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Yokohama Station SF: 06/25/21

Yokohama Station SF by Yuba Isukari

Yokohama Station SF by Yuba Isukari began in 2015 on Twitter as a joke comparing the continually constructed / reconstructed Yokohama Station to Tsutomu Nihei's Blame. From that a multivolume light novel was born. Yen Press has collected them all together into a single, beautifully crafted hardbound edition in English translation.

Two hundred years before the story opens two things happened. Japanese researchers began to blend AI neural networking research with the already well established train and subway system on Honshu (the main island). Meanwhile, a world war, called the Winter War, broke out. The train stations became targets (to both slow the movement of goods and to disrupt the neural network). The rail AI adapted to these attacks and along the way, Yokohama Station began to self replicate to replace the damaged or destroyed stations. Unfortunately the process got out of hand like kudzu in the American south and the people of Honshu ended up living Inside — meaning as citizens of the station.

The novel is three separate but similarly themed journeys through Yokohama Station all with the goal of bringing the end to the station. The first is a traveler from outside the station who has grown up at the seaside border with it. The second two are infiltrators from off the island who are tracking the station's progress and are collecting intel on ways to keep that progress in check.

Reading this fascinating book as an American, I'm reminded most of Kate Milford's river city-state, Nagspeake which features in a number of her middle grade and YA fantasies. Of all of them, though, The Thief Knot (2020) and The Racounteur's Commonplace Book (2021) come closest in theme and tone to Yokohama Station SF. That said, there is one very big difference — the iron of Nagspeak isn't spreading beyond its bounds and doesn't need to be shut down.

Like Milford's novels, Yokohama Station SF sits on the road narrative spectrum. As it's a Japanese novel, though, it is an outlier but is in good company with many others.

With multiple protagonists who at times work separately and at other times together, I must define them by the one trait they all share. As they aren't members of Yokohama Station and will be forcibly removed by the Automated Turnstiles, they are marginalized travelers (66).

The destination is a return to a time before Yokohama Stations sentience. It's a desire to undo the expansion. It's also a desire to understand the history of what made Yokohama Station what it is and to imagine what Honshu was like before the expansion. Repeated throughout the book is the sentiment of disbelief that human engineering could have built the original station and rail lines. Put another way, the destination is uhoria (CC).

The route though is quite literally the railroad (00). As the station has grown beyond the need for train cars, the railroad is one that's primarily traveled by foot. Instead of trains, there are moving sidewalks, elevators, and escalators. While travelers in the station can pick where they go (assuming it's not forbidden by the Automated Turnstiles), how they go is determined by the routes built by the station. Many of these involve moving platforms that are analogous to the railway lines that have long since fallen into disuse.

Summarized, Yokohama Station SF is about marginalized travelers going to uhoria via the railroad (66CC00).

Five stars

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