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Abe Kōbō

Entry updated 6 November 2023. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of Japanese author Kimifusa Abe (1924-1993), active from 1948 to the year of his death; several of his later novels have been translated into English. Known mainly for his work outside the sf field, like Suna no Onna (1962; trans E Dale Saunders as The Woman in the Dunes 1964), he was deeply influenced by Western models from Franz Kafka to Samuel Beckett (1906-1989); the intensely extreme conditions to which he subjects his alienated protagonists allow a dubious sf interpretation of novels like Moetsukita Chizu (1967; trans E Dale Saunders as The Ruined Map 1969), or Tanin no Kao (1964; trans E Dale Saunders as The Face of Another 1966).

On the other hand, Dai-Yon Kampyoki (July 1958-March 1959 Sekai; 1959; trans E Dale Saunders as Inter Ice Age 4 1970) is undoubtedly sf. It is a complex story set in a near-future Japan threatened by the melting of the polar icecaps. The protagonist, Professor Katsumi, has been in charge of developing a computer/information system capable of predicting human behaviour. Fatally for him, this system predicts his compulsive refusal to go along with his associates and his government in the creation of genetically engineered children, adapted for life in the rising seas (see Genetic Engineering). Most of the novel, narrated by Katsumi, deals with a philosophical confrontation between his deeply alienated refusal of the future and the computer's knowing representations of that refusal and the alternatives to it. The resulting psychodramas include a mysterious murder and the enlistment of his unborn child into the ranks of the mutated water-breathers.

Three later novels are of interest. Hako-Otoko (1973; trans E Dale Saunders as The Box Man 1973) has some borderline sf elements; its emblematic protagonist walks about and lives in a large cardboard carton along with many other Tokyo residents who have refused a life of "normalcy". Mikkai (1977; trans Juliet Winters Carpenter as Secret Rendezvous 1979) is set in a vast edifice-like Underground hospital so complex that patients must hire agents to cope with its demands. Hakobune Sakura Maru (1984; trans Juliet Winters Carpenter as The Ark Sakura 1988) expands that basic metaphor in a tale about a man obsessively engaged with his bomb shelter. And Beyond the Curve (coll trans Juliet Winters Carpenter 1991) collects short stories – some sf – published in Japan 1949-1966. [JC]

see also: Disaster; Japan; Psychology; Under the Sea.

Kōbō Abe

born Tokyo: 7 March 1924

died Tokyo: 22 January 1993

works in English translation

  • Dai-Yon Kampyuoki (Tokyo: Kodan-sha, 1959) [first appeared July 1958-March 1959 Sekai: binding unknown/]
    • Inter Ice Age 4 (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1970) [trans by E Dale Saunders of the above: hb/Joseph del Gaudio]
  • Suna no Onna (Tokyo: Shincho-sha, 1962) [hb/]
    • The Woman in the Dunes (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1964) [trans by E Dale Saunders of the above: hb/Machi Abe]
  • Tanin no Kao (Tokyo: Kodan-sha, 1964) [hb/]
    • The Face of Another (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1966) [trans by E Dale Saunders of the above: hb/Joseph del Gaudio]
  • Moetsukita Chizu (Tokyo: Shincho-sha, 1967) [hb/]
    • The Ruined Map (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1969) [trans by E Dale Saunders of the above: hb/Joseph del Gaudio]
  • Hako-Otoko (Tokyo: Shincho-sha, 1973) [hb/]
    • The Box Man (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1974) [trans by E Dale Saunders of the above: hb/R B Hwang]
  • Mikkai (Japan: 1977) [binding unknown/]
    • Secret Rendezvous (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1979) [trans by Juliet Winters Carpenter of the above: hb/Tadanon Yokoo]
  • Hakobune Sakura Maru (Tokyo: Shincho-sha, 1984) [hb/]
    • The Ark Sakura (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1988) [trans by Juliet Winters Carpenter of the above: hb/Dan Lloyd Taylor]
  • Kangaru Noto (Japan: 1991) [binding unknown/]
    • Kangaroo Notebook (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1996) [trans by Maryellen Toman Mori of the above: hb/Joseph del Gaudio]


  • Four Stories (Tokyo: Japan Times, 1973) [coll: trans by Andrew Horvat from various sources: hb/]
  • Beyond the Curve (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1991) [coll: trans by Juliet Winters Carpenter from various sources: hb/Shiro Tsujimura]

about the author


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