Izanami’s Choice: A Book Review

Izanami's ChoiceToday I’m speaking with Adam Heine, author of Izanami’s Choice. Thank you for taking the time, Adam, and for letting me read “Izanami.”

I enjoyed this book so much. It’s a steampunk murder-mystery set during the Meiji Restoration period in 1901 Japan. What’s not to love? There are Ronin, robots, political upheavals and murder most foul. But who is behind it and why? This novelette clocks in at 96 pages of pure enjoyment because at least in one sense, there is no easy answer.

Yes, I knew who the “Big Bad” was as soon as the individual (no spoilers!) entered on stage. But that was the only easy answer. The far more difficult questions remain unanswered and are something humanity has yet to decide: If technological life becomes sentient, are humans safe? If technology is sentient, can humans react in an even handed, nondiscriminatory way? Do actions cause violence, or does fear of potential action?

Mr. Heine did an admirable job of making his robots (Jinzou) both sympathetic and terrifying. We are taken through the above questions through the eyes of Shimada Itaru, former Ronin and retired police officer. He doesn’t trust the ubiquitous Jinzou and carries illicit weapons because of their involvement in his son’s death. His pain as a father is palpable and his conclusions are just as heart-rending.

 


I wholeheartedly recommend the book and now, without further delay, here’s my interview with Adam!

Thanks, Victoria! I really appreciate this opportunity to talk about the book.

Adam, how did you come up with this story?

Most of my stories are a melting pot of elements I love. I love detective stories. AI fascinates me, as does the idea of a technological singularity. But I didn’t want to write this story in a stock cyberpunk future (that would’ve basically been Bladerunner). I needed something unique about it.

The Penny Arcade web comic writes an occasional mini-series called Automata, involving sentient androids in a 1920’s Prohibition Era-type world. That was probably my biggest inspiration in combining a robotic singularity with one of my favorite periods in history: Meiji Era Japan. Once I started slotting androids into key events in Japanese history, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. And the world of Izanami’s Choice was born.

 

Making a satisfying and believable ending can be difficult, but the conclusion to Izanami’s Choice has an appropriate, satisfying and very Asian feel. Without spoilers, did you consider other endings? (I realize this may be impossible to answer without spoilers. If so, go on to the next question! :D)

There are kind of two endings, so it depends on which one you mean! The very end of the book — the epilogue, let’s say — was not something I planned, but it felt like the right way to leave things (or at least the right direction to point things in).

As for the other ending just before that: that was always the plan. I can’t say much without spoilers, but I think the Asian feel (the Japanese feel, really) for this particular story would have been lost with any other outcome.


You’ve rewritten Japanese and world history with the robots in this story. Since you live in Thailand, are you planning on taking your Jinzou to Thailand or other locales?

I would really like to! I don’t know that I’ll ever write a jinzou story in a Western country (only because I feel like that’s been done), but I do have ideas for what society might look like in, say, India, China, or — yes — Thailand. Whether or not I get the opportunity to flesh out those ideas remains to be seen!


You are also a game programmer/player. Where do you see cross pollination between that and writing novels and short stories? What are the main differences from your perspective?

For those who don’t know, I’m the Design Lead on the upcoming role-playing game Torment: Tides of Numenera. That particular game is a LOT of writing (we’re at over 1 million words!), which is unusual for a video game. As a result, there’s more crossover between novel writing and Torment than there might be with other games.

I’d say the biggest difference between the two is player choice. Game stories, especially RPGs, are often in the player’s hands. Imagine if a reader could choose whether or not Frodo puts on the ring at Weathertop. How might the story change after that? Would they have had an easy ride to Rivendell, or would something else have happened? Would they have met Arwen on the road? Earlier? Later? What would that meeting look like?

Game writers (at least RPG writers) have to write every option they want to offer the player. It’s fun, because you basically get to write ALL of your ideas and let the player choose which ones they want to follow. But it’s hard because the story has to make sense no matter how the player goes through it.

Fiction, on the other hand, is the story *I* want to tell, giving the reader the information I want her to have and when. It’s easier, but there’s a lot more pressure on the words, since words are all fiction has to carry it.


I know there have been Role Playing Games (RPGs) where you can choose the ending – in a sense, creating your own stories with a set of given characters. Do you see this sort of game technology advancing and becoming more seamless? That is, more like a live-action book?

I think interactive storytelling comes in different forms and mediums: RPGs, Choose Your Own Adventure books, interactive fiction games, pen-and-paper role-playing, live-action role-playing, and so on. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and its own niche of readers/players.

Personally, I enjoy most of these — I just love a good story. And we’re finding new ways to tell stories with (relatively) recent mediums like VR and MMO gaming. The more game developers and storytellers cross disciplines, the more and better stories we’ll get out of it.


I’m always fascinated by other writers’ creative processes and you work for Torment, among other things. Do you use RPG modules to help you in world-creation?  If so, how does it help you, or do you do it for fun?

For me, world-creation is the fun part that’s always drawn me to both fiction writing AND game development. Creating a world that you want to explore — whether it’s explored through a novel or a gamepad — is my favorite part of writing. So I don’t really use RPGs to help me create worlds so much as I create a world that I can use in a novel or a short story or a game.

Or more realistically, I will have a story or game I want to make, and I will create a world for it. Every writer’s different, but for me the world almost always comes before the story I want to tell within it.


You seem to have a lot of plates spinning in your life. What helps you keep them spinning?

Boy, do I. I’m the Design Lead for a mid-sized RPG, a writer, and a foster father of 10!

Some things that help:
— Making a schedule (and keeping it).
— Being realistic about what I can get done in a given day.
— An understanding family (that is at school most of the time).
— Knowing when to stop!

I can’t say I’m great at all these things, but the times in my life when I’m not stressed out are when I did all of these right!

Thanks again, Adam for spending the time. “Izanami’s Choice” is available for pre-order through Amazon and its release date is September 1st. You can also purchase it through the publisher’s page.

 

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