to space.

The difference is, Yamamotos robots have learned to carry on for us, to incorporate our dreams. We might be highly deficient, but we have friendly post-human successors who will always remember us. In that regard it’s also an antithesis to transhuman ideals. There is no possibility to change us, technology will never overcome the complexity of the human body. But our creations will go on.