Following in the vein of alternate history works, like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, comes United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas in which, well, you can probably guess it, Japan was the winner of World War II and took control of the United States (the West Coast, at least). This book follows two agents of the Emperor. One, Akiko, is a tireless believer in the infallibility of the Emperor and executes anyone who questions His divinity. The other is Beniko (Ben), who somehow, much to Akiko’s amazement, manages to avoid execution and maintain some good graces in the military despite his being lazy, unambitious, and unwilling (or unable) to behead an enemy.
A video game has surfaced and gained in popularity called USA, in which Americans defeat the Japanese. Akiko sees it as subversive and dangerous. her superior officers won’t ban it, but take names of those who play. General Mutsuraga is missing and somehow he plays a part in this game. And Ben’s relationship with the General also seems to be important, and may answer the question as to why he has survived. But in order to find the general, Ben and Akiko will have to infiltrate the George Washington’s, the rebel American underground .
This story has a very strong Greek epic adventure feel to it. Our protagonists, Ben and Akiko, are id and ego, representing two sides of one character (that of agent of the empire). In their Greek-like journey to a very different land (San Diego, where the GW’s have set up camp), they’ll have to overcome a variety of obstacles. There’s even a scene when they, metaphorically, descend to the underworld and kill the self-proclaimed king of hell.
I liked the high drama of this Greek epic, but on the other hand, the problem with it is that it becomes very episodic. We travel with our heroes and move from moment to moment, being tossed into one scene after another with a very thin thread tying it together. You could remove any one of the scenes and it doesn’t really affect the overall arc of the story. Take away the “underworld” scene I referred to above and … it’s not a major change to get Ben and Akiko to the next moment. Take away the torture scene by a religious organization and … it doesn’t change a whole lot. Take away the actual playing of a video game moment and … it would have only a slight ripple effect.
The other problem with this episodic storytelling is that we are introduced to new characters only when their scene arrives. They spring up out of the blue and often, once their scene is done, we do not hear of them again.
I typically haven’t read much ‘alternate history’ fiction, though I’ve recently read a few things (including this) that I’ve enjoyed and have me opened up to reading more of this genre.
Peter Tieryas’ writing is crisp and I was definitely interested in the story he was telling. His characters were quite compelling. It was hard to like or dislike the protagonists – though Akiko appeared bloodthirsty and willing to kill on a whim, she was also loyal and trust-worthy. Ben seemed to be the pacifist I could relate to, though he also seemed to lack ambition or focus.
The comparisons to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle will be obvious. The comparison to Homer, or the Orpheus story are not so obvious but are also there.
Looking for a good book? United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas is an alternate history tale told in epic adventure style that will take you on bloody journey.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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United States of Japan
author: Peter Tieryas
publisher: Angry Robot