What the giddy fuck is going on with that cover? Answers on a postcard to the usual address please, as even after reading the whole book I’m still none the wiser.
The pattern (you remember) was set early, it seems. The first half of Inter Ice Age 4 is nigh on unreadable. It’s not just the Communion Wafer dry prose, it’s also the massive values dissonance that leaves you kneeling at the altar of time and culture wondering exactly what the fuck you’ve gone and signed up for here:
She had been talking a little while ago about the baby… My wife had received the diagnosis of her pregnancy, and we were discussing whether or not to have it terminated. Even if that had not been the case, women seem to like to talk about such things.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that Dr. Katsumi, the narrator, is a Grade-A prick, so this jarring, almost vacant, lack of empathy might well be just as much a product of character as of time and place. Even so, the utter dismissal of women’s concerns in a story which involves a pretty sizable helping of discussion on the ethics of abortion is arresting, to say the least. Katsuni’s prickishness also manifests in a blinkered self-obsession that means he’s always a step or two behind the reader in piecing things together, and this in conjunction with the prose and the values makes for an incredibly frustrating reading experience. The first section covers almost half the book and is titled “Program Card No. 1” but a more accurate effort would have been something like: “Get on with it, you ignorant fucker. Jesus.”
The second half, fortunately, is much better. I’d warn about spoilers at this point but given both the blurb and the sodding title itself give most of the game away there doesn’t seem much point (though both these things contribute significantly to that early sense of annoyance). Katsuni develops a prognosticating computer which can not only predict the future of financial markets but also, y’know, read corpses’ minds, and then he gets caught up in a plot to create a genetically engineered race of humans to live underwater and escape the coming ice age. I think. It gets a little fuzzy after a while due to very liberal applications of handwavium. But, and this is the saving grace, that confusion, eventually, actually pays off pretty well as Katsuni plunges headfirst down the rabbit-hole into a conspiracy that just demands to be described as Kafkaesque. Lots of interesting ideas on the nature of self and the debts or otherwise the individual owes society and the past owes the future (that’s not the wrong way round). This edition has an afterword from Abe in which he poses further important questions which make clear he knew exactly what he was doing. Doesn’t make it any easier to read, mind.