"Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams" is a collection of essays written about Japanese Science Fiction edited by Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., and Takayuki Tatsumi. These essays are split into two sections, the first one is "Prose Science Fiction", and the second section is "Science Fiction Animation". These essays discuss Japanese Science Fiction from its origins (oddly enough in detective fiction) to the anime of today, which has produced some extraordinary innovative storylines. The editors provide an interesting introduction to the book which discusses the organization and provides a good overview. Most of the essays were published elsewhere first. Only Chapter five appears to be original, but that doesn't mean that this book is not worthwhile.
The first section of this book covers the written form of Japanese Science Fiction, though the essays don't necessarily fit completely into the categories where they are placed. The first essay is by Miri Nakamura and is titled "Horror and Machines in Prewar Japan: The Mechanical Uncanny in Yumeno Kyusaku's `Dogura Magura'". This is an interesting chapter and provides insight into the use of machines in the fiction of the era. She has a wonderful discussion of how science fiction developed from detective fiction in Japan. This chapter is extremely important in seeing the origins of the genre in Japan, and one can easily see how key themes, such as the man-machine type stories have always played an important role in Japanese Science Fiction.
Chapter two is "Has the Empire Sunk Yet? The Pacific in Japanese Science Fiction" by Thomas Schnellbacher. This chapter helps build on the first chapter, and discusses the important theme of identity of the Japanese people in the storylines in Japanese science fiction. This chapter is a good example of how the essays don't really fit into the sections of the book, as it discusses prose, movies, and anime and how this theme has appeared in many important works in all three. The link between this era and the loss of prestige due to the war is significant, and important in the discussion.
Chapter three is "Alien Spaces and Alien Bodies in Japanese Women's Science Fiction" by Kotani Mari. This essay includes an interesting discussion on the rise of women's science fiction in Japan and how it differed from the women's movement in the west. Kotani Mari uses the transformation of the physical self as a running theme in this area of science fiction. Discussed are works like Kurimoto Kaoru's "Guin Saaga", Sato Aki's Barutazaaru No Henreki", and Takano Fumio's "Vasurafu".
Chapter four is "SF as Hamlet: Science Fiction and Philosophy" by Azuma Hiroki is an unusual choice for this book, as a good portion of this essay is looking at western works both in the SF arena as well as philosophy. However, Azuma Hiroki does bring the discussion back to Japanese science fiction and the shifts which took place in the genre in Japan during that time such as the shift from literature to anime and manga.
Chapter five is "Tsutsui Yasutaka and the Multimedia Performance of Authorship" by William O. Gardner. This is my personal favorite of the essays. I found the discussion of the innovative use of multimedia in the telling of a science fiction story to be incredibly interesting. Tsutsui's "Gaspard of the Morning was a newspaper-serialized novel, which incorporating feedback from the readers into the text, altering the story as it went, or so it appeared.
Chapter six is "When the Machines Stop: Fantasy, Reality, and Terminal Identity in "neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Serial Experiments: Lain" by Susan J. Napier. This chapter opens the second section of the book on anime, and it is anime which is the focus of the majority of the book, including several examples in the first section. While clearly anime is the dominant form of Japanese science fiction, I would have thought there would have been more to say about the movies and manga as well. Susan Napier takes an in depth look at the anime films mentioned in the title of the essay, and it is interesting to see how they fit in with the themes which have developed over time in the genre.
Chapter seven is "The Mecha's Blind Spot: "Patlabor 2" and the Phenomenology of Anime" by Christopher Bolton. This is another outstanding essay. Christopher Bolton clearly knows anime as well as "Patlabor", "Ghost in the Shell", and other works which he takes a deep dive look at some of the techniques used by the creators of these films.
Chapter eight is "Words of Alienation, Words of Flight: Loanwords in Science Fiction Anime" by Naoki Chiba and Hiroko Chiba. Yet again, a wonderful look at an entirely different view of techniques used in anime, that is to say the language and what the sub-context is that goes along with the choice of words. Not being someone who speaks Japanese or has been exposed to Japanese culture to any great extent, I am not sure I would ever have picked up on this aspect by watching the anime films, and that makes this chapter one of the best for me personally.
Chapter nine is "Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity" by Sharalyn Orbaugh. This is another good chapter, as it takes a broader look at the subject, including providing references to Star Wars, Frankenstein, etc., which help the reader understand the topic and the comparisons being drawn. Sharalyn Orbaugh also looks at "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Ghost in the Shell" to help illustrate the discussion of sexuality and singularity which are important in these films.
Chapter 10 is "Invasion of the Woman Snatchers: The Problem of A-Life and the Uncanny in "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" by Livia Monnet. This essay takes an in depth look at the first fully computer-animated "photorealistic" feature film, and presents the view that it represents a turning point in the industry. It is an interesting discussion, though I am not sure I buy into the premise.
The last chapter is titled "Otaku Sexuality" by Saito Tamaki. This chapter looks at a type of fan which is unique to Japan and Japanese Science Fiction, and so it isn't directly about Anime even though it is placed in that section of the book. The otaku are shunned by some Japanese, for some reasons which Saito Tamaki discusses, and also discussed in great detail is the reality behind this group and myths are laid to rest. This is an interesting psychological analysis of a type of Science Fiction fan (though not all otaku are fans of science fiction), but I am not sure it tells us much about the genre any more than a study of types of fans in the U.S. would tell us about American Science Fiction. At the same time, it does provide a different perspective from which to view the genre.
Takayuki Tatsumi provides a nice afterword titled "A Very Soft Time Machine: From Translation to Transfiguration" in which he discusses the essays and how they relate as well as his own personal reflections on the subject.
Ultimately this is a very good book, and I am rounding up to five stars for the rating. I would have liked to see a few more essays, taking a look at some additional areas, such as manga and the non-anime movies in particular. However, what information is provided is excellent, and it is nice that they were able to bring this series of essays from different sources together in one place.