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Yamada Masaki

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1950-    ) Immensely prolific Japanese crime and sf author, who first became involved in the genre while studying economics at Meiji University. His debut work, the Seiun Award-winning novella "Kamigari" ["Godhunting"] (July 1974 S-F Magazine; fixup as Ryūhyō Minzoku ["Ice Tribes"] 1976), aped Ryō Hanmura in suggesting that the divinities and Supernatural Creatures of ancient Mythology were forerunners of modern Secret Masters and Pariah Elites. He would return to similar themes in many later works that mixed a sense of Paranoia with the Shaggy God Story, including Hōseki Dorobō ["Jewel Thief"] (1980), which also won a Seiun.

Among stand-out early works, Bōsatsu no Chess Game ["Premeditated Murder Chess Game"] (1976) is a Near Future thriller that imagines international espionage, diplomacy and even some petty crimes as part of a vast wargame played by the Japanese military's "neo strategists" (see Games and Sports). Aphrodite (1980; trans "Daniel Jackson" 2004) is a bittersweet view of the march of progress, told through its protagonist's relationship with the titular flying city, first regarded as a dreamy Utopia, and then as an increasingly derelict ruin, until ultimately it is scheduled for demolition (see Cities).

By the 1980s, Yamada enjoyed a prominent position in both sf publications and mainstream magazines, achieving much wider exposure than fellow authors from the genre ghetto. His Kau no Nai Kamigami ["Gods Without Faces"] (December 1984-January 1985 Yasei Jidai; 1985) is an Alternate History of the 1970s in which the real-world oil shocks and recession are combined with the rise of a millennial cult in Afghanistan, along with plagues of locusts and intimations of the approaching End of the World. Lifting a title from A E van Vogt but with a theme more redolent of Cordwainer Smith, his Uchūken Beagle-go no Boken ["Voyage of the Space Beagle"] (May 1986 S-F Magazine fixup 1990) features dogs genetically engineered to fight skunk-like alien invaders (see Uplift).

His subsequent work is distinguished by a rising output of hard-boiled crime and Technothrillers [largely omitted from the Checklist below], as well as several Cyberpunk novels that revisit his mythological themes with a twists into Cyberspace. Among these, Juke Box (1990) is riddled with a nostalgia for American pop Music as recalled by a group of protagonists who may or may not have died in a fire at a nursing home, but find their spirits somehow enduring in a new world (see Identity Transfer). Best known outside Japan, purely for its existence in English, is Innocence (2004 trans Yuji Oniki and Carl Horn 2007), a Tie to the second Ghost in the Shell film.

Arguably his most ambitious work, Ada (1994), is an extended exercise in Fabulation and Recursive SF, in which a form of Singularity creates a Virtual Reality so intense that it has eroded the boundaries between fact and fiction. The protagonist, Ada Byron, is both the historical Countess of Lovelace (see Ada Lovelace) who helps Charles Babbage with the invention of a Steampunk "difference engine", but also a Far Future Quantum Computer whose influence on the ongoing narrative must be stopped in order to avert a real-world apocalypse (see Disaster). As a bonus, there are cameo appearances from Sherlock Holmes and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Similar recursion can be discerned in Yamada's Illuminations: Kimi yo Hijō no Kawa ni Kudare ["Illuminations: Get You to the Tragic River"] (2009), set in an unstable modern African republic, but re-imagining Arthur Rimbaud's "Bateau Ivre" (1871) as a Ship of Fools, and its "fleuves impassibles" as a garbled description of Time Travel.

Such works reflect Yamada's wide reading in foreign fiction, which can often be discerned in pastiches such as "Buttai X" ["Object X"] (anth 1986), the Japanese title of which identifies it from the outset as a homage to John W Campbell Jr's "Who Goes There?" (August 1938 Astounding trans Tetsu Yano 1961 S-F Magazine) and its movie remake, released in Japan as Yūsei yori no Buttai X ["Object X From Another Planet"] (see The Thing). Such diversions have also included contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos, as in "Odori Kui" (2002 anth; trans Kathleen Taji as "The Import of Tremors" in Lairs of the Hidden Gods 1: Night Voices, Night Journeys, anth 2005, ed Ken Asamatsu).

