By Tatsuaki Ishiguro (Vertical; 2015)
Readers familiar with the medically informed horror fiction of Michael Blumlein will find a most welcome equivalent in this collection by Japan’s Tatsuaki Ishiguro. That Ishiguro has an extensive medical background is evident in these tales, which are nearly all presented in the form of medical journals, complete with relentlessly clinical syntax, yet with vivid portrayals of desperation, obsession and madness.
This tendency is especially evident in “It Is With the Deepest Sincerity that I Offer Prayers…,” the first and most innovative of BIOGENESIS’ tales. It’s presented as a formal inquiry, complete with graphs and photographs, into the unexplained death of two doctors who were researching the extinction of a winged mouse. The prose never loses its clinical edge, yet the story is unerringly gripping, horrific and deeply sad.
Nearly matching its power is “Midwinter Weed.” Its subject is a rare and mysterious plant that lives on human blood. In search of a specimen of said plant, the story’s narrator is drawn to the story of Kokichi Nakarai, a teacher who during WWII became dangerously–and fatally–obsessed with the weed. As in the previous entry, “Midwinter Weed” is related in a resolutely unemotional manner, yet its impact is anything but. The story also contains a compelling portrayal of WWII-era Japan, whose fortunes roughly parallel those of the unfortunate Mr. Nakarai.
Another standout story is “Snow Woman,” an investigation of the life of a seemingly cold-blooded lady whose existence is similar to, and may indeed have inspired, the well-known Japanese legend of the snow woman (related in KWAIDAN and elsewhere). The tale is once again notable for its mock-medical journal format, although the final story, “The Hope Shore Sea Squirt,” is related in a more conventional, straightforward manner.
It is, unsurprisingly, the weakest of the book’s contents, marred by an underdeveloped and unresolved narrative involving the apparent healing properties of the titular sea squirts. Nonetheless, the tale contains the same oft-kilter readability of its fellows, and even if it doesn’t match their power is still stronger than most anything else you’ll read these days in the horror or science fiction field.