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Harmony Paperback – 5 Aug 2010

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Product Description

About the Author

Keikaku (Project) Itoh was born in Tokyo in 1974. He graduated from the Musashino Art University. In 2007, he debuted with Gakusatsu Kikan(Genocidal Organs), and took first prize of the "Best SF of 2007" in SF Magazine. He is also the author of Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots, a Japanerse-language novel based on the popular video game series. After a long battle with cancer, Itoh passed away in March 2009. Harmony was revised by Itoh while in the hospital, receiving treatment for the disease.

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Amazon.com: 21 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Creative, intriguing, and more than a little gut-wrenching 3 Sept. 2010
By M. Garrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The book is far more complex and amazing than the product description makes it sound.

In a world where human life is a precious global resource that must be protected at all costs, everything about a person -- choices, emotions, biochemistry, cell metabolism -- is monitored and assessed by computer systems, 24/7. A variety of complex feedback loops are in place to ensure optimum conservation of that resource, including everything from good old-fashioned peer pressure to mandatory inpatient psychiatric treatment.

The story focuses around Tuan Kirie, and flashes back and forth between her troubled adolescence in a utopian/dystopian Japan and the global crisis she's trying to unravel as an adult working for what is essentially the police and investigation arm of the World Health Organization. Their society conditions everyone to focus on the social welfare of everyone around them, even to the extent of utilizing nanotechnology to trigger internal warnings when your emotions are reaching socially inappropriate levels. Tuan has never fit in, though, and has long sought out ways to harm herself as an act of rebellion, and frequently beats herself up for never having been strong enough to complete suicide.

I don't want to go into much of what actually happens with the plot beyond this set-up, because I don't want to spoil the experience of having it all unfold. I will say that the book does a great job of bringing together technology, philosophy, cognitive science, and sociology, and does so through the lens of a main character that is developed in a very tangible way.

There are a few plot points that irritated me, mostly in the way of unnecessary scientific black boxes. There are a few scenes that seem too neat and contrived. But as a whole, the book pulls together beautifully.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
One of the Best Dystopian Novels I've Read! 16 Oct. 2010
By Nicola Mansfield - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Reason for Reading: I love post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels and at the same time I was very intrigued in reading a Japanese novel in translation. So far my Japanese reading has been confined to manga.

This book won the Japanese Awards: the Seiun Award and the Japan SF Award and is a highly literary piece of work. A brilliant work of dystopia that looks at a future world that is unlike anything I've ever read before and is also completely viable. The publisher's summary does not do justice to the story at all and I was not prepared for the deep philosophical, scientific, ethical, sociological and technological issues that would be covered in this fairly slim volume.

I couldn't even begin to find the words to describe the plot as it is so intricate and multi-layered. Instead, let me describe the world. There has been an apocalypse; bombs have dropped and a large portion of the world's population killed. It is now about 60 years later and the civilized world has no governments, or ruling kingdoms, instead the world is managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and throughout each country there are thousands of admedistration units catering to small sections of the population. People have been implanted with a medical monitoring device which constantly measures physical and emotional health, sending out modules of medications or enzymes to fix the problem straight away. Thus no one in this world is ever sick, hurts themselves, or becomes mentally unstable. Privacy is the ultimate bad word; one you would whisper and make sure no one else heard you say. Everybody has a health output hovering over their head so all can see how each other is doing, and everyone is kind and thoughtful to others because the most precious resource in this population depleted world is human life. As one walks along in life your implant will shield you from emotional distress, should something come up that would interfere with your specific emotional make-up a filtering process would go into place and you would not even see the offending item: painting, magazine, store, etc. Everyone is in perfect health as your diet is streamlined for your consumption, and the correct foods delivered to your home, within your budget. Menus at restaurants bring up a display telling the nutritional content of the food and what is within your parameters. Food with no nutritional value does not exist anymore. And the list goes on ....

Some people are perfectly content with this Utopian society of perfect health, peace and kindness. Never having to make uncomfortable choices and feeling as though they are truly being a valuable resource of society. Others realize this for the totalitarian society that it is and there are a few countries that have not joined the WHO, mainly Russia and then small scattered countries in Africa and the Middle East, which continue to resist. But there are others on the inside who want out, they've read books and found out what life was like before the Maelstorm and recognize individual freedom is missing from their society. Three teenage girls become a part of this resistance when they realize the only way to hurt the establishment is to hurt the most precious commodity, their human life. So they make a pact to commit suicide together. This is only the beginning, though. What will become at risk is the very essence that makes human beings human.

