What is there left to say about Koji Suzuki that I haven't already said in my reviews of every other novel he's released in English? Have I not praised him enough? Is he not satisfied that he is one of the few authors working today who has the ability to make me drop what I'm doing and go immediately to their newest release despite whatever else I had meant to read next? There are so few of those authors publishing--Stephen King and Clive Barker the only other two on that list--that it's quite an honor, when you consider how many unread books line the library in my house. And yet Suzuki still isn't satisfied and continually looks for new ways I can lavish praise on him.
Take for instance his latest US release EDGE. Labeled by the author as a novel of "quantum horror", the thing reads in equal parts like a horror novel, a nonfiction account of the history of the universe, a science fiction epic and a handbook on understanding complicated math formulas. Really, Koji Suzuki? You couldn't be satisfied with just writing another killer novel?
In this novel, Saeko Kuriyama has been hired by the director of an upcoming tv special focusing on mysterious disappearances around the world, with the first case being the Fujimura's. A year earlier, the entire family suddenly vanished from their house. Glasses were left half full, bathwater still in the tub, it was as if the parents and their two children just vanished into thin air. Saeko had written a very well-researched and informed article on the family and it's her expertise on not only this particular case, but her skill as a writer as well, that gets her this job. But it's not all just hard work and dedication: Saeko's got some experience with the subject matter. Fifteen years earlier, her father vanished. She spent a considerable amount of money searching for him, but no trace was ever found.
As the crew delves into the mystery of the missing Fujimura's, they learn of more cases of people disappearing mysteriously in the area. Through research and a tad bit of luck, they discover all the disappearances are connected by having occurred on local fault lines during periods of extreme sunspot activity.
What do fault lines and sunspots have to do with missing people? About the same thing missing people have to do with the fact that the value of pi is no longer what is once was. A standard computer program, one regularly used to test new computers, discovers a pattern in the value of pi, a pattern where before none had existed, and the implications don't bode well for the structure of the universe. As the basic laws of mathematics begin to crumble, Saeko and her director Hashiba unearth more and more clues that, before night's end, it's not just going to be a few random people in the area who are missing, but that it's very likely reality itself is changing.
In order to discover what's happening, hopefully in time to save herself, Saeko must go back to the day her father disappeared and learn what really happened to him.
This is what I love about Suzuki's work. It's not enough that there's a cursed videotape, but he somehow figures out a way to explain in very plausible terms how it was created and how it then goes on to become a cancer wherein the movie made from the book written about the videotape also has the power to kill, this time on a much larger scale. And he makes it work.
In his first novel PARADISE, he writes about two prehistoric lovers who become separated and who only, thousands of years later, are reunited through their genetic descendents, and he makes it work. And he makes it one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever read.
Now he's writing about the deterioration of MATH. Math doesn't change. Two and two is FOUR, period. But the way Suzuki writes about it, the way he explains it, and the way he somehow integrates the study of math into a lecture on the history of the development of the EYE and how without vision there would be no language, he makes it work.
EDGE was not an easy novel to read. Suzuki laid it on pretty thick with the science, sometimes to the detriment of the plot--or so it seemed--but in the end was able to tie everything together so you realize that, yes, that earlier bit about Saeko's father's musings on mathematics and the universe and brain development and ancient ruins, it all mattered. Every single word of it. And it's novels like this, and writers like Koji Suzuki, that remind me just how uneducated I really am. How simple. How dumb. How complacent.
One of my problems with Suzuki has been his reliance on coincidence, or the way his characters have of simply jumping to the right conclusion when it serves the purpose of the plot. It was a problem I had with SPIRAL and it also appears in EDGE. I wish I could fault the novel or the author for it, too, but in the end he just turns in such a good book that I can't hold things like that against him. In fact, I hate to admit I think it's actually kind of brave of him. In cases like those, I think if I were writing it I'd have labored and worried and stressed over how to get this same information across to the characters and make it seem completely natural and unnoticeable, but Suzuki has no problem just giving the information to his characters in an albeit roundabout way, but still much more straightforward than I would have had the guts to do. And, once again, he makes it work.
I don't detect a lot of range in his characters, they all seem to be standard Japanese clichés. There's the successful businessman, the professional woman, with everyone else serving to exist only as periphery characters in this drama the two main stars have playing out. Personally, however, I feel this reliance on such stock characters has more to do with Suzuki's own life and the world he is used to, and less with any lack of imagination on his part. We write the characters we know. One look at some of the plots he's come up with--you can't read a book like LOOP and say he doesn't have a very vivid imagination.
The thing I think I most admire about Suzuki, and this is something clearly very very evident in EDGE, is how he doesn't go for the cheap scare. His monsters aren't hiding in the closet, they're not mysterious beasts that could be stalking you this very moment--if such things really existed. No, Suzuki seems to take great pleasure in explaining the encroaching doom found in his novels in very precise scientific terms, his efforts to say this isn't a monster in the dark, this is the real physical world and it's out to harm you. It doesn't matter if you don't believe in boogeymen, you believe in the physical laws of the universe and reality and THOSE are things out to get you. Under Suzuki's expert guidance I fully believe the danger in EDGE is a very real danger and will happen. Hopefully not as soon as he predicts in this book, but I'd certainly put a lot more stock in THIS novel coming to fruition than I would that there's an ancient shape shifting killer of children hiding in the sewers of a small town.
And that's where the "quantum" part of the author's own label for his novel comes in. This isn't science fiction, it's science horror, a terrible danger is approaching, but it's a danger that comes from the real laws of reality.
Every single time I think Suzuki has reached the heights of his imagination, that I think he's told the strongest horror story he possible could, he somehow finds a way to say to me oh you thought THAT was horror? No, no, THIS is horror.
And he makes it work.