The chapter titles alone show the seriousness of intent of The Next Continent's journey into space exploration and colonisation. Part 1 is entitled 'Feasibility Study and Draft Plan, 2025', while the opening chapter is 'Project Site and Initial Planning'. Don't be put off. The novel isn't quite as dry and academic as the business-like tone makes it sound, rather, like Hosuke Nojiri's Rocket Girls also recently published by Haikasoru, it realistically considers the prospect of further space exploration as being the preserve of commercial enterprise rather than forming part of any national government's space programme.
Unlike Rocket Girls however, which was rather more convincing in its science-fiction predictions than its human characterisation, Issui Ogawa considers the reality of building on the moon and living in space in less than ideal conditions and takes into account the impact it is likely to have on the individual as well as society in general. Here in The Next Continent, it's the Gotoba Engineering & Construction company, experts in extreme construction with developments in the Sahara, the Antarctic, the Himalayas and with deep-sea bases in the South China Seas, who are employed by a wealthy investor to create a base on the moon for people to live in, thereby establishing a Sixth Continent. Ostensibly, as the investor is the owner of a successful Japanese theme park, the project would appear to be for tourism purposes, but with it being unlikely to ever pay back on the literally astronomical amount of the investment, what is the real reason for the development?
There's no doubting the seriousness of purpose that Issui Ogawa takes towards realistically considering the possibility of commercial space exploration. Every minute detail of the vast project is considered in-depth. Spires and cities do not just pop-up on the moon by themselves, as in a traditional science-fiction adventure, but the author rather considers the requirements of transporting raw materials, the rocket technology that would be required to lift such payloads and suggest possible alternative means of construction.
Again, that might sound very dry and academic, but Issui Ogawa never loses sight of the human factor in all this science, creating fascinating and believable characters, but also recognising that it is the restless drive in the nature of humanity to explore the limits of its environment, to set itself challenges and extend its reach, that will be the determining factor that overrides the business cost/benefit model that would otherwise quash any commercial enterprise. It's about the idealisation and realisation of dreams, without which humanity would never have embarked on any seemingly impossible endeavour, and their winning out over complacency and hard-headed rationalism.
Issui Ogawa's writing, already seen in his fascinating sci-fi epic The Lord of the Sands of Time, is wonderful here, and the translation seems more fluid. He takes in the logistical considerations realistically without ever getting bogged down in too much technical detail and mixes it with human aspirations in a manner that makes the project to create a moon base credible and genuinely exciting. Sure, everything flows rather smoothly and schematically according to that timetable set out in the Table of Contents, but the author considers the risks involved, as well as the personal, commercial and international competitiveness that is bound to ensue, making each stage of the fantastic journey thrilling and gripping reading.