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Matsuo Yumi

Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

(1960-    ) Japanese author of sf and detective fiction, a graduate in English Literature from Ochanomizu Women's College, whose debut came with "Camera Eye" (April 1988 Shōsetsu Kisō Tengai, English title sic). Her first stories were published when she was still working as one of the low-ranking, decorative corporate secretaries known as OL ["Office Ladies"]. Much of her subsequent fiction has demonstrated a dynamic interest in challenging such off-hand sexual stereotyping, with many meditations on Gender and destiny.

Most notable among her sf works is "Balloon Town no Satsujin" (March 1992 S-F Magazine; trans as "Murder in Balloon Town" in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, June 2002) which featured a Near Future setting in which most women opt for artificial uteruses to carry their children, although a hardline minority insist on the experience of natural childbirth (see also Women in SF). The titular town is a sector of Tokyo reserved for such naturalists (see Keep); the protagonist is herself a pregnant detective, investigating crimes against and by pregnant women. Conceived when the author was herself heavily pregnant, the story and its sequels reframe the state of pregnancy as a form of Pariah Elite, invisible to everyday society, with its own rules, customs, publications and concerns.

Similar quirky set-ups populate Matsuo's other books, including the detective protagonist in Spike (2002), who is able to understand the language of dogs (see also Uplift), and the Magic Realism of Anrakuisu Tantei Archie ["Armchair Detective Archie"] (2003), a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in which the role of Watson is taken by a pre-teen boy in an antique shop, and that of Holmes by a talking armchair. Amid such frivolities, Matsuo's humour regularly returns to more serious issues, such as the title character of Black Angel (1994), a murderous spirit that leaps from American pop records to slay Japanese listeners, in a powerful metaphor for cultural Imperialism.

Some of Matsuo's works are Recursive SF drawing obliquely on Western tradition. Gender-jo no Toriko ["Prisoner of Gender"] (1996), depicts governments of various orbital colonies experiment with alternative lifestyles, such as mandatory gay step-parents. The title is a play on Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda (1894, trans by Isamu Inoue as Zenda-jo no Toriko 1958). Similar bricolage can be seen in Pippinella (1996), a reference to a green canary that first appeared in Hugh Lofting's Doctor Dolittle's Caravan (1926). Pippinella is told repeatedly that she cannot sing, imagined by Matsuo as a metaphor for all "invisible cages" that limit the aspirations of human beings, but particularly those of women obliged to conform to chauvinist norms (see Feminism).

Many of Matsuo's works are Equipoisal, lifting ideas from science fiction in order to tell stories better categorized as fantasy or romance. Her Kyūgatsu no Koi to De'Au Made ["Until I Meet My Love in September"] (2009), for example uses Time Travel as a plot device in an otherwise conventional story of suburban summer love. [JonC]

see also: Women SF Writers; Sex.

Yumi Matsuo

born Kanazawa, Japan: 27 November 1960



Balloon Town

  • Balloon Town no Satsujin ["The Murderer of Ballon Town"] (Tokyo: Hayakawa Shobō, 1994) [fixup: Balloon Town: binding unknown/]
  • Balloon Town no Dejinashi ["The Juggler of Balloon Town"] (Tokyo: Bungei Shunjū, 2002) [coll of linked stories: Balloon Town: binding unknown/]
  • Balloon Town no Temari-uta ["The Ball-game Song of Balloon Town"] (Tokyo: Bungei Shunjū, 2002) [coll of linked stories: Balloon Town: binding unknown/]


individual titles

about the author

  • Sinda Gregory and Larry McCaffery. "Bird Outside the Cage: An Interview with Yumi Matsuo" (22 June 2002 The Review of Contemporary Fiction) [mag/]


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