It’s time for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s look back on great sci-fi of the past, and I thought we’d go back to 1980 when a little book called ‘Coin Locker Babies’ was first published in Japan.
That name may not mean a lot to us, but at the time, there was an epidemic of unwilling mothers doing the unthinkable: leaving their children in coin lockers at train stations. Sometime these babies died before they were found, if they weren’t, they ended up in the system.
I know what you’re thinking. A sci-fi book is called Coin Locker Babies? Did these lockers magically give babies android powers? Is that where this is going?
The idea of coin locker babies is a really just a conceit to connect to the two main characters, Hashi and Kiku, who end up at the same orphanage going through the same sort of MKUltra-like therapy which involves being forced to listening to in utero heartbeats. The book has searing social commentary on Japanese culture in the 70s and 80s, so it is no surprise that when Ryu Murakami thought of a way to give a profound connection to his two main characters, he used one of the social problems of the day.
There isn’t a plot of ‘Coin Locker Babies’ in the traditional sense we Westerner’s think. Instead, the plot sort of meanders between surreal, and philosophical with characters that are more extreme than Wes Anderson ever thought of.
Hashi becomes a bisexual rockstar who purposely hurts his vocal chords in order to get a new kind of singing voice. Kiku becomes a pole vaulter, who ends up dating a model who converts her house into a swamp for the sake of her beloved pet crocodile.
The setting is also confusing, yet detailed, and oh so interesting as you try to determine the politics of the country. Tokyo itself is a blighted new place called Toxitown. All in all, with these larger than life characters, and intense landscape, it’s pretty easy to see what Ryu Murakami thought the culture of the 80s would lead to.
The book follows Kiku and Hashi, and their diverging (yet always merging) paths that lead them to murder, and then eventually the destruction of Tokyo, and then more murder. The plot twists and turns in too many shocking ways to really recount here, but needless to say, it takes you through a dark, cyberpunk Japan that you will never forget. If you like your sci-fi dark and a little disturbing, this is definitely the book for you.
And I’m serious about that. I read this book when I was sixteen, over ten years later the imagery left such an indelible mark on me that I still tell people about it.