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Yamano Kōichi

Entry updated 26 April 2021. Tagged: Author.

(1939-2017) Japanese author, editor and scenarist who became the country's leading proponent of the New Wave in sf, counter to prevailing trends in the field that continued to favour a model of fiction aping that of the Golden Age of SF in the United States. After a peripatetic youth and a flirtation with screenwriting, Yamano's professional sf debut was "X Densha de Ikō" ["Take the X Train"] (July 1964 S-F Magazine), a reprint of a story from the Uchūjin fanzine. Popular legend holds that Yamano became a genre author by accident, informed after the fact that his tale of a protagonist's obsession with tracking a phantom and possibly Alien train around Japan's rail system was an sf story. This, however, rather obscures the true nature of his disassociation from traditional Japanese sf, which is to say that his concentration on Inner Space and Absurdist SF, heavily influenced by his own experiences in counter-culture and by the works of British authors like J G Ballard, left him at odds with the field from the outset.

Despite his genre aspirations, he was not above taking money for work in other media, and after contributing scripts to the Anime Astro Boy (1963-1965) and Big X (1964-1965), he created the cartoon series Tatakae, Osupa! ["Fight, Osupa!"] (1965) in which a hero from the sunken lost continent of Mu (see Lost Worlds) is dispatched from his home Under the Sea to prevent a Mu fugitive from unleashing a doomsday device. Beyond anime episodes released in English and the anime adaptation X Densha de Ikō (1987) directed by Rintarō, the sole translation of his prose fiction is that of "Tori wa Ima Doko e Tobu ka" (February 1971 S-F Magazine; trans Dana Lewis as "Where Do the Birds Fly Now", Spring 1984 Something Else #3), a rumination on the possibility that birds might have a hidden ability to phase in and out of other Dimensions.

Yamano's output in the field remained relatively low, although his authoring of "Nihon no SF no genten to shikō" (June 1969 S-F Magazine; trans Kazuko Behrens as "Japanese SF: Its Originality and Orientation", March 1994 Science Fiction Studies) represents a watershed moment in the history of Japanese sf (see also Masami Fukushima). In it, Yamano decried Japanese sf for living in "prefabricated housing" of American construction, alluding to the powerful influence of US mass media on post-war Japan. Naming names, he argued that he saw no originality in the works of Aritsune Toyota and Fujio Ishihara, that Shinichi Hoshi and Ryū Mitsuse had reached the limits of the restricted conceptual areas they had established for their fiction, and that Sakyō Komatsu and Yasutaka Tsutsui, while achieving greater literary merit, were still merely "remodelling" a paradigm established in the "US petit-bourgeois opportunism" and "banal realism" of authors like Robert A Heinlein, or the "optimistic logic of great powers" he claimed to see in the works of Isaac Asimov. Instead, Yamano praised the potential and possibilities offered by authors of the New Wave, particularly out of Britain, not as yet another prefabricated house, but as a conceptual framework for "fusing modern sensibilities and an sf world".

Yamano subsequently founded the sf magazine NW-SF, seemingly in homage to New Worlds, which was published seasonally from 1970 to 1982. It attracted a salon of like-minded writers, the "NW-SF Workshop", including Hiroshi Aramata and Chiaki Kawamata, whose work appeared in the pages of the magazine alongside translations of overseas authors including J G Ballard, Philip K Dick and Judith Merril. Yamano also supervised the Sanrio sf paperback line (1978-1987), which favoured many avant-garde and New Wave authors in translation, including Thomas Pynchon and William S Burroughs. Not included in the Checklist below are a number of books concerning horse racing, which was the main focus of Yamano's writing in the 1980s and 1990s, until a return to sf late in life, when after years as an iconoclast and alternative force, and a decade's absence from the genre, he joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan (SFWJ) and published two reprint collections before his death [see Checklist below]. [JonC]

Kōichi Yamano

born Ōsaka, Japan: 27 November 1939

died Tokyo, Japan: 20 July 2017

works (selected)

collections

nonfiction

  • SF to Kiraku ["SF with Ease"] (Tokyo: Kōsakusha, 1979) [nonfiction: binding unknown/]

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