Review: Bullseye! by Yasutaka Tsutsui

translated by Andrew Driver

Kurodahan Press

July 10, 2017

236 pages

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Before you do anything else, just look at that cover by Youchan Ito. It’s a thing of beauty.

Ok, now to the book. Bullseye! is a collection of some of the most absurd, bizarre, haunting, and hilarious stories that you’ll ever read, from an author “recognized as one of the founders of post-modern science fiction in Japan” (Kurodahan). Written between 1973 and 2015, they show the range of Tsutsui’s interests and themes, from an ever-evolving stage-production of King Lear to a mysterious weapon that lulls victims to sleep as it kills them. And while some stories, like “Having a Laugh” and the title story, “Bullseye!”, are somewhat disjointed and confusing, others like “Sleepy Summer Afternoon,” “Sadism,” and “A Vanishing Dimension” are intensely horrifying. Tsutsui is a master of mood and atmosphere, patiently building up a seemingly-innocent scene until, before you realize it, all innocence is irrevocably lost.

And when Tsutsui decides to play with his readers, the resulting stories are hilarious. “Zarathustra on Mars” (1973) might as well have been written in the 2000s, with its on-point send-up of media hysteria, obsessive fandom, and mass culture. “Oh! King Lear!” (2014) pokes fun at the tendency of theater and opera companies to “update” productions in absurd ways. Tsutsui also takes the opportunity in this and several other stories to exercise his penchant for meta-fiction. At one point, the narrator stops “King Lear” and explains,

To use these songs on stage, the company should normally have paid exorbitant royalties to the aforementioned JASRAC, but since this is just a short story by Yasutaka Tsutsui and they were all fictional characters, they were free to use them as they pleased. Herein lies the freedom of the fiction writer. Oh dear. The author has interrupted the story just to eulogize the freedom of the fiction writer, a deviation quite unbefitting a work of fictional realism. Will he ever be forgiven? (180)

The logic behind the arrangement of the stories is unclear to me (they’re not in chronological order or grouped by theme), but I did enjoy the abrupt shifts between serious and lighthearted stories as I moved from one story to another.  And Andrew Driver’s translations? Let me just say that this book read like it had originally been written in English. In other words, an excellent translation.

Kurodahan is always bringing out great Japanese SFT, and Bullseye! is no exception. Check it out, and then go see what other great books this press has to offer.


**The Tongues of Speculation site has reviews of each story: check them out.

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