"To be alive or not, what's the difference?"
"Well, I think as long as you are alive, someone besides you wants to meet you. To be alive is a keyword to let other people feel like that".
"Labyrinth in Arm of Morpheus"
So I actually spent quite some time cleaning up the code of the Library, but that is one of the few things readers here actually can't see. I once made a horrible editing mistake, leaving me with an enormous series of [open] tags at the beginning of the list and the [closing] tags spread randomly across the code. The code was just a total mess. For the reader, everything looked alright, but it was getting harder and harder for me to add entries in the library without upsetting the tags. It's clean now, but what an absolutely horrible job it is to go through that enormous list. Yes, there are double entries for writers and non-novel works (i.e. the Detective Conan movies are mentioned twice, once by Aoyama Goushou and once by the movies), but still, I write too much.
Anyway.... The fact that my first contact with Mori Hiroshi actually isn't Subete Ga F Ni Naru (The Perfect Insider), is in a way special, I guess. I for one wouldn't have guessed that it would not be The Perfect Insider, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Meaning I finally listened to NHK Youth Adventure's radio drama adaptation of Mori's Meikyuu Hyakunen no Suima (English title: Labyrinth in Arm of Morpheus), the second novel in the 100 Years series. I've had the drama on my mp3 player for just a little bit shorter than 100 years. The 100 Years series is set in the near future, in the twenty-second century. Technological advances have solved all of the world's energy problems. Human society has split itself up in small city-scale self-governing states spread over the globe. our protagonist is Saeba Michiru, a journalist who travels from town to town with his Walkalone partner (= android) Roidy to write up on the many quaint states.
Ile San Jacques is an island that was closed off from the outside world for many, many years. Having found out that his deceased girlfriend Akira once visited this island, Michiru asked for permission to enter the city for an article and was much to his own surprise actually allowed into Ile San Jacques. Arriving there, Michiru and Roidy are surprised to find out that the queen-dowager of Ile San Jacques bears an uncanny resemblance to the queen of Lunatic City, visited in the previous novel. During their visit to the palace, the chief monk is found murdered. The decapitated body lies in the middle of a mandala drawn with sand, not disturbed at all. Who could have chopped off the monk's head and gotten away with it without leaving a trace? Does it has something to do with the muddy past of Ile San Jacques, that says it once lay in the middle of a sandy field until the sea rose overnight to turn it into an island?
This is a really difficult story to rate. One problem I had with this story was that it is strongly connected with the first novel in the 100 Years series Joou no Hyakunen Misshitsu (God Save the Queen) and I unfortunately was not able to find that radio drama. The events that took place there seem to have a very strong influence on the behavior of the characters in this story, but lacking that backgound information, the first half of the drama was very confusing. A lot of the background information that is considered common knowledge within the story actually came as a shock to me when I first heard it, making it hard to keep up with the story developments at time. For not only was I, as a listener, trying to keep up with the whole world that was considered common knowledge within this story, I also had to keep up with Michiru who, as a visitor to Ile San Jacques, also had to learn about that mysterious world.
Lack of proper knowledge of the background setting also prevented me from really getting into a puzzle-solving mood. Unlike with The Caves of Steel, I was never sure what was technological possible in this world and what was not. Labyrinth in Arm of Morpheus is a science fiction fantasy, so with a very dreamy atmosphere controlling the whole world and in a world where it is hard to decide what is feasible or not, I don't feel comfortable in really challenging a murder mystery. In the end, the motive (and the method) of the murder indeed hinged on the science-fiction end of things, but it was a solution that was definitely more satisfying had I first read / listened to God Save the Queen.
Which is not to say that this was a disappointing story. I actually love these kind of science fiction fantasies. With a traveller with a robotic partner visiting different city-states with their own rules and characteristics, Labyrinth in Arm of Morpheus reminds of Kino no Tabi which is never a bad thing (I guess the non-Japanese example would be... Sliders?). The setting also allows the writer to become a bit philosophical, which works very well in Labyrinth in Arm of Morpheus, as the discussion is actually connected to the murder.
I did enjoy the story in the end, but more as science fiction fantasy than a proper mystery. This is probably also because I haven't read/listened to God Save the Queen, but I sure am interested now and also in seeing a rumored third and final entry in this series.
Oh, and it was at first a bit distracting to have Takayama Minami in the role of Michiru. Takayama in the role of a detective?
Original Japanese title(s): 森博嗣 （原） 『迷宮百年の睡魔』