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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Planet Porno’ still sexy after three decades

    Yasutaka Tsutsui

    Salmonella Men on Planet Porno

    Vintage Contemporaries

    Released Jan. 12, 2010

    Grade: A-

     

    Something strange is afoot on Planet Porno.

    The title story of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s short story collection “”Salmonella Men on Planet Porno”” takes place on a distant planet, Nakamura, nicknamed Planet Porno because of the bizarre habits of its flora and fauna. The sole aim of every plant and animal on the planet is sex, but not for the sake of reproduction. The whole planet’s goal is pure physical pleasure. Some characters call the planet obscene; others, beautiful. 

    Such is the type of duality upon which every one of Tsutsui’s stories touches. In the title story alone, Tsutsui flits effortlessly from Darwinism to Freudian theory, speculative zoology to sexual politics, ballet to pornography. Never is one sure whether to be profoundly disturbed or utterly amused. In the end, in a bizarre and almost nihilistic plot twist, a main character is transformed into a spider with a human head. The reader is left thinking, above anything else, “”Say what?””

    The collection, published in 1979 but translated in 2006 by Andrew Driver and rereleased in the United States in 2010 by Vintage Books, toes a fine line between the mundane and the absurd. In the story “”Don’t Laugh,”” a character invents a time machine, and he and the narrator use it to go back in time to watch themselves laugh hysterically about the idea of a time machine. One has to read the story several times for it to sink in, but the delicate balance between nullity and hilarity leaves the reader reeling. The book is a madcap jaunt through postmodern ennui.

    In each of these dizzying stories, the characters find themselves trying to make sense of a world that has gone mad: A community realizes it’s only the figment of one man’s dream, a man brings death and destruction upon his country by accidentally singing the correct words to a nonsense song. The modern world has become completely nuts here, and Tsutsui teaches us that there is nothing to do but laugh, sometimes a bit crazedly.

    Though written in 1979, the stories here are still relevant, many eerily so.  In “”Rumors About Me,”” a totally normal office drone becomes the subject of relentless media scrutiny, purely because he is so normal. The role of media in our daily lives is a theme just as relevant today as it has ever been — if not more so — and the story addresses the creepy-crawly feeling that stems from the ever-watchful eyes of the press. 

    “”The Very Edge of Happiness”” addresses such all-too-pertinent issues as high mortgages and low will to live within an uneasy, on-the-verge middle class. The story’s spooky conclusion is a reminder of just how close we all are to falling right off the edge. As with all Tsutsui’s stories in this collection, the moral is hard to face, but even harder to turn away from. 

    These deliciously small stories swing madly from hilarious to terrifying and back again, leaving a dizzying self-consciousness in their wake. The modern condition is stripped bare here, reminding us all just how close we are from the precipice. “”Salmonella Men on Planet Porno”” bids us take heed.

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