http://www.TracingTheStars.com was provided a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Removed is S.J. Pajonas' debut novel. I was shocked when I found that out after finishing my read of the book. The book is written like a seasoned pro, mixing so many wonderful elements of style, that I had expected this to be a published author with more books for me to consume. Imagine my surprise when I found only this book and the coming sequel, Released.
The year is 3013, the Earth has been decimated by war and environmental deterioration. Sanaa is a member of Earth's remaining 6.3 million population, living in the last habitable place on the planet - Nishikyo, a city built under a series of domes. I'm not going to give the location of Nishikyo, because that was one of those ah! neat! moments for me and I don't want to spoil it. I will say that the majority of Nishikyo's population is Japanese, or of Japanese heritage, and many of the Japanese traditions are still present.
If this sounds a bit like the futuristic/sci-fi anime - it is, but in a really good and enjoyable way. Any fan of Japanese culture or sci-fi anime will love this, but I think any reader of science fiction will also greatly enjoy the subtle way Pajonas' inserts Japanese culture into her world building. And OH! The world building! It is superb. From cultural inclusions to technology to social structure - this book has it all and not a single info dump was used. Despite the concept of living in domes, Pajonas' makes it all believable.
Some of the usage of Japanese language by the characters may cause a few hiccups for some readers, but anyone who has watched a couple episodes of anime will catch the words Pajonas' chose to use. Most are very common and are used repeatedly, like ohayo gozaimasu (good morning), and irasshaimase (welcome), but Pajonas does include a Japanese glossary at the end of the book. I didn't have need of it, but I watch a good deal of anime. You can also infer meaning from context clues, and not knowing the words does not interfere with the story.
One might bring up this argument - 'it's 3013, wouldn't everyone be speaking English and why would all these Japanese traditions still be around one thousand years from now?'. It is a good question, but here is my opinion on this. They do speak English, with inclusion of Japanese common phrases. As for Japanese culture and tradition surviving after one thousand years? I think you only need to look at Japanese culture today and see how many traditions have already survived a thousand years of change and outside influence. Also, when confined to a dome with the last 6 million people on Earth, traditions may well become the only thing that continues to hold society together.
I, personally, found the strong Japanese culture in this book refreshing from the majority of Westernized science fiction. It added some unique points to the unfolding story, including the mystery and investigation of the yakuza clans that still exist in the city. Think of yakuza like the mafia or other organized crime syndicates. They have been around since Feudal Japan and are steeped in deep tradition and family bloodlines.
Sanaa starts off as an engineer, working on the first ship that will leave Nishikyo / Earth in order to colonize another planet. She is mysteriously taken off this project and put under the tutelage of a man named Sakai,and is given a new task to analyze data in order to find patterns and information about the yakuza clans in Nishikyo. There is a concern that the yakuza clans may try and create a xenophobic and purely Japanese society on the new planet colony, and it becomes Sanaa's job to discover any truth behind this concern with just one year before the first colony ship launches.
This book touches many points about culture and society that I felt were important when looking at both the future of humanity, but also the possibly extinction of humanity. Would we still hold on to tradition? Religion? Xenophobic views? Even when living in domes, would we choose to separate ourselves by culture and status as we do today? Are these domes any different that the cultural districts of big cities like New York? If there was only one guaranteed ship off a dying world, who would you want... or allow... to get on board?
This book deals with these tough questions, and a great deal more, without passing judgment or standing on a soapbox. Despite being a thousand years from now in a society on the brink of extinction, Pajonas' presents these themes in a way that feels close to home and not far out of reach. I think these binding threads between past, present and a possible, plausible future is what makes this debut work something very special.