Out of the blue review – Hyperart: Thomasson by Akasegawa Genpei
I experienced a disturbing event today as I was walking down a familiar street, I looked around and saw the street in a completely new way. Why was this? I was looking for Thomassons. What is a Thomasson you might ask yourself? Well it is a phrase coined by Akasegawa Genpei, a Japanese artist and author, that describes a useless architectural feature that is still regularly maintained. These are things like railings for stairs that have been moved, but inexplicably the railing has a new coat of paint. In Seattle there is a great one, I had driven by it for years and never had a name for it. But, downtown there is an elevated piece of roadway that goes to nowhere. It ends twenty feet above the ground jutting out over the sound.
Now, I can understand how the book might not be to everyone’s liking, the author has a great conversational tone that comes through even in translation, and an excitement that is contagious, but at the same time is also a professional conceptual artist. He is willing to jump from digressions into Japanese baseball, art philosophy, and the quirks of how a Thomasson came into being without losing a beat.
What I loved about this book, is that it managed to do what a lot of fantasy does not do really well: it made the normal completely new again. It took something completely mundane, the buildings I see every day, and made me see them in a new light. We don’t force everyone reading a book to learn a whole new language, we don’t force them to learn new non-verbal clues, or if we do, we don’t make them learn everything.
Look at a series like the Ancillary novels (Ancillary Justice, Sword, and what ever the new one is) and how tea is used. Tea is both something most everyone, even if they don’t like it, is familiar with. But, here in the Ancillary universe, it has completely different meaning, the act of offering tea, or not offering tea, or what glasses the tea is served in carry meaning not just to the characters in the book, but to the reader as well. When Breq does not offer tea to someone or has it served in something less than the best china, you are like: Oh, snap, you go Breq, or something like that.
Though, you see what I am trying to say, the tea is the exact same tea we drink here (you can even order Ancillary tea online), but it has been re-contextualized, given new meaning and made new again for this book.
Finding ways to do this, taking a solid and understandable object and making it new again, not by changing it, but by changing the context it is in this is truly powerful. You give the reader something to hold onto, but you also throw them out naked in the woods all alone.