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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Stand-in Companion

by
Shiraishi Kazufumi


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Stand-in Companion



Title: Stand-in Companion
Author: Shiraishi Kazufumi
Genre: Novella
Written: (Eng. 2018)
Length: 43 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Stand-in Companion - US
Stand-in Companion - UK
Stand-in Companion - Canada
  • Translated by Raj Mahtani

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing, appealing little story of human relationships

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Stand-in Companion is a futuristic story involving very life-like androids, but that probably isn't a premise readers have difficulty accepting; a greater stretch, however, is another: that, some twenty years earlier, the United Nations had issued The World Population Explosion Declaration, warning of: "a world in the grips of a population explosion", one consequence of which was government policies outlawing, for example, IVF treatment (in all but the rarest cases). Maybe fifty years ago unchecked population growth was a real global concern, and certainly there are pockets of the world (including an entire continent, Africa) where it still is, but mostly, in recent decades, demographic concerns have shifted to that of rapidly aging populations, and population collapse -- certainly in Japan, with its fertility rate of 1.44, catastrophically below the replacement rate (of at least 2.1). The story doesn't suggest that that has changed in the time it is set, and so procreation by any means would surely be strongly encouraged .....
       Procreation is central to Stand-in Companion: its two protagonists -- in a novella that's otherwise very effectively almost barren, with barely any other human presences making themselves felt --, the married couple, Hayato and Yutori, continue to try, and fail, to conceive. Arguably, each is partly responsible for their continuing failure: Hayato's sperm count is extremely low, while: "there was also a problem, to some extent, with at least one of Yutori's fallopian tubes".
       The novella opens with yet another disappointment, Hayato and Yutori on yet another trip to a hot-spring resort which has not had the hoped for results. But not everything is as it at first seems: the couple's situation is considerably more complex than the initial impression suggested: Yutori had in fact gotten pregnant several years earlier -- by another man. She had left Hayato, had a child, and the couple had gotten divorced. But in this futuristic world Hayato was able to apply for an android unit, a 'Stand-in Companion', imprinted with all of Yutori's memories (which she was compelled to supply). And so the 'Yutori' he has lived with for the past two years is, in fact, an android-substitute for the woman he had married, not the real thing, who now has an entirely separate life and family.
       Shiraishi complicates the moral-philosophical scenario further in several ways. For one: Hayato had requested that (the original) Yutori's memory of his low sperm count no be transferred into the android -- so the substitute-Yatori is unaware of his contributory role in their failure to procreate, and blames herself for her continuing inability to get pregnant. Of course, Hayato is well aware that regardless of his medical status, procreation is impossible: he's having sex with an android, and advanced though it might be, it ain't going to get pregnant. Meanwhile, the alter-Yutori nevertheless feels tremendous sadness and guilt about their inability to conceive .....
       Among Shiraishi's other twists is to make the 'Stand-in Companion' technology one that users can only rely on for a ten-year span, at the end of which the android shuts down. So there's a fundamental existential dilemma here, Hayato burdened by the awareness that his replacement-Yutori isn't just 'mortal', but that he knows, almost exactly, when she will be lost to him.
       Stand-in Companion is something of a thought-experiment, a dramatization of philosophical issues. The arbitrariness of some of the premises -- notably the ten-year-limitation on android-use/life -- gives it a slightly awkward feels, but the issues and their presentation are sufficiently interesting for the reader to accept Shiraishi's starting-points. Helpfully, Shiraishi adroitly spins his philosophical tale: he tells a good story well -- complete with a satisfying further twist to the identities of the characters and their relationship(s).
       Stand-in Companion is a wisp of a novel. Shiraishi does effectively and cleverly pack a lot into such a small space, but it almost cries out for more expansive treatment. Still, it's an accomplished little work, and a good -- and quite haunting -- piece of fiction even just as is.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 November 2018

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Links:

Stand-in Companion: Shiraishi Kazufumi: Other books by Shiraishi Kazufumi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Shiraishi Kazufumi (白石一文) was born in 1958.

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© 2018 the complete review

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