Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Ouroboros Wave by Jyouji Hayashi

The Ouroboros Wave by Jyouji Hayashi is one of those "hard sf" novels packed with ideas. Technically speaking (that's not really a pun, but it kind of is), Ouroboros is not a novel: it's a series of interlinked short stories detailing humankind's accidental stumble into the stars; though every discovery pushes us closer to an understanding of our place in the universe. Indeed, Hayashi's motif throughout is "happensance is necessity in disguise."

The first of these interlinked stories concerns a black hole discovered by, you guessed it, happenstance. What's particularly interesting about the black hole, dubbed Kali - the Hindu goddess of destruction - is that it's on a collision course with the sun, our sun. Unfortunately, scientists are unable to determine if that collision will be in a few hundred years or in a few thousand. Rather than wasting time debating, an artificial accretion disk is built around Kali to not only change its course toward Uranus, but also, once in orbit around the gas giant, to harness the black hole's "boundless energy." However, in these early development stages, an AI nicknamed Shiva begins exhibting signs of awareness outside of cyberspace - that is, human-like intelligence - and endangering the scientists living on the artificial accretion disk.

In fact, what Hayashi is most concerned with throughout these stories besides proving that happenstance is masked necessity is determining what is and is not intelligent. In another of the stories, a submarine is encapsulated in the mouth of a giant jellyfish-like creature in the icy oceans beneath the surface of Europa; this creature may or may not be the first signs of intelligent life outside of Earth. In another, an assassin must out-think a complex system of identification modules to make her target. Is Hayashi also asking the question: is intelligence formed from happenstance?

We haven't even discussed the surplus of cool sf ideas rampant throughout Ouroboros. For instance: Amphisbaena, the needle-like station in orbit around the artificial accretion disk that houses the scientists; the web system of data transfer; the AI Salmon; the different political structures between Earthborn and Spaceborn peoples; etc.

If there is one detriment to Hayashi's Wave, it's the prose. The prose is so dry at times it's like reading sandpaper. I don't know if Hayashi's voice is this dry in the original Japanese or if something was lost in Jim Hubbert's translation; either way, it can make for tedious reading. There is also a lot of "telling, not showing," in the text, which is one of my pet peeves. The redeeming quality (other than the wealth of ideas and an interesting backstory) is that because Ouroboros is hard sf - I mean, extreme hard sf - the reader can get easily lost in those large, scientific words, but Hayashi is a master of making big concepts (like exactly how an artificial accretion disk might harness the energy of a black hole) easily understood.

The Ouroboros Wave is worth the read; however, if you're not a deep lover of hard sf (and, typically, I am not) you're going to have to get through some pretty serious slog to enjoy the story.


  1. Thank you so much for choosing this book!

    I often read your reviews with enthusiasm but have yet to find a book that fits my own interests explicitly and tonight was the night, this one is *it*! How exciting.

    Now I just need to procure a copy!

  2. Great to hear, Clurra! I don't usually read hard sf but this one really got me. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. I need some happensauce for this burger I'm eating.

  4. What you really need is necessnaise.