Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World tells two separate but related stories in quite different styles. The “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” chapters resemble the style of American hard-boiled detective fiction, though in a science-fiction setting. The narrator finds himself caught up in a conflict between the Calcutecs, who work for the quasi-governmental System, and the Semiotecs, criminals who work for the Factory. Calcutecs provide and protect information, while the Semiotecs, many of whom are discredited Calcutecs, steal data and sell it on the black market. The narrator works for a Calcutec scientist and becomes friends with the scientist’s assistant, his adolescent granddaughter. His job is to recode numbers by passing them from his right brain to his left brain.
The protagonist of the “End of the World” chapters finds himself in “the Town,” which is surrounded by an ominous forest. These allegorical chapters have a denser, more formal prose, offering more descriptive writing than elsewhere in Murakami’s fiction. With the help of the Librarian, whom he thinks he recognizes, he reads dreams from the skulls of unicorns and becomes the Dreamreader. His counterpart in “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” also has what seems to be a unicorn skull, as well as a relationship with the helpful reference librarian from his local library. This librarian describes libraries as paradises where information is free and no one fights over it. Murakami provides numerous other parallels between the narrators as both halves of his novel seem to be commenting on each other, exploring the same themes from different perspectives.
The scientist wants to prevent the world from falling apart, a...
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