Izumi Suzuki, Terminal Boredom (Verso, 2021).
It’s been difficult, in recent years, to identify decent books by their blurbs. Woke Inc has decided what we all want and will wilfully disregard the content of a book in pursuit of its buzzwords.
“Women of colour,” to use one of these charmingly patronising little ditties, are particularly hampered by this.
No matter what they write, you can read the blurb already: “colonialism”, “patriarchy”, “whiteness”, maybe even a “queer”, if the marketing department’s on a roll.
So when Verso tell us that “in a future where men are contained in ghettoised isolation, women enjoy the fruits of a queer matriarchal utopia”, we would be correct in assuming that the opposite is in fact the case.
Izumi Suzuki is a sci-fi writer and countercultural icon in Japan. An actress and a model, she rose to fame only to have a very public break-up with her husband and, after years living in poverty with her daughter, surviving on money made from short stories, she killed herself in 1986 at the age of 37.
With that act, icon status was assured.
Her writing is quirky and off-kilter. A mix of high concept and low life – reminiscent of cyberpunk, only she’s writing a decade in advance of it – with silliness, jokes and wackiness intermingles with astute observations on relationships, sex, and childhood in a media age.
She is not afraid of the transgressive, but neither does she fetishize it.
The first story, “Women and Women”, to which the blurb refers, is hardly a “queer matriarchal utopia”. An all-woman society is presented as a cycle of hopeless frustrations, betrayals, gossip and ignorance.
Men exist in manga and anime, but they are softies, with emerald eyes and fluffy bangs who love to talk about their emotions.
When the class takes a trip to the ghetto they finally see some real men. They are dirty and dishevelled, with eyes glazed with hopelessness and a tendency to “hug on to” the girls.
It’s only when the protagonist meet a boy in the wild and, following him home, he “hugs on” to her, when she finally finds some satisfaction in her life. A deep secret, yes, and one she discovers to her peril, but one that leaves us in no doubt about the function of this story.
Suzuki’s protagonists like men, and her writing is acutely aware of the differences between the sexes, and how stultifying life without romance can be.
Marries couples use simulations to bring back the spark. Girls fall in love with aliens and follow them back to their planets, even while they plan an invasion of Earth. Aliens themselves act out being human, in love with human culture even though we’ve been dead for millennia.
“Terminal Boredom”, the story from which the collection is named, is the most chilling and prescient of the entire collection.
It’s set in a future where media has developed such that young people no longer engage with anything outside of simulations, and even these they find boring. They are eternally bored. Teenage lovers are too tired for sex, and eventually forget that they are lovers. Work is entirely optional.
When the young people look at their parents, they can see that their parents are “working” and that they “care about things”, but they cannot understand them.
It’s not even that they hold them in contempt. Caring about things irl has simply become so old-fashioned it’s inconceivable to them.
They look on semi-admiringly, as you might to a ninety-year-old grandparent who still goes to church.
The protagonist’s perception of the real world as something boring, old-fashioned, or even quaint is so convincingly drawn that it’s hard to believe it was written forty years before social media.
Our young people today live in a world behind screens. It’s a world veering wildly between rage, desolation and ecstasy. The internet has the mind of a fourteen-year-old, and even we older people turn into children when we use it.
But after we log off (who am I kidding? We don’t ever log off – we just momentarily avert our eyes) what is left?
A world of terminal boredom, Suzuki tells us. A world that hasn’t been optimised to boost serotonin. Just stuff that old people do, strange and unknown.
Terminal Boredom is radical writing of the old school. Prepare to be offended, and have your ideologies questioned. She is kicking at the door of the future, and the blows only get uglier and uglier.
- Joe Darlington