Action & adventure in an alternate world, and yes, giant robots mark this coming-of-age tale as Peter Tieryas returns to the world of the United States of Japan.
Take alternative history, military science fiction, coming-of-age stories and throw in the best mecha anime, action-adventure games and comics along with some classic science fiction, Japanese pop culture and thought-provoking musings on politics and war, into a literary blender and the result will be Peter Tieryas’ Mecha Samurai Empire, a truly enjoyable, engaging and exhilarating science fiction tale.
In this follow-up to United States of Japan, Tieryas returns to a world in which the Axis powers have won World War 2 and the United States is divided up between imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. It is not a sequel, because one doesn’t need to have read the previous book to enjoy Mecha Samurai Empire, the events of which occur many years after the events of the first book and follow a whole new set of characters in a self-contained standalone arc, to tell a completely new story while delving deeper into the details – large & small, technological & cultural – of this alternate world, giant mecha keep the peace and ensure order.
Born to a father who was a mecha mechanic and a mother who was a navigator on a mecha, Makoto ‘Mac’ Fujimoto – now an orphan – wants nothing more than to be a mecha pilot. There’s just one small hitch. He doesn’t belong to a rich family so he can buy his way in to – or have influential connections who can put in a word so that he can get into – the most prestigious military school in the United States of Japan, the Berkeley Military Academy. Plus, his academic scores aren’t good, but what he is good at is playing portical games and mecha sims, especially the new game, Cat Odyssey. When the not-quite-legal plan of his best friend, Hideki, to crack the imperial exams goes horribly wrong, Mac finds himself caught in events beyond his control, but those that may just possibly help further his dreams of piloting a mecha, in a time when the uneasy alliance between Japan and Germany is under a strain and crumbling, with each trying to outdo the other when it comes to mechas.
Mechas – or giant robots – form the center piece of the book’s plot & story, and of course the cinematic action-filled fights and battle scenes, but it doesn’t mean that Mecha Samurai Empire descends into mecha porn. Tieryas brings a sense of realism to the giant robots and the mecha genre as a whole. No more are the mechas at the behest of one single action hero at the controls, because Tieryas re-imagines mechas crewed by multiple people – as a tank or a battleship would – with the pilot and navigator just being two cogs in a larger wheel.
And to take it further, not all mechas are the same in Mecha Samurai Empire, or serve the same purpose. Tieryas presents the history of how the mechas came to be and details out the way the mechas evolved and work, and the purposes they serve without it looking like an infodump. For instance, There is the older Kaneda-class mecha, the Torturer-class, the six-legged Crab-class mechas and most of all, the new Leviathan-class mecha, one which you’d get if you crossed a samurai with a stealth jet and gave it curves like a racing car. And with different types of mecha – and their crew – come different fighting styles, which influences a particular mecha’s battle strategy, from close combat to stealth to long range tactics. Meanwhile, the Germans have their own giant robots that fuse technology and biology – the towering, fearsome bio-mechs which are equally interesting, and not in the least horrifying in their origin and creation.
Also read: History’s Alternatives: Five stories about all the worlds that might’ve been (Part I)
The reader is treated to all of these details as the protagonist, Mac – a regular boy, not a ‘chosen hero’ as far as tropes go – navigates his way through friendships, love, longing, and loss through a sequence of events that involve mecha tournaments & championships and battles he’s thrown into as he finally comes of age and comes to understand what it means to be a combatant with comrades. At once a coming-of-tale and a thrilling, fast-paced story with action-packed sequences and high-stakes action where the pages just turn themselves, Mecha Samurai Empire is also a tribute to all genres and classics that it is influenced by – be it the fictionalising philosopher, Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, del Toro’s Pacific Rim, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and others too numerous to mention – including comics, anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Japanese literature and pop culture – but clues to which Peter Tieryas has sprinkled all over the book in the form of easter eggs for the reader to discover, not least the classic games, Metal Gear and Zone of the Enders by Hideo Kojima, who called himself fortunate for having read Mecha Samurai Empire, and in his blurb says, “Intermixing the experience of cinema, literature, anime, comics, and gaming, this is the new generation of Science Fiction we’ve been waiting for!”. I concur wholeheartedly. Far be it from me to disagree with Hideo Kojima.
And speaking of Peter Tierays’ influences while writing Mecha Samurai Empire brings me to this week’s New World’s Weekly giveaway in which two lucky winners can each win a copy of the book. But first, take a look at this passage from Mecha Samurai Empire:
Here then, is the question, which this time involves a bit of effort. Which author’s classic space opera short story – involving telepathically linked humans and cats – is this passage referring to? The clues to the answer lie in the fact that this legendary, yet almost-forgotten, science fiction author was profiled in this SF column not too long ago, and a mention made of Peter Tieryas acknowledging this author’s influence on Mecha Samurai Empire. Send in your answers – with both, the name of the author and his short story (involving cats) – via Twitter or Facebook along with a link to the article in question with the hashtag #NWWonFD on before Friday, November 30, 2018. All the best. And yes, Live Long and Prosper!