Song of a Whale, Translated into Human Speech by Dr Hananakajima’s Machine at the Moment of its Harpooning (“Last Words” series)

Since August, I’ve been trying out Tempest Bradford’s challenge of limiting my pleasure reading to things not written by cisgendered straight white males.

My reading habits skew female in any case, and I have favourite authors like Jorge Luis Borges and Ted Chiang, so this isn’t much of a stretch for me. But it has led to me reading some excellent novels I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise, like Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds and Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy (which I wish I had read long ago because it is astounding).

Anyway, while I might post more about that experience at a later date, I mention it today because this week’s “Last Words” post is inspired by Somtow Sucharitkul/S.P. Somtow‘s Starship and Haiku. Which I’m surprised I never found earlier because come on. Haiku! I write those.

Song of a Whale, Translated into Human Speech by Dr Hananakajima’s Machine at the Moment of Its Harpooning

by Stewart C Baker

Painsharping… Swimdeep…

As for Starship and Haiku, it was an interesting read, if a bit dated. Never mind that, in the book, WWIII destroyed most of humanity in the early 2000s. I felt like parts of it ran afoul of the Asian as Alien trope (oddly, considering its author is Thai) in ways that probably would not be considered okay today and in ways I couldn’t quite figure out was intentional subversion or something to be taken at face value.

Allusions to Mishima—not to mention the haiku, which included fun riffs on stories from Basho biographies—on suggest that Somtow is pretty well-read in Japanese culture, anyway, which was nice. But there were times when the text seemed to unironically describe Japanese people as “inscrutable” and that’s kind of…? And the Japanese are literally descended from whales (spoiler) which means that characters in the novel (Japanese and otherwise) are constantly talking about how they are literally alien compared to everyone else on Earth. Which uh…

Anyway. It has whales. And whalesong.

And it made me feel strange when I finished reading, which is a good indication that it succeeded as a SF novel on some level even if I found the racial aspects of it problematic and its depiction of Japanese culture a bit too early-Shōwa to ring true in describing a Japan set in 2023.

Benefit of living in the future, I guess.


For a more recent story about a Japanese girl and dolphins (close enough to whales, right?), check out Henry Lien’s excellent “Bilingual”, which is free to read on his website.

Another Bonus!

Although this is a huge tone mismatch with this story. The name Hananakajima has been shamelessly lifted from the wonderfully bizarre Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoi yo!! Masaru-san, the first episode of which the bravest among you can watch in regrettably low quality here.