by Mark Aragona
Being a very visual genre, science fiction is an excellent source material for films and comic books—and this is as true in the East as it is in the West. Yukinobu Hoshino’s “2001 Nights” takes on hard science fiction from an Eastern point of view.
The title alone is a reference to two famous stories: Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the “One Thousand and One Nights”. This book is a treasure hunt of tropes and allusions for the die-hard science fiction fan, even as it delves into themes more commonly found in folk tales and fables.
The anthology chronicles Man’s first forays into space. It begins with the resolution that no series expeditions in space can be made without first achieving world unity, symbolized by an alliance between the USA and Russia. Each story then jumps a few years forward, featuring events that spur humanity on towards the stars—the discovery of fossilized extraterrestrial life, the lure and danger of asteroid mining, the development of artificial intelligence, experiments in suspended animation, and the use of frozen sperm and ova to seed and populate an alien planet.
The volume ends with Hoshino’s opus: “Lucifer Rising” (read no further if you don’t want to get spoiled).
Just outside of our solar system, explorers discover a colossal planet in retrograde orbit around the sun. Mere contact with the planet’s debris causes a terrible explosion that destroys the spacecraft. The reason for this is soon revealed: the planet is made completely of antimatter. Dubbed Lucifer, this discovery quickly divides humanity into two camps, those who want to exploit the planet’s promise of clean, unlimited energy, and the Catholic Church who claims Lucifer as the “devil’s star” and must be left alone. Tasked to investigate Lucifer, a scientist-priest must choose between the two sides and survive the planet’s chilling effects on his crew’s sanity.
Hoshino’s art style is sober and realistic, invoking the vastness of a spacecraft on a single splash page. Unlike most Japanese styles he uses no doe-eyed looks, creating realistic and believable characters. He also deftly strikes a balance between the scientific and the fantastic in his stories. Even as he focuses on hard science fiction topics such as space exploration and alien life forms, he never fails to emphasize that Man must also evolve spiritually if he wants to inherit a bright future among the stars. His stories truly are a marriage of Western science and Eastern thinking.
If you really liked this volume, the anthology continues with two more: “Journey Beyond Tomorrow” and “Children of Earth”. Two of Hoshino’s stories, “Elliptical Orbit” and “Symbiotic Planet,” have been adapted into a direct-to-video CGI movie called “TO.” But if you want the full experience of how the stories tie in and come full circle, reading the three volumes is the way to go.