Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Report: The Tales of Ibis, by Hiroshi Yamamoto

I'm fascinated by languages, not just what they say but how they say it. When I was a kid, I read somewhere that the Eskimos had 21 words for snow. Southern Ontario English has two: "snow," and "d*mned snow." It's amazing because there are some things that simply can't be described in English, while they can be depicted in Innu with amazing accuracy. Add to the different volcabularies the wealth of context and idiom built up by every different culture and you begin to see Orwell's point: if you don't have the language for a certain thought, then you can't think it.

So I was excited to read Yamamoto's book not just because it sounded interesting (AI in a realistic future), but because I wanted to see how the translator dealt with words and idioms that are unique to Japanese. What I found was a beautifully-written book in any language.

It is a collection of five short stories loosely bound together by a narrative thread. A storyteller from a culture of AI-hating humans is captured by an intelligent robot who, to his surprise, doesn't kill him. Instead, while he recovers from an accidental injury, reads him stories written by humans about machines.

What came through in this book was the brilliance of Yamamoto's imagination. He's taken thoughts about artificial intelligence and its impact on human society to place I never imagined existed. In telling the story of the emergence of electronic people, he tells the story of humanity's paranoia, illogic and foolishness (at one point, a medical care AI decides that the only way to understand and accept human behavior is to assume that we are all suffering from various degrees of dementia), yet he manages to extoll our virtues as well, the best qualities that the artificial children of our intellect proudly carry into the future, and eventually to other worlds.

Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this.

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