Terminal Boredom

Izumi Suzuki
Terminal Boredom Cover

Terminal Boredom: Stories


According to Jesse from Speculiction, this collection of short stories was the best book he read published in 2021, and he gave it 5 stars -- which doesn't happen much on his blog. Also Ola from Re-enchantment was generally impressed, albeit not as much.

Terminal Boredom collects 7 existential science fiction stories written between the mid-70ies and the mid-1980s, before Izumi Suzuki committed suicide in 1986, aged 36. Apparently she is a bit of a countercultural icon in Japan, and she had a tumultuous life, working as keypunch operator, hostess, nude model, and actor -- both in pink films as in avant-garde theater.

It is the first time her work appears in English, and the stories were translated by 6 different people: Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi and Helen O'Horan.

It's interesting that this collection is framed in feminist terms, many reviews stressing the gender content. I think this framing is more dictated by marketing in our own times than the actual foundations of the stories themselves. While gender is a theme, no doubt, I would not say it is Suzuki's focus, not at all.

Suzuki's focus seems to be the protagonists of her stories, and most of them are cynical sociopaths: emotionally numb, bored, blunt, fatalist, trying to fit in, acting their roles, detached, doubting happiness, aping others. "Another habit of hers: producing long strings of borrowed thoughts she hasn't bothered digesting." & "The performance had just become a part of my personality."

The characters seem nihilists, but not of the positive, life affirming variant. The knowledge that Suzuki felt the urge to quit her real life made me think of her protagonists as variants of herself.

This collection definitely has merit. There is indeed -- as Jesse pointed out -- a fair amount of psychological meat on the bone. But for me, not enough to overcome the main problem I had with these stories: their monotony, psychologically.

One could look at this repetition as a thorough examination of a certain mental state, observed in different contexts, sure, but it didn't grab me enough. Maybe that was because I felt the prose to be a bit off at times -- hard to explain, again a taste thing, and I'm not sure whether it is due to Suzuki, the translators, or a certain quality of Japanese: I'm guessing a combination of all three factors. Maybe because the writing itself was a bit detached, so that I didn't really connect.

Suzuki presents her characters as is, without judgement. Emotions are described, but Suzuki never goes to the root of things: why do these characters feel the way they feel? Or maybe there are no reasons, other than that they were born in a particular way that doesn't align with the societies they live in. "Different kinds of people belong in different kinds of worlds."

You can sample a Suzuki story -- The Walker, not in this collection -- for free at the Granta website.

More speculative fiction review on Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It