A whole bunch of us are spending a lot more time tucked away in our homes right now, washing our hands compulsively and realizing that the only thing we ever truly loved was touching our faces, and as someone who has been a freelance translator for over a decade now, it is wild to see the chitchat on the chitchat machine. People don’t know what to do with themselves! People dread the thought of spending their days in their houses, unable to go to the places! People love to go to the places! What could possibly occupy them in their homes?? Meanwhile, I can’t imagine going to the places. What would I do there?? Why would I leave my home, where I have all the things I want and need? So not a lot has changed here at Brain Central. I still have deadlines, and I am still standing at my desk translating the manga and novels that will be sent out into the world for you to read in the future. A future that hopefully is free of quarantining. Although my brain and I are doing the responsible thing and social distancing, that mostly applies to those times when we would leave the house to go work at a café for a change of pace. We are no longer getting any external changes of pace.
What to do for a change of pace then? The answer is obviously going to be books. I mean, this is Brain vs Book not Brain vs Apartment Yoga or something. To take a break from translating books, I naturally shift to reading books. It might not seem like much of a change of pace, but sitting and reading for an hour is so satisfying deep in my soul and is maybe the only thing that keeps me sane some days. I feel refreshed after a solid chunk of reading! And the best part about reading is that, for a while at least, you can forget that we are apparently in the dystopian future timeline. And if you read the right books, you can even dream about a different future timeline! Like one with a robot of your dad!
Okay, maybe no one wants that future either. But Ozawa is offering it up whether we like it or not, and since I am deeply invested in her relentlessly upbeat series about an 80-year-old woman who runs away from home and starts a literary magazine, when I saw the first volume of her new series LP on the shelves, I immediately snatched it up. The obi copy is written too large for me to overlook or ignore the way I usually do (preferring to go into every book cold), so I knew right from the first page that artificial intelligence was the big deal in this story, but I’d sort of assumed it would be in a more Alexa or Siri kind of way. Not in a “here is a fully functioning robot version of your dad when he was young” kind of way. But Ozawa’s pushing way out to the limits of technology and beyond to bring us a new conception of family and death.
In the opening pages, Tokyo hair stylist Michiru gets a phone call that her dad is in the hospital in critical condition, so she drops everything and races back to her country home. She gets to see him one last time before he dies and then has to come to terms with a very strange reality: her dad had an AI robot of himself built a while back to take care of her mom and his affairs when he died. Ozawa uses the fact that the dad is dead now to avoid getting into the hows of the whole thing, so she doesn’t get bogged down in exposition, which I was very glad for. I don’t need to look under the hood when it comes to science fiction.So Michiru is stuck needing to mourn her dad while looking at the dad she remembers from her own childhood. And then there’s the cryptic message the real dad left her on his death bed: Keep an eye on that AI. Which raises a very essential question—Can she trust the AI? This causes quite a lot of Drama™, and for a while there, I was worried that the whole series would be about whether or not the AI was trying to kill the mom. But fortunately, the story stays focussed on the more interesting question of how this technology changes her family and how we grapple with the ageing of our parents and of ourselves. In this way, it’s not that different from Mariko, which takes up the ageing of our society in general and how we treat our older generations, but I feel more of an anxiety in this story, like Ozawa’s concerns in Mariko are more removed from her own situation, but LP is much more personal. And indeed, she notes in the afterword that she came up with the story because she was worried about what would happen to her parents when one of them died before the other.
Michiru is a single woman in her early forties, and as a woman of similar life situation, she has a lot of the same concerns as I do. How to balance the life you want to live as your own person–as a woman who loves what she does and lives away from her family– with your worries about your ageing parents, your ageing self. How to reverse those roles of parent and child, from caregiver to caretaker. How to take care, how to be cared for, how to pull away, how to stay close. How to brace yourself for the inevitable. Through the lens of artificial intelligence and automation, Ozawa digs into what ageing is and could be. But her characters all look like muppets and she goes heavy on the drama, so the whole thing feels more like an eighties soap opera in which every other character has amnesia or a secret baby. I look forward to the possibility of an evil twin in volume two.