Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas (2016)

 Bald New World and United States of Japan both strongly have the potential to be the basis for great movies.


One of the great rewards of book blogging for seven years is that it has afforded me the opportunity to follow the careers of writers.  Three years ago I had the pleasure of reading a great collection of short stories, Watering Heaven, the first book by Peter Tieryas.  Here were my closing words in my post on Watering Heaven:

I really liked the stories in Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas. They contain strong elements of surrealism, I think Alfred Jarry would like them, and magic realism.  The stories are very mega-city urban and area very tuned into how social media and its permeation of the world connects us no less or more  than it isolates us.  There is a preoccupation with death and suicide in these stories. .  There are a lot of hookers and no happy old fashioned relationships or marriages accept maybe of a character's grandparents and even that may have been a sham.  The use of language is marvelous, the details are perfect.  I know of no other writer as attuned to how social media is taking over the world as Tieryas.

Tieryas's  novel Bald New World gets my award for most intriguing title for a 21th century debut novel.  The story begins on the day everyone in the world goes bald.  I read this book twice before I felt prepared to talk about it.  I will share my thoughts a bit as I think United States of Japan appears to be greatly expanding interest in the work of Tieryas and because there are thematic and rhetorical overlaps between his three works that will, I think, help to deepen our understanding of his new book, United States of Japan.

There is just so much in Bald New World to like it is hard for me to feel I can adequately react to the book.  The narrative covers some twenty years and is kind of centered on two experimental film makers trying to produce movies about this new world.  The richest people are now the wig manufacturers.  Much time is spent in this world trying to understand why everyone lost their hair, the blame is placed on everything from the extreme environmental pollution of the world to seeing it as some kind of divine punishment. There is a plot about hair restoration.  Poverty is extreme, corruption is rampant and life is very cheap. 

The novel also deals with how social media and gadgets are totally changing how we live, in all ways.  A leading sport is cricket fighting where people somehow lock up mentally with crickets.  One of the lead characters was once a famous cricket fighter (think Avatar) and when he gets in trouble he agrees to fight again.  The scenes where he enters into the consciousness of a cricket are really brilliant.  The scenes of the fights and the mating with crickets were enough to make one feel the revulsion of this brave new world.

The hysteria now being created by The Fox Network about Ebola some how reminds me of the parts of Bald New World in which we learn of the many overt and covert ways the very rich and their minions try to control the masses by distracting them from their real problems.   The role of the army in wars against African "enemies" as a last chance employer and feeder of vendor wealth for sure is see-able as a commentary on the foreign and domestic priorities of the United States.

Blad New World would make a great movie.  It is very visually oriented, fast moving, has some nasty sex scenes (not just the ones where you feel you are having sex with crickets!) with beautiful women, lots of diverse locations, interesting villains, strong women and I would love to see scenes of all the ways people cope with being bald. A brilliant filming of the first day of baldness could be an immortal classic segment in the right hands. There are prison escapes and plot twists abound.  This is a very dark, brilliant and at times very funny book.  I can almost guarantee you will never be bored reading Bald New World.

My expectations and hope for United States of Japan were very high.  The work exceeded my expectations.   The book begins in California, in 1948, now part of The United States of Japan.  In this alternate history plot, the United States does not enter the war in 1941 but waits several years.  In this time Germany and Japan become more and more powerful. The Japanese have the time to attack the west coast of the United States with nuclear weapons.  After the United States surrenders tne Eastern part is ruled by the Germans and everything west of the Rocky Mountains is part of The United States of Japan. 

The novel covers about forty years, from 1948 to 1988.  In California we see the extreme cruelty of the Japanese rulers of California and the brutality of their soldiers.  History is rewritten to suggest the Japanese were completely blameless in their actions during the war and American school children are taught to revere the Emperor. Any expression of doubt about the divinity of the actions of Japan, seen as directed by their divine emperor, by a Japanese is seen as treason.  The culture among Japanese in California is one full of informants dominated by fear of secret police units.

The opening segments, set in San Jose, California are just brilliantly chilling and ring completely true to me. It was so much easy to visualize troops of young Japanese soldiers striking terror in Americans. I was brought to reflect on how the Americans saved millions of Japanese from starvation after they surrendered in World War Two and how they help  restore the Japanexe economy and in fact brought a level of freedom to Japan never known or even conceived of under Japanese military rule.  One of the deepest cultural questions brought to mind by United States of Japan is how a country where beauty has been cultivated for many centuries could at the same time produce leaders and followers of incredible brutality.   Of course this is not unique to Japan.

As time goes by in California and elsewhere, American culture and history begin to be forgotten, replaced with ideas created to control the Americans.  Few Americans born since 1948 have any true memory of American history.  However are underground groups of Americans who wage guerrilla warfare against the Japanse.  Much of the recreational time of people is taken up by video games and someone has created a subversive video game that is very popular that depicts what things would be like had the Americans won the war.   The lead chzracter and tne driver of the plot is Captain Ishimaru who is in charge of finding out who is distributing these service video games.  An alternative smart phone device plays a big part in the life of the Japanese in California.  

I don't want to give away the intriguing plots, surprising twists of events, interesting characters and abounding social satire found in United States of Japan.  I found the ending deeply moving.  I did not see it coming but it was a wonderful close. 

Besides being a lot of fun to read, there are some good sex scenes, characters to hate and some to feel sympathy with, I think we can read this novel as a commentary about how the surface culture and seductive power of social  media can play into the hands of forces seeking to control societies to put in place malignant private agendas.  

I totally enjoyed United States of Japan, it is exciting with lots of interesting developments, well done characters and presents a very credible alternative historical narrative. I won't tell you what has happened to Catalina Island but you will be shocked.  

Official Author Bio


Peter Tieryas Liu is the author of United States of Japan (Angry Robot Books, 2016), Bald New World (Perfect Edge Books, June 2014),  Watering Heaven (Signal 8 Press, 2012), and Dr. 2. His debut novel, Bald New World, was nominated for the prestigious Folio Prize, listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books of 2014, and named one of the Best Books of Summer 2014 from Publisher Weekly in a star review. Watering Heaven was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Int’l Short Story Award. He has a variety of work published in places like Electric Literature, Evergreen Review, Gargoyle, Hobart, Indiana Review, Kotaku, Kyoto Journal, New Letters, New Orleans Review, Toad Suck Review, Tor.comand ZYZZYVA. He is also a VFX artist who has worked on films like Men in Black 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, Alice in Wonderland, and Hotel Transylvania and he has worked as a technical writer for LucasArts, the gaming division of LucasFilm.

OK, that was my third person bio. =)

As for information about this blog, The Whimsy of Creation gets its name from one of my favorite stories that I published at the Evergreen Review. I’ve worked in films, games, and writing, so this blog will focus on all three areas. That means you’ll see book reviews, movie reviews, musings on games, quotes from books I’m reading, links to stories, and photographs Angela (my wife) and I take as we travel to various places in the world. I try to post at least once or twice a day and look forward to interacting with everyone out there. If you need to reach out to me about any business related issues, just ping me somewhere =)

And if you want to connect via social media, you can either follow this wordpress, follow on @TieryasXu Twitter:, or Goodreads me.

I have great faith in the future of Peter Tieryas.  I am sure one day I will be standing in line to go see a movie made from one of his works.  

Mel u

No comments: