United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas, Review: Brave artistic choices

Part detective story, part brutal alternate history, Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan is a stunning successor to Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Read on for our full review.

United States of Japan Book Synopsis

United States of Japan - Peter Tieryas

Decades ago, Japan won the Second World War. Americans worship their infallible Emperor, and nobody believes that Japan’s conduct in the war was anything but exemplary. Nobody, that is, except the George Washingtons – a shadowy group of rebels fighting for freedom. Their latest subversive tactic is to distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world might be like if the United States had won the war instead.

Captain Beniko Ishimura’s job is to censor video games, and he’s tasked with getting to the bottom of this disturbing new development. But Ishimura’s hiding something… He’s slowly been discovering that the case of the George Washingtons is more complicated than it seems, and the subversive videogame’s origins are even more controversial and dangerous than the censors originally suspected.

(Angry Robot Books)

Genre: Sci-Fi-Fantasy, Action, Thriller, Drama, Mystery, Historical

One of our Top 10 International Reads of 2016

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I’m a big fan of Peter Tieryas’ work, having admired his earlier avant-garde titles Watering Heaven and Bald New World. I’ve always considered his artistic choices bold but those made in United States of Japan are brave — from the alternate history portrayed, ethnic and religious categorisation, to the level of violence depicted.

Some may feel the barbarity and perversion gratuitous, but it is symbolic of the layered brutality ideological constructs (political/religious) can, at the extreme, inflict upon those whose interests they claim to represent.

Tieryas’ previous titles have never been short of ambition, and his plotting in United States of Japan is no different. Achieving character development amongst military personnel in a highly censored dystopia and then balancing that with ‘big-screen’ action sequences (featuring mecha) was always going to be a tough ask, but Tieryas manages to pull it off.

We are again treated to Tieryas’ unusual and at times surreal descriptors/observations — of a person’s face, ‘suffering was an unbiased craftsman’ and the aftermath of an explosion in a food market, ‘Seared food stained the floor. Fruit cocktails were made from apples, oranges, and blood’ —  but there were times the literary flair felt jarring within such a page-turning storyline.

In United States of Japan Peter Tieryas delivers a story which leaves a mark on your psyche and many important things to reflect upon.

While the following quote comes not from United States of Japan but from the iconic Transformers (2007), I think it an apt note on which to end this review…

Ironside: Why are we fighting to save the humans? They’re a primitive and violent race.

Optimus Prime: Were we so different? They’re a young species. They have much to learn. But I’ve seen goodness in them. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

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Related Reading: Thrill Switch by Tim Hawken | Frame by A K Alliss | A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson

About the Author, Peter Tieryas

Peter Tieryas is a character artist who has worked on films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Alice in Wonderland and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. His novel, Bald New World, was listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books as well as Publishers Weekly’s Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014, and United States of Japan included in io9’s 40 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books That Will Rock Your World In 2016 and LitReactor’s 8 Most Anticipated Books of 2016.

Check out his official website or connect on Twitter.

* My receiving a copy of United States of Japan from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.