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Ōhara Mariko

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1959-    ) Japanese author whose characterization of her own later work as Widescreen Baroque aptly summarizes its poetic whimsy and operatic breadth. However, she has been more influential as a writer on matters of Feminism and Transgender SF, particularly in several Cyberpunk-era speculations on gender ambiguity. Many of her characters are vehicles of constant and exponential consumption, a severe critique of the dangers of hyper-capitalism. As one of the most prominent Women SF Writers in Japan in the 1990s, Ōhara contributed to discourses on the Monstrous-Feminine, most notably with her "Moshimo to iu Jikkenba de: Josei Sakka ni totte no haha: 2777-nen no Jo-ō" ["An Experiment in Speculation: What 'Mother' Means for Women SF Writers: The Queen of the Year 2777"] (1995 New Feminism Review), a contribution to a special issue on "maternal fascism". Some of her writings allude to the idea that Tokyo itself is a sentient, female-identifying City, which may already have gone insane.

"Girl" (1984 S-F Magazine; trans Alfred Birnbaum in Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction, anth 1991, ed Alfred Birnbaum) features a biologically-altered hermaphrodite searching for love in a garish, squalid city of the future, a brief spark of joy in a grim world that, as a throwaway coda reveals, will be destroyed in thirteen years' time. Odd romance is also a feature of her "Ginga Network de Uta o Utatta Kujira" ["The Whale that Sang on the Milky Way Network"] (August 1982 S-F Magazine; trans Nancy H Ross in Speculative Japan 2, anth 2011, ed Edward Lipsett), which imparts a sense of Ruins and Futurity to a tale of an alien that finds a mate when its song is broadcast on 100 billion television screens across the galaxy.

"Mental Female" (December 1985 S-F Magazine; trans Kazuko Behrens and Gene van Troyer in The Review of Contemporary Fiction June 2002) presents an all-pervasive broadcast entertainment in which female- and male-identifying artificial intelligences meet, copulate and raise a child, all as a form of televised Basilisk designed to distract the viewing population, although even the AI "actors" are revealed as masks or simulacra over the beings' true intentions and desires. This story includes the notion of "100 million television screens", seemingly intended to evoke the demographics and size of the Japanese nation in the late 20th century, particularly in reference to the Media Landscape – a community also alluded to in Jayson Makoto Chun's A Nation of a Hundred Million Idiots: A Social History of Japanese Television (2006 nonfiction). The figure for the nation is here restated as the population of a single city.

Ōhara's Hybrid Child (1990 fixup trans Jodie Bell 2018) won the Seiun Award twice, once for the serial publication of its section "Aquaplanet" (1989-1990 S-F Magazine), and again in 1991 for its novel fixup. Openly alluding to links with the Biblical Book of Jonah, befuddling the reader with a cut-up format, a rash of neologisms, and an Alien narrator unheeding of gender conventions or the need for speech attribution, it is redolent of the sf experiments of William S Burroughs and Octavia Butler. Its nested stories are that of Sample B#3, a Shapeshifter biological weapon that has abandoned its mission. It hides out in a house where a mother has murdered her Clone daughter, taking on the form and Identity of the dead girl and the murderous mother, whose subsequent wanderings form another part of the narrative, with the stand-off between biological races and an AI empire continuing in the background (see also Berserkers).

Kyūketsuki Ephemera ["Ephemera the Vampire"] (1993) marries sf to horror, positing a 22nd century final solution to the problem of Vampires, resisted with extreme force by the vampires themselves, who proclaim all-out war. Her take on Bram Stoker's original, however, emphasizes elements of shape-shifting and the transmigration of the soul from the original: her "vampires" are parasitic creatures that attain Immortality through a form of memory transfer. Since taking over a male host usually results in a swift, messy and destructive "pregnancy", vampires usually prefer human female hosts, until the need to suddenly raise an army leads to a mass takeover of male bodies with grotesque replicatory results. Similar power politics arise in her Space Opera Archaic States (1997), set in a 28th-century Solar System in which three factions duel for control. General Agnocia, the psychic queen who has the upper hand, finds herself contending not only with the murder of her sister by terrorists, but by the terrorists' co-option of her sister's avatar as a challenger to her authority (see Avatars).

Alongside these powerful and enduring works, Ōhara has sustained a constant low-level output in Young Adult Pulps, including Time Leaper (1993), in which the victim of a traffic accident in 1988 is resurrected by medical Technology in 2018, only to become wanted by the Time Police (see also Sleeper Awakes). She also wrote a nonfiction guide to computing and the internet, Networker e no Michi ["The Way to Be a Networker"] (1994) in the early days of Japan's access to the world wide web. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, she appears to have been more deeply involved with criticism and administration both in and outside the sf field, while her publication output has largely involved reprints of earlier works. [JonC]

Mariko Ōhara

born Osaka, Japan: 20 March 1959

works (selected)

Ill and Clumsy

Alien Deka

  • Alien Deka ["Alien Detective"] (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1991) [in two vols: Alien Deka: pb/Mutsumi Inomata]
  • Alien Deka 2 ["Alien Detective 2"] (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1992) [Alien Deka: pb/Mutsumi Inomata]

about the author

  • Mari Kotani. "Techno-Gothic Japan: From Seishi Yokomizo's The Death's Head Stranger to Mariko Ōhara's Ephemera the Vampire" in Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997) edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger [nonfiction: anth: hb/John M Digby]
  • Larry McCaffrey et al. "Twister of Imagination" (June 2002 Review of Contemporary Fiction) [mag/]
  • Kazue Harada. Japanese Women's Science Fiction: Posthuman Bodies and the Representation of Gender (St Louis, Missouri: Washington University Open Scholarship, 2015) [ebook: PhD dissertation: na/]


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