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Inter Ice Age 4 belongs to the genre of science fiction because of its use of computer technology. Robots and other machines were popular vehicles for telling fantasy tales before the computer superseded some of them. In Fredric Brown’s “Etaoin Shrdlu” (1942), for example, a linotype machine comes to life after being animated by a technician from an alien civilization.

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Science fiction quickly made use of the computer when it appeared. Kb Abe uses the computer to address the moral and philosophical complexity that arises when a machine makes available information that forces humans to face a dilemma: whether to cease to exist or instead to adapt as a nonhuman form of life. Inter Ice Age 4 addresses the question of human reaction to learning that catastrophe and total disruption of ordinary life are to occur. Death by drowning is an unattractive choice, but the alternative, regression to an earlier stage of evolution, is not viable to Katsumi. He cannot accept the notion that his unborn child, when aborted and sold to the fetus laboratory, will be turned into a fishlike creature. The plot employs a device common to Abes fiction: inversion of roles. Katsumis genius ironically becomes the vehicle of his defeat.

The original Japanese version of the book, Daiyon kampyki, was among Abes earliest works. E. Dale Saunders English translation did not appear until 1970. Abe, a novelist and dramatist, was at his peak during the 1960s, though a number of his major works were not available in English translation until the 1970s. Although others of his works contain bizarre situations and behavior, they are not science fiction as such. Inter Ice Age 4 shares themes with Abes other writing, in terms of dealing with lifes frightening and unnerving dilemmas and with feelings of isolation or alienation.

Abe is considered to be one of Japans greatest modern writers. More than half of his longer works, including some plays, have been translated into English. Critics of the translated works have tended to verify the reputation that Japanese critics already had established for Abe. Because a translated work necessarily is judged in part by the quality of the translation, it is not always easy to separate the two. Abes translator also enjoys a reputation for excellence.

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Critical Context