Lord of the Sands of Time

November 13, 2009

Issui Ogawa – Haikasoru – 2009 – 1 volume
this is a novel from Viz’s sci-fi imprint

I hesitated in picking this one up, because it has several story elements I dislike in sci-fi: time travel, space colonies, and androids.  All three in the same story seemed like it would doom it, but I approached it with an open mind all the same.

I didn’t like it at all, incidentally, and had a hard time getting through it, but it had more to do with me being completely uninterested in the plot than any of the three devices I mentioned above.  In fact, the time travel element was quite well-done, and was the thing that kept me going through the end of the novel.  It was handled more “realistically” than I’ve seen it handled before.  The plot of the book is that Orville, the main character, is an android who is sent back in the past by a nearly extinct human race in the 25th century in order to exterminate creatures that have been bent on human annihalation for around 300 years.  The story jumps around in time until it becomes clear what the androids (called “messengers”) are trying to do by time traveling, and when it was finally revealed, I was quite pleased with the way everything clicked into place.  The messengers, whether they succeed or fail, are doomed never to return to the 25th century since any action on their part will inevitably change the course of human history so that the same people that inhabit the 25th century won’t be there any more, even if they return.  I thought that was a particularly nice detail.

The majority of the story takes place in ancient Japan, with Orville trying to help Queen Himiko fend off the creatures, called mononoke by the people of ancient Japan. The creatures aren’t really… alive (?) and really only exist to kill humans.  They reproduce and collect energy from the sun, and they can only use materials they find around where they spawn in order to make their bodies.  Thus, Orville tries to keep them away from mineral deposits which would allow them to synthesize metals harder than what the people of ancient Japan have.  There are several other stories in other time periods as well, and many others that Orville makes reference to, and most of the battles focus on helping humans develop sophisticated enough weaponry to wipe out the mononoke population before it grows out of control and develops more complex weapons and battle strategies that wipe humans out of that time period.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t like it, because as I think back on it, it was a very good story.  I liked the way the story cycled through the different time periods, which got more and more ridiculous until the meaning became clear, and like I said, everything snapped into place and made sense.  I liked the themes presented in the story, which were mostly about how the messengers had to have an unfailing love of humaninty in order to carry out their mission, since all the people they knew would cease to exist no matter what happened.  The mononoke were interesting antagonist, completely faceless and unstoppable, though a little ridiculous once their origin was revealed.  There was a little bit of a romance between Orville and Himiko, which wasn’t terribly good, but also wasn’t a major part of the story.  Himiko was a good character and served well as the leader of the human faction in the main part of the story.  And the space colonization was mostly relegated to the beginnings of the story.  Everything about the plot and characters was extremely enjoyable.

What was there to dislike, then?  I think the pace might have done me in.  Since it takes a lot to keep me interested in a time travel story to begin with, the pace has to be just right or I’ll completely lose interest.  The story lingers a long time in certain parts between mononoke battles, especially in the ancient Japan parts, and I had a hard time moving forward even through interesting and relevant parts of the story.

This is an opposite example of what I normally defend on here.  Normally I’m telling you about how I enjoyed an extremely terrible story despite myself.  This time the story was quite a good one, but I just couldn’t get into it.  It wasn’t the story’s fault at all.  In fact, this was probably a better story than “All You Need is Kill,” which I did like.  I would recommend it to anyone who is interested, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.