The book is written in a back and forth flow as the main character tells her story now as she works as an agent and flashes back to her childhood and early adult years as she was one of those girls who promised to commit suicide but obviously failed. The book is also written within a sort of HTML code called "Emotional-in-Text Markup Language" and the text is contained within the coded tags and within the text will be other tags with directions, sort of like a play. It's strange at first, but you get used to it as a reader and when you find out it's purpose on the last page ... well it is stunning.

This book really deserves more publicity on this continent. It is one of the best dystopian novels I've read of late and so very different from the other stuff being written today which often has an environmental political agenda behind its cause of the apocalypse. I think I would put this up there with Brave New World, completely different stories mind, but equal in literary merit and psychological impact and thought.

I would like to mention that the very beginning pages do contain some quite vulgar language (which had me thinking I wouldn't be reading the book much further) but it is mostly contained to those pages. Of course, there are expletives here and there throughout the book but don't let the first pages put you off, if language is of a concern to you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An Amazing Read 14 July 2011
By Amanda Perkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is truly an amazing book. It's a full book, plenty of action, great characters, and a unique style. It's written as though you're experiencing it from a computer in that it is full of HTML and it uses that to its advantage. The reader is given emotions and insight through the tags and this helps to really bring the book to life. I'm sorry I put it off on my TBR pile for so long.

In more ways than one, this book makes a lot of valid points about our society and where its potential lies. It is not hard to see the potential of the WHO of Tuan's world coming to a reality in our not so distant future. I feel I would be like Tuan and break out of society's mold, putting myself out there into potentially dangerous situations for the possibility of securing alcohol or tobacco, vices we take for granted today, just to feel different.

But there is also a part of me that desires what the WHO offers, a way to maintain your existence without having to make all the decisions yourself. The computers tell you what to eat, monitor your vitals, never getting sick, and while that can be good for a while, I wonder if people could really exist like that for any long term period of time. Perhaps if, as Tuan's predecessors experienced, something extremely horrible happens and it is the way found to prevent it happening again.

I suggest you pick this up if you enjoy a good dystopian novel. It is truly amazing and I was looking forward to reading more of the author's work when I finished. Alas, when I read the small blurb at the end about the author, I learned that he passed away a few years ago, and that this was the only book. If nothing else it is a book to read and savor as there will be no more to come. And if that's not enough of a selling point for you, it has received rave reviews and won a number of awards. It's just that good.

Review originally published on my review site: UrbanBachelorette.com
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Strong Dystopian Sci-Fi Effort 18 May 2011
By Daniel Powell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Satoshi Ito (Project Itoh) did what most writers hopeto do: he wrote a story that resonates and will likely flourish within the science fiction canon. Harmony is a complex novel--a dystopic analysis of the nanny state in which life is so sacred that it's almost cheap.

The premise is well rendered: most of the world subscribes to a mental adaptation system controlled by the Admedistration. Everything, from nutrition to exercise to emotion and excitement, is regulated and watched by a network of agencies whose goal is to ensure harmony (read: homogeneity).

Itoh's tale surely shines in the first third. Tuan is a protagonist one can relate to. She's smart but flawed; sentimental but cold. The beauty of the story is that we are also drawn to our antagonist, Miach, whose recollections of previous cultures, and her love of history, are simply fantastic. These sections make the narrative work.

WatchMe is the software. Tuan and Miach are the unwilling pawns in its wake. This is a story that hits home on a lot of levels. What would life be like without subversion? How would it be if we were all aware of our situations, 100% of the time?

The third act was satisfying, but it was a little underwhelming after such a strong approach to exposition and characterization. Still, it's one of the best books I've read in recent years and I can see it having a far-reaching impact on specultive fiction.

Ito passed away before he could appreciate the results of this novel. I think this is the rock, thrown into the pond, that leaves waves crashing on the shore. If you are into science fiction, you owe it yourself to read this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I can see why this got nominated for the Phillip K. Dick award this year... 3 Jun. 2011
By the golden witch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I can see why this was nominated for this year's Phillip K. Dick award.

Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres, and this book really takes the top spot of some of the scariest dystopian fiction that I've ever read. And I've read plenty of it (starting with Huxley's "Brave New World" at age 13).

I'm definitely not going to give spoilers on this one, because I think that everyone should give this book a read. Much in the vein of Otsuichi's writing, Itoh's prose is short and brutal and straight to the point, with the opening of the book much like a punch to the gut. But not in a bad way - that I have to emphasize - but more in the "open your eyes and pay attention, dammit" sort of way. Even though this book takes place in the future (with a slightly alternate past), the echoes with current society are strong and frightening - a portent of what we may become should we continue to be so health-obsessed in global society as a whole.

It's a shame that that we'll never get another book from Itoh (unless they find something else that they haven't already posthumously published) - he had true talent. I can only hope that Viz/Haikasoru goes ahead and translates the rest of his (sadly small) bibliography.

(crossposted to librarything and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)
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