The Lords of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa is a Japanese science-fiction novel about a cyborg named Messenger Orville who was created in the 26th century so he could be sent back into multiple points in human history, with other cyborg mates, to save humanity from going extinct via an alien invasion.
This is such an underrated book and it physically hurts me that more people either don’t know about it or choose not to talk about it. Between taking place in an Ancient Japanese historical period, having badass cyborgs and time travelling, and an unlikely romance—it’s got everything a person needs for an excellent storytelling experience. It’s also a relatively short book, which makes it even more perfect for readers who don’t typically have a lot of time to devote to their favoured hobby.
The Lords of the Sands of Time is one of the few Japanese titles I have read that centre specifically on 3rd century Japan, an era in which the nation was divided into four separate countries, each one corresponding to a different point on a compass. The ruler of these regions were always female assigned at birth individuals who bore the title of Himiko. If any of you are familiar with Japanese history, that name should definitely ring a bell for you. To avoid spoilers, all I shall say is that being able to experience a tale that blends Asian historical, cultural traits so effortlessly with the tech of robots and advanced aliens was a combination that I hadn’t realised I was craving until I had started and finished the damn book. Because this era is depicted in conjunction with speculative elements, I was floored by and utterly unable to put it down for even a second.
Fascinating historical and technological treats aside, another thing that had me thoroughly addicted was the notion that fabricated machines with sentient artificial intelligence were highly adaptive to feeling emotions. Normally when AI is portrayed as having feelings, it examines how those feelings co-relate to the concepts of human nature. Yet, in The Lord of the Sands of Time we get a break from that and instead get to enjoy the cyborg’s emotions for what they are. Frustration. Sadness and grief. Love. The inclusion of the complexities of how feelings also heavily influence internal conflicts that shape morals and ethics was written with great care and intelligence, giving the story even more depth than I ever could have expected.
Other awesome characteristics to look forward to include an energetically enthused pacing, various periods of human history that are re-imagined with retro-futuristic qualities, such a heartfelt yet bittersweet romancing, and awesome analyses of how ideals built upon malice and greed can lead to the eventual corruption and downfall of humanity.
All in all, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND The Lord of the Sands of Time to all fans of speculative fiction, particularly if you’re interested in Japanese history, robots, and time travelling. It’s literature and creativity such as this that has turned me into such an intensely exhilarated fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genres (especially within the confines of Asian literatures!).
Publication date: July 2009
Publisher: Haikasoru (978-1421527628)
Genre: Japanese Literature, Science-Fiction
Page Count: 196
Content Warnings: Wartime atrocities including mass deaths and violence. Some crude language. Oppression and invasion. Some sexism and misogyny.
Availability: Out-of-Print (physical); eBook format available.