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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Hybrid Child

Ōhara Mariko

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To purchase Hybrid Child

Title: Hybrid Child
Author: Ōhara Mariko
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 343 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Hybrid Child - US
Hybrid Child - UK
Hybrid Child - Canada
Hybrid Child - India
  • Japanese title: ハイブリッド. チャイルド
  • Translated by Jodie Beck

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Our Assessment:

B : wild and creative

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 28/6/2018 Scott Bradfield

  From the Reviews:
  • "It’s a weird, funny, frustrating “fix-up” of a book, with a self-contained opening story that suddenly sling-shots off (à la Van Vogt) into an escalatingly wild interstellar adventure, but that opening story alone is worth the price of admission." - Scott Bradfield, The Los Angeles Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Hybrid Child is a three-part novel whose central character is 'Sample B #3', a stray from a military experiment that managed to escape from the lab, as it were:

The Sample B Group were biomechanical combat units designed for use in outer space. Made of a special metal alloy, the units were modular, allowing for an infinite number of possible assemblages. The units built themselves with cells based on samples of genetic information taken from life-forms, directed by a cybernetic brain.
       With a basically endless energy supply thanks to the nuclear reactor powering it, the samples are basically indestructible shape-shifters that acquire the potential of whatever they ingest; Sample B #3 sampled a human, took on human form, and just walked out of the military facilities, the one of the fourteen in the group to go missing.
       The novel opens with 'Sample B #3 in dadazim-form -- an engineered animal of this post-nuclear age. It comes across an isolated house -- the nearest neighbor is five miles away -- inhabited by a woman (a novelist ...) whose only companion is her 'daughter', Jonah, "the latest type of general purpose 'housekeeper computer'", an artificial intelligence that engages in conversation and clearly has some consciousness. It also resembles, in its behavior, the woman's seven-year-old daughter -- a girl whose death the woman was responsible for.
       The woman takes the dadazim in as a pet -- and some six weeks later tumbles down the stairs and dies. Under the watchful eye of Jonah, who has its own suspicions about the odd creature, Sample B #3 consumes the woman. And when the military closes in on the house, trying to retrieve their stray sample, Jonah does what it can to save it -- which ultimately includes directing it down below the house, where the corpse of seven-year-old Jonah is buried in a well-shielded space. Another meal for Sample B #3, as well as a means for avoiding destruction .....
       Sample B #3 survives in the shape of a seven-year-old girl -- mother and daughter in one -- and, now called Mari, for a while finds a place to grow up happily and at peace. Or not to grow up: for six year she remains in her seven-year-old's form ..... But eventually, as the authorities threaten to catch up to her, she is forced to find another way out.
       So much for the first two parts of the novel, which take up only a fifth of it. The long third part continues the story some two centuries later, Sample B #3 having escaped to and floating through space all that time. As it approaches the planet Caritas, it catches the attention of another object in space -- Shiverer Mouse, a terminally ill youth who is entombed in a life-preserving (for now) sarcophagus of sorts.
       Caritas is watched over by yet another artificial intelligence, called Milagros, that once had regulated and controlled everything on the planet efficiently and well but was definitely no longer operating in the best interests of the locals. Sample B #3 doesn't have that much trouble with simple survival -- even when it literally gets blown to pieces, it can just put itself back together -- but conditions on the planet get considerably worse for the inhabitants of Caritas, and society breaks down even further. And Sample B #3 does eventually have to contend with those still hunting it down from centuries earlier, as another Sample B unit makes its way to the planet and confronts her. Not that that's the only danger there.
       Throw in the Military Priest "connected to this space-time as an incorporeal being" who is living his (eight-hundred-year) life in reverse, and you get a novel in which reality -- and any concept of 'being' -- are fluid and plastic. As the text can often seem to be, too.
       There are a few themes running through the story, notably the variations on mother-daughter issues: the original 'Jonah' is killed by her mentally unstable mother, and in ingesting both (though for the most part continuing to manifest physically as a seven-year-old girl) Sample B #3 has both sides in it. On Caritas, Sample B #3 is both responsible for creating a mother-figure and tending to it -- feeding its bloat -- as well as then killing it. Other mother figures -- with mental instability issues, to devastating effect -- include Milagros:
     Milagros swallowed up everything. Milagros -- the dreadful Mother Goddess -- corpulent, greedy, and powerful, the devoted Mother of everything born on Caritas.
       Meanwhile, Shiverer Mouse is basically entombed alive -- the only way he can survive -- but his coffin of course also resembles a womb and place of safety (and the original Jonah, in her coffin deep under her mother's house, and then Sample B #3-in-girl-form floating through space for two hundred years are both also in wombs from which they emerge ...).
       Mortality is a major issue, from the beginning: Jonah's mother killed her -- but also tries to preserve her, both in body (in that protective coffin in the cellar) and spirit (in the form of her housekeeper-computer). Near-indestructible Sample B #3 is, essentially, immortal, while Shiverer Mouse is constantly facing his likely imminent mortality: this is the defining essence of their two beings -- and, despite the apparent differences, destinies they also bond over:
     Shiver asked, "... Is it painful -- knowing that you won't die ?"
     Instead of answering, the girl asked a question. "Is it scary -- knowing that you will die ?"
     "So scary I could die," Shiver answered.
     "Knowing I won't die is so painful I could die too," answered the girl.
       The long-lived Military Priest, with an entirely different sense of time, is a further (theoretical) variation on how life can unfold and be lived.
       Other characters and their proclivities -- from the girl Shiverer Mouse is drawn to, Lesiah, to the outrageous sadist Dreyfus -- also figure prominently in the story, which considers societal collapse and both nurturing and destructive instincts in these extreme conditions from various perspectives as well.
       Ōhara's vivid imagery can be hard to stomach at times, as Dreyfus' actions, in particular are upsetting, while much of the bodily destruction, damage, and shape-shifting makes for rather a lot that that is literally visceral. Even so, the sheer bizarreness has poetic elements, at times, too:
     Jonah accidentally stepped on a landmine and blew her body to pieces.
     Chunks of flesh cloaked in bright red blood shot splattering up to the sky like a volcanic eruption. The explosion of wind sent them a hundred feet into the air, only to come fluttering back down, sucked to the ground.
     With her electronic eye spinning round and round in the air, Jonah watched the pitiful fragments of her own body falling down from the sky. Chunks of flesh and bone splattered on the ground with a pathetic pitter-patter.
     Jonah began to reassemble her torn, scattered skeleton.
       That spinning, watching eye -- that's a great image. And Ōhara manages that not infrequently in her wildly imagined story. But it is a lot of story too, a bit of a mess of grand myths and personal destinies.
       Time and fate, mortality and motherhood, paternalism and destruction: Ōhara goes for the extremes with all of these, making for an envelope-pushing story that is often remarkably controlled but also strays wildly off the rails (to places beyond even just a concept of rails ...). It is an uneven but often fascinating and in parts utterly remarkable read.
       A wild, bizarre mix of rides -- but worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 July 2018

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Hybrid Child: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Ōhara Mariko (大原まり子) was born in 1959.

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© 2018 the complete review

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