Themes and Meanings

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In the guise of a science-fiction novel, Inter Ice Age 4 speculates on a number of themes: the impact of computers and technology on everyday life, the limitations on human freedom imposed by one’s ability to predict the future, the conflict between the individual and society or government, the difficulty of facing change, and the question of whether a stable identity is possible. The novel’s attitude in each of these cases is remarkably open, as the novelist’s remarks on the character of Tanomogi might indicate, leaving the reader with questions rather than answers.

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The ability of computers to predict the future would seem to encroach dangerously on freedom and individuality; if one can predict with certainty the outcome of world