Plum Rains (Andromeda Romano-Lax, 2018) is a peek into one possible future for modern Japan.
Because of a casual interest in Japanese culture, I wanted to understand the symbolism of the title. Turns out, the titular season is a hazy, wet herald of possibility. The plum tree blossoms in the early Spring, and the plum rains mark the Japanese Spring, ushering in the warm summer months. Plum, we are old, is symbolic of the bittersweet, contrasting with the sweeter cherry that arrives later in the year. This symbolism pops up at various points in the story.
Our adventure begins as a simple story about two women who come to know each other through the use of a technological device. Angelica and Soyoko are of different generations and cultures. Each locked inside herself, resentful and distracted but dependent upon each other. Their dutiful lives erupt in bloom after Hiro, an empathic robot prototype, joins them.
But Plum Rains is more than a book about lonely people brought closer by technology. It is a book about secrets and new beginnings, the Japanese cultural themes of isolation and purity, and the ethics of technology. The events of this story are rooted in modern Japanese history and bloom a century later on the withering stem of a Japanese future.
The world were the events of this story happen gives an engaging look at technology-assisted behavioral health therapies. We see several examples of therapies coming to fruition. There are medical assistance drones connected to government databases. There is an AI-enabled empathic android. There is a virtual reality device used to promote healing from psychological trauma. Readers can observe the potential of these devices for healing or oppression and make their own decisions about where the line exists between good and evil—a fascinating question when considering the future of technology-assisted counseling and psychological interventions.
This book also asks questions about the illusory power of perception, identity, and perspective. It details how we only often see what we want to see, even–maybe especially–in our closest relationships. The power of attention and listening and compassion as change vehicles are on full display, but not where we expect them. In the end, this plum of a story is about relationships, oppression, self-awareness, and change, just as summer follows the rains.
I grabbed a copy of this book on a recommendation from one of those websites listing the “best of” small press offerings and was not disappointed. The author’s mastery of her craft shows in many enjoyable sentences; yet, parts of this book are a tad slow. Genre categorization is a bit tough. Some focus on the technology and the near-future setting to classify this book in science fiction or cyber-mainstream; it does fit there as the book features technology throughout the environment. Some focus on the historical backstory that is still relevant today. For me, this is less a book about then and more a book about now and the impacts of social decisions on real people.
Finally. this book is for those readers confident in their perspective as much as it is for those who are not.