Shin’ichi Hoshi (1926-1997) is considered to be one of Japan’s most influential science fiction writers of all time… but he’s not very well known among western readers, I think. A few of his works have been translated and are available as e-book, including this little book. You can find out more about Hoshi here.
Kimagure Robotto, or, The Whimsical Robot, is a fun little book containing ‘short shorts’: short stories of no more than 5 pages each. Each of the stories is about an invention, whether it’s a device to tame wild animals, a potion that enables you to distinguish good from bad people, or a robot that has everyone wondering about its use. There are some characters that appear in many of the stories, like professor R who makes medicine, the rich Mr. N., and professor K who specialises in animals. Then there are a few stories about interaction with aliens. The stories are aimed at children but are quite enjoyable for adults too. Some of the stories are really funny, some leave you wondering, some leave you shaking your head, and some are (I have to admit) a bit boring.
I do have a few favourite stories. Coincidentally the stories I most enjoyed were near the back of the book: ネコ(The cat), 花とひみつ(Flowers and secrets), and とりひき(The deal). It’s hard to say something about stories that are this short, so I won’t say anything to avoid spoiling.
As for its readability, this book was a really easy read. This is the first Japanese book I’ve ever read that felt like I was reading English or Dutch, which essentially means that the level of Japanese was probably too low for me. I finished most of the stories in 5-10 minutes (during commercial breaks when I was watching television haha) and I only had a to look up a few recurring words such as ‘telescope’. I think this book is very suitable as practice material for those at JLPT N3 level.
Would I recommend this book? If you want to gain some confidence in your Japanese skills: hell yes. But if you’re looking for a captivating read, probably not. I personally really enjoy short stories in Japanese, mostly because I tend to find full books a bit hard to swallow, but the stories in this collection got a bit repetitive. There simply wasn’t much incentive to keep reading, which is the main reason this book took me such a long time. On the other hand, if you decide to read one or two stories now and then (with decent breaks in between), it’s certainly a fun read.
きまぐれロボット (The Whimsical Robot) by Shin'ichi Hoshi
Published by Kadokawa on 2006 (first published 1972)
Genre: Science fiction
The verdict: ★★★☆☆
See this book on Goodreads