A mighty shogunate ruling the land from Tempu Castle. An imperial line with strict female succession. Caught between these two immense powers, the sprawling city of Tempu is home to many wonders—not least a superhuman technological achievement in the form of a beautiful automaton known as Eve. When a secret that threatens to shake the imperial line intersects with the mystery of Eve's creation, events are set in motion that soon race toward a shocking conclusion. A new, astonishingly inventive science fantasy masterpiece of historic proportions.
My friend Silvia Moreno-Garcia raved about this book for ages, calling it "steampunk meets Blade Runner in Japan". Which, I mean come on – how can you resist that? So don't listen to me – listen to her! – Lavie Tidhar
"A dark and fascinating mediation on what makes us human—think BLADE RUNNER, but set in the Floating World of Edo Japan."– Moly Tanzer
"…the extra secret sauce that makes it all come together is Inui's constant rumination about the soul and what it means to be human, the difference between what is real and what is artificial."– Silvia Moreno-Garcia, NPR book review
"Automatic Eve is complex book that is well worth the challenge. The kind of novel that seeps ideas and feelings to mull over. Especially ones which question the concept of humanity itself."– fangirlnation.com
Beyond the back gate lay a dim, cramped alleyway that ran between the high wooden buildings to Tengen Street.
Both sides of the alley were lined with slatted shelves stacked high with great jars of pickled ginger. They left barely enough room for one man to pass and filled the alley with a sickly vinegar smell.
Nizaemon Egawa came through the gate as though sleep- walking on uncertain legs.
How could this have happened?
Leaning against one of the pickle jars to catch his breath, he looked down at his open hand.
It was red to the elbow with blood.
Blood that was not his own.
He raised the hand to his mouth and licked his palm hesitantly.
Metallic, with a hint of salt. Still warm.
This was not like the stories he had heard. There was no stink of oil, no quicksilver gleam. This was human blood, almost black in the dim light.
He lied to me.
Vinegar smarted in his nose with every ragged breath he drew.
Rage boiled within him.
His hand went to the hilt of the two-foot katana he wore in a scabbard at his waist. He popped the guard with his thumb and slid the blade partway out.
Like his hand, it was slick with dark gore. He had neglected to shake the blood off after using it a few moments earlier and had put it away wet. Fortunately, he saw no nicks in the edge.
He decided to go, right now, to the home of the man who had deceived him, force his way in, and cut him down where he stood.
He slid the sword back into its scabbard.
As Nizaemon walked toward Tengen Street, the memory of his first meeting with Kyuzo less than a year ago returned to him unbidden...
"You're a bird from the south," Nizaemon murmured.
The bird was large and brilliantly colored. It was tethered by a thin chain to a perch made of an unpainted tree branch protruding from a black lacquered box. The box was about four
feet high, with mother-of-pearl inlay.
"A macaw, did you call it? I've never seen one before."
The bird's back was lapis lazuli blue, while its breast feathers
were yellow as kerria flowers. It opened its black beak as if yawning, then puffed out its chest and spread its wings. They spanned a good four or five feet.
"Is that what you think?" said the old man standing beside the perch. He was peeling a kumquat, and Nizaemon watched as he brought a handful of peel close to the macaw's beak. The bird snapped up the offering and then threw its head back to swallow it in a few deft jerks.
The man was Kyuzo Kugimiya, assistant at the shogunal refinery. Perhaps sixty years old, and not much like Nizaemon had imagined him. He had the air of a petty functionary and wore a long crepe silk jacket over a plain indigo kosode kimono. No sword, although he had to be of the samurai class.
The refinery's original role had been to produce steel and other metals, as its name suggested. But its remit had gradually expanded, beginning with research into more efficient furnaces and now encompassing all aspects of technology, including chemistry, electricity, and mechanics.
Kyuzo lived in a lonely mansion across the river from the neighborhood where the daimyo kept their second residences in the shadow of Tempu Castle. This put him on the outskirts of the city, but his high stone walls enclosed a plot of land much larger than seemed justified for a mere "assistant"—a title which seemed at odds with his manner to begin with. Despite the much larger second building beside his residence, he was said to live there alone.
The room they were in had a wooden floor and was full of strange and unfamiliar furnishings, some whose purpose Nizaemon could only guess at. At his host's urging, he sat down uneasily on a couch placed artlessly in the middle of the space. Its sturdy timber frame was upholstered with a tapestry of tiny flowers in gold, red, and green. Imported, presumably.
"Why don't you tell me what brings you here?" asked Kyuzo, stroking the macaw's neck.
Nizaemon curled his hands into fists on his thighs. "I want an automaton."
One of Kyuzo's thin eyebrows raised a fraction. "I'm afraid I don't follow," he said.
"I'm not proud of asking this," said Nizaemon. "Yesterday, I saw something... I saw a machine I could hardly believe was real. I came here because when I asked who could have made such a thing, there was only one answer: Kyuzo Kugimiya. I heard other rumors, too—talk of automata who look like people, living undetected in the city."
"So you got it into your head that I could make you one?"
Despite the ridicule in the other man's tone, Nizaemon nodded earnestly.
"What made you think that was possible?"
"I..." Under Kyuzo's cold stare, Nizaemon began to fear that he had miscalculated terribly. He lowered his eyes.
"Follow me," Kyuzo said. He turned and left the room, leaving Nizaemon to hurry after him.
He led Nizaemon out of his house and across a path of stepping- stones toward the larger second building on his property. The autumn sun was already low.
Nizaemon saw no evidence of the slightest interest in landscaping or gardening. Not a single blade of grass grew on Kyuzo's property. The yard was a plain expanse of earth, so flat and gray that it might have been pounded.
The second building was built like a storehouse, with thick mud walls finished with plaster. It had no windows, and the front entrance was secured by an extra plaster-coated sliding door inside the front door itself.
Both doors were open as they reached the entrance. The spacious packed-earth floor inside extended to the usual stone step for removing footwear and wooden board marking the beginning of the interior. Beyond that he saw an airy room dominated by a clock as high as a man. Its porcelain base was placed right at the center of the well-polished wooden floor. The timepiece itself was a three-story hexagonal construction not unlike a castle tower.
"This is an eternal clock," said Kyuzo, resting the palm of his hand on the dome of glass at its crown. The dome glowed a very faint green. Peering inside, Nizaemon saw a celestial globe marked with the stars of the night sky.
"It marks the seven days of the week, the sixty-day cycle of the heavenly branches and earthly stems, and the twenty-four solar terms of the year. And unlike a foreign clock, where all the hours are the same length, it divides each day up correctly from sunrise to sunset. Naturally, the intercalary days and months are also accounted for in its workings. It contains well over ten thousand gears, some more than a foot wide, others smaller than a newborn baby's fingernail."
Lost for words, Nizaemon could only gape at the clock. It gleamed with skillfully executed gold repoussé, and the base was adorned with masterful depictions of the guardian deities of the four directions.
"Only remember to wind it once a year, and this clock will run forever. But its complexity is nothing compared to the human body. I have attended many dissections at the execution grounds to observe human anatomy in detail, and I can tell you that to automate it would be virtually impossible."
"And yet, they say that you could—"
"Why," interrupted Kyuzo, "do you want this automated doll to begin with?"
"There is a woman..."
"Ah. A woman."
"Her name is Hatori. She is a lady of pleasure." As if in reply, the eternal clock chimed for sunset.