The bulk of Yamada's sf work since 1990 has been in serial form. Shinjū Seisen ["Godbeast Crusade"] posits the rise of the "Mirror People", a mutant underclass, whose apparent demonic possession is revealed to be an Invasion from the Far Future. In a similar vein, Yami no Taishū ["Viceroy of Darkness"] is a fantasy retelling of Japanese legend, considering all omens and forteana from the Middle Ages to be accounts of true happenings. Kikaijū Vibe reworks the same idea, but framed in homage to modern Monster Movies, as if Gojira (1954) were simply a continuation of phenomena already noted in Japanese myth.

Yamada's best-known work is Kishin Heidan ["Machine-God Soldiers"] (1990-1994), an Alternate History of the 1940s, in which Aliens attack north China in 1937, and are resisted by human-piloted Mecha constructed from salvaged invader technology. In the manner of many other Japanese counterfactuals (see Yoshio Aramaki; Haruya Yamazaki; Hitoshi Yoshioka), this premise allowed Yamada to deftly reframe World War Two enmities as a squabble best set aside in order to deal with a greater enemy, as encapsulated in the relationship of two leading ladies: the dastardly Eva Braun, who sides with the Nazis, and her angelic sister Maria, who sides with the Allies. It also permitted stirring adventure reminiscent of the earlier propaganda work of Jūza Unno or Shunrō Oshikawa, in a mode seemingly inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) (see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Although untranslated in its original prose form, the seven-hour Anime adaptation Kishin Heidan (1992), directed by Takaaki Ishiyama, was released in English as Kishin Corps (1995 US, vt Alien Defender Geo-Armor, 2001 US). The anime series was also adapted into a Manga Tie by Shōhei Oka, Kishin Heidan (c.1992 Shōnen Captain). Several of Yamada's other works have been adapted into comic form, including Bōsatsu no Chess Game (graph 2005) and Konron Yūgekitai (graph 1988), both by Setsuo Tanabe. [JonC]

Masaki Yamada

born Nagoya, Japan: 16 January 1950

works (selected)


Shinjū Seisen

  • Gensō no Tanjō ["Birth of Illusions"] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1984) [Shinjū Seisen: binding unknown/]
  • Jikanrō ni Tsunagarete ["Cast into the Time Prison"] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1984) [Shinjū Seisen: binding unknown/]
  • Majutsushi ["The Sorcerer"] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1986) [Shinjū Seisen: binding unknown/]
  • Geimu! Geimu! ["Game/A Dream of Whales"] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1986) [Shinjū Seisen: binding unknown/]

Yami no Taishū

  • Yami no Taishū ["Viceroy of Darkness"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1984) [Yami no Taishū: binding unknown/]
  • Onieshū no maki ["The Sacrifices"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1987) [Yami no Taishū: binding unknown/]
  • Kyōyū no maki ["The Ringleader"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1989) [Yami no Taishū: binding unknown/]
  • Tōgen no maki ["The Earthly Paradise"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1990) [Yami no Taishū: binding unknown/]

Kikaijū Vibe

  • Kedamono Chinmoku-hen ["Silence of the Beast"] (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985) [Kikaijū Vibe: binding unknown/]
  • Kedamono Chitei-hen ["Beast Underground"] (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1986) [Kikaijū Vibe: binding unknown/]
  • Kedamono Tanjō-hen ["Birth of the Beast"] (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1986) [Kikaijū Vibe: binding unknown/]
  • Kedamono Tenjō-hen ["Reincarnation of the Beast"] (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1987) [Kikaijū Vibe: binding unknown/]
    • Miraijū Vibe ["Future Beast Vibe"] (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 2005) [omni of the above: Kikaijū Vibe: binding unknown/]

Kishin Heidan

  • Manshū Tōmei-hen ["Manchuria Transparent"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1990) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Shanghai Retsujitsu-hen ["Hot Days in Shanghai"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1990) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Bokkai Kichi Zenmetsu Sakusen ["The Destruction of Balhae Base"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1990) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Vulcan no Arashi ["Storm of Vulcan"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1992) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Nazisu Sōkō Kishidan ["Armoured Nazi Cavalry"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1992) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Yōsai Toshi ["Fortress City"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1993) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Kyojin Senjō ["Battlefield of Titans"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1993) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Harukanari Tonkō ["A Distant Simplicity"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1994) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Jikan no Hate ["The Horizon of Time"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1994) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]
  • Hoshi ni Inori o ["Pray to the Stars"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1994) [Kishin Heidan: binding unknown/]

individual titles


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