First, We Make the Cows Spheres.
まず牛を球とします。(Mazu Ushi wo Kyuu to Shimasu.)
Spherical cows of lab-grown beef feed a population of genetically engineered humans as “foreigners” flatten the Earth, a space-faring scavenger searches for new planets to scrounge from while really, really hating onions, a man in the midst of the COVID pandemic discovers his true identity as Box Man, and the Little Boy fails to detonate over Hiroshima in this collection of comedic sci-fi stories by the author of Yokohama Station SF.
About the Author
Yuba Isukari made their debut with Yokohama Station SF which won the first ever Kakuyomu Web Novel Contest in the sci-fi category in 2016 and was subsequently published by Kadokawa. First, We Make the Cows Spheres. is their most recent fiction publication (2022).
I didn't realize this was a collection of short stories before I started reading (I really need to research my books more…) and I normally avoid short story collections because I just find them hard to get into, and even harder to write a meaty review about since there's barely anything I can say about the stories without spoiling something, but I shall try.
Despite being short stories, I did enjoy this read. The overall tone is rather comedic with a bit of a darkness thrown in, a suicide here, a company wiping out Tokyo there, and enough genetic modifications and their ethical implications to go around. I would say the stories fall into three broad categories: One, a look at a future with a certain technology or situation. Two, a look at the past if something were different. Three, a look at the present through an unexpected lens. An example of the first would be the story about lunar residents defending their home against an attack by the Earthlings, aptly and amusingly titled “Lunatics on a Hill”. The second would be the Little Boy not detonating over Hiroshima or the schoolgirls in the Taishō era who build a radio that can pick up future radio transmissions. The last group has things like the Box Man in the midst of the COVID pandemic or the man whose wife pretends to be human.
Out of these three types, I enjoyed the future and present ones pretty equally. The future ones are definitely your more standard science fiction with spaceships and genome editing, and the present ones had a sort of poignant quality to most of them. The past-type stories were hit or miss for me. I actually gave up halfway through on one of them, and in general they felt a bit drier than the present/future ones, but the Little Boy not detonating on Hiroshima one was quite interesting. Perhaps less “entertaining” and more “thought-provoking”.
That makes me think of that one time I was in a book club and asked to summarize what our breakout group talked about, and I started to say one of the other people enjoyed X part, and they cut me off and said, no, I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, I was impressed by it. Maybe I understand that sentiment a bit more now. Maybe not.
Anyway, all that to say that this isn't just fluff sci-fi to satisfy the readers' desire for explosions and laser beams, there are larger, often existential, concepts being looked at, but there is still a good amount of style to that substance, which makes reading them enjoyable.
Other than the one I skipped. Maybe someone else would enjoy that one more.
Potential Translation Issues
I went most of the book thinking there wasn't a whole lot other than being able to adapt to the various styles in the stories, such as in the somewhat old-fashioned language usage in the Taishō era story, and then I got to the “Bonus Track Chromosome” story (again, aptly and amusingly titled for an extra story after the afterword), and found the word “ningularity” which made me snort with laughter. It's a mash of the words “ningen” (human) and “singularity” describing a turning point in what the human race is. I'm not sure how to translate such an intentionally ridiculous turn of phrase. Need to hone my pun writing skills.
How many stars? 3.75 out of 5 (Not a huge lover of short stories and I had to skip one, but it was still fun)
Would I want to translate it? Sure, if you have any suggestions on how to handle ningularity. I'm joking, I'll figure it out!