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The following is a synopsis of the 1959 novel, Daiyon kampyôki, available in English as Inter Ice Age 4, translated by E. Dale Saunders, New York, N.Y. : Perigee Books, 1981.

All page numbers refer to the version appearing in volume 4of the Abe Kôbô zensakuhin shû,Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1973. All translations are my own.

This synopsis, along with all other materials appearing on this website, is copyrighted. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

 

 

 

 

 

The protagonist of the story, Professor Katsumi, is Japan's foremost programming specialist who is put in charge of a project responsible for developing a machine capable of predicting the future. The project was initiated when the Soviet Union developed the first forecasting machine--called "Moscow I"--and demonstrated its power by providing accurate predictions of world financial markets. Given the nature of the perceived threat by the Soviets on the part of the government of Japan, Professor Katsumi was given considerable latitude in his efforts to develop the machine and was able to devote himself full-time to the project. Just as he was preparing to celebrate the first, rudimentary successes of his machine, the Soviets announced that they had developed another forecasting machine capable of even more complex predictions. Even more troubling, however, was their announcement that their new machine, "Moscow II," had predicted the realization of the first communist society in thirty years, and the downfall of the last capitalist society by the year 2050. At this point the political climate in Japan regarding Professor Katsumi's development of his forecasting machine changed abruptly. Immediately control over the machine's use was shifted to an oversight committee, which ruled, presumably out of the fear that their own machine might reach a conclusion similar to that of Moscow II, that the machine was not, in any circumstances, to be used for anything that might be considered to be related to politics. Professor Katsumi is informed that, unless he can come up with a suitably non-political subject for experimentation, the project faces cancellation.

Professor Katsumi, along with his assistant, Professor Tanomogi, struggle to find an appropriate topic, deciding in the end (with the help of the forecasting machine) to use an individual as their subject and, from data generated from observations of that individual, attempt to predict his future. The committee enthusiastically welcomes this idea, and permission to proceed is given.

Professor Katsumi and his assistant pick, at random, a middle-aged man sitting in a coffee shop as the subject for their experiment, and proceed to shadow him, collecting data on him to be fed to the forecasting machine. Their plans go awry, however, when they discover in the following day's newspaper that the subject has been murdered. Though the man's girlfriend had confessed to the killing, her story is full of inconsistencies and, fearing that suspicion might fall upon them (many people had seen them following the man, and one man had come forward with a description of the two), Katsumi and Tanomogi decide that they must find the killer before the police follow the trail of evidence back to them.

They feed the information they had collected, as well as a wide variety of physiological information gleaned from the man's corpse, into the forecasting machine and develop a computer construct of the man. Questioning the construct, they discover that the man is a an accountant, married, who had been waiting for his girlfriend at the coffee shop when they had first seen him. The house to which they had followed him, and in which he had been killed, was that of his girlfriend. Asking the construct who might want to do him injury and why, he is puzzled. He describes how he became suspicious that his girlfriend was seeing another man when she suddenly purchased an expensive carpet. Confronting her, she came up with the unlikely story that a hospital had paid her 7,000 yen to give her an abortion. Though he pressed her for more details, she refused, saying that she had been sworn to secrecy and that the penalties for breaking her oath were severe. As time went on he, being an accountant, noticed that she was bringing in far more money than would normally be possible from her job as a singer in a cabaret. When he confronted her again, she said that she got a commission from the hospital whenever she introduced another woman for an abortion. Pressing her to the point where she could no longer resist, she finally told him that the hospital used the aborted fetuses for some sort of experiments, and that they were not killed, but rather nourished and altered to form more perfect creatures. Not believing a word of her story, he told her to take him to the hospital, whereupon she replied that she would ask for permission. She later called to say that he had been given permission, and he was waiting to meet her and a person from the hospital at the cafe when they first saw him.

Katsumi then has the computer recreate the scene in which the man is murdered, but, unfortunately, he did not see his killer, nor did he have any idea who it might be. Katsumi and Tanomogi then decide to hook the girlfriend up to the machine in an attempt to get the truth out of her, but this attempt too is thwarted when the girl commits suicide, consuming a potent poison that so utterly destroys her nervous system that it is impossible even to get physiological data for the machine.

It is at this point that Tanomogi suggests that perhaps the hospital scenario is not as outlandish as it sounds, and attempts to persuade Katsumi to pursue it. Katsumi, however, dismisses it as mere fiction. His mind is changed somewhat when his wife, who is also pregnant, is tricked into getting an abortion, and is given 7,000 yen for the operation. At first Katsumi believes that it is nothing more than an elaborate plot by those opposed to the project in order to get him to stop working on the machine, but Tanomogi, who has since visited a hospital where the fetuses of animals are being genetically altered so as to enable them to survive underwater, insists that the girlfriend's story was the truth and that the hospital is doubtlessly altering the human fetuses the same way they are altering the animal fetuses. Unconvinced, but disturbed at the thought that his unborn son may be in the process of being transformed into some sort of monster, agrees to go to the hospital with Tanomogi.

At the hospital Katsumi is shown how animal fetuses are genetically altered, through controlled hormone injections at various stages of their development, in order to enable them to survive underwater. These engineered animals have gills and have fully adapted to their aquatic environment. Repulsed by what he sees as a perversion of nature, Katsumi gradually begins to accept the notion that the hospital is conducting the same experiments on human fetuses as well. After returning home he comes to the decision that he must return to the hospital, kill his aborted son before he develops into a monster, and expose the whole operation to the public. Just as he is about to leave the house with his wife, the phone rings, and it is the mysterious caller who has been trying to scare him off of the forecasting project.

The voice of the caller, Katsumi has since realized, is his own. That is, it is the voice of the forecasting machine, to which they all rights reserved had given Katsumi's voice. Someone, Katsumi concludes, must be using the machine to transmit these threatening messages. The caller, however relieves him of this mistaken perception, saying that it is not someone using the machine, but rather that it is the machine itself. The machine tells Katsumi that, although it has long since been in possession of an independent will, that that will is based on Katsumi himself. The machine says of itself, "I am a you that knows everything about you... I am only doing what you probably would if you knew your own future" (117). The machine informs him that his (not yet formulated) request for another visit to the laboratory has been granted and that someone will pick him up at five o'clock.

After a short nap, Katsumi goes out for a walk and finds that the man who had been following him up to that point is waiting for him outside of his door. The man, the machine had told him in the course of their phone conversation, was a trained assassin. The two talk, and the assassin is quite congenial despite Katsumi's understandable and visible dislike for him. The assassin follows Katsumi to a noodle shop where they both eat and, at five o'clock, the assassin tells Katsumi that it is time to go--apparently the assassin is the man they had sent to meet him.

Though Katsumi expected to be brought to the hospital laboratory, he is instead brought to his own office. All of his co-workers, as well as the head of the hospital laboratory, are gathered in the office. The group informs him that he has been sentenced to death as a result of his inability to accept the future and his intent to sabotage their aquan development operations. Before carrying out the sentence, however, the group has decided to allow him to see, via remote camera, the aquan facilities in the hope that it may change his mind and enable him to live.

At the end of the video tour of the aquan facilities, the head of the hospital explains the reasons for the development of aquans. According to predictions made by Katsumi's forecasting machine, the director says, increased submarine volcanic activity will result in the raising of the sea level. This in turn will eradicate all land-based civilizations. Thus, in order to preserve any trace of the human race, it is necessary to alter them such that they can survive underwater.

Professor Katsumi is then shown the machine's prediction of the future in aquan society. The prediction follows, in precise detail, the gradual shift from land-based to submarine civilizations. First the government moves underwater, and those remaining on land are finally informed of the existence of aquans, and their necessity in preserving the human race. The public's outrage is considerably mollified when they are informed that the aquans will be providing them with supplementary rations, and that mothers of aquan children (by now a very large percentage of the female population) will receive extra rations. Slowly the balance of power begins to shift from the land-based society to the submarine society. The aquans slowly acquire equal recognition under the law, and gradually begin to infiltrate the government. Inevitably, the dying land-based society is overwhelmed by the flourishing submarine society, and soon there is nothing left for land humans to do other than spend their days staring in specially-developed "underwater telescopes" and talk about their aquan offspring.

In the end, land disappears entirely, and the greatest accomplishments of modern civilization are left in ruins, with aquans swimming up to the underwater remains of Tokyo for weekend getaways.

The prediction comes to an end when, far in the distant future, an aquan youth, plagued by "land sickness" swims to the extremes of the ocean in the hopes of finding land. With the last of his strength he pulls himself up onto the land in the hopes of experiencing the music of the wind. Utterly exhausted and happy he dies.

Reverting back to the present, the story ends with the following lines:

Eventually, outside the door, I heard the sucking sound of the assassin's rubber soles approach. Even so, I still could not believe it. Could humans be forced to accept responsibility simply by virtue of existing? Perhaps so, I thought. In a fight between a parent and child, it is always the child that judges. Probably, the issue of intent set aside, it is a law of reality that the creator is judged by that which is created....

Beyond the door, the sound of the footsteps stopped. (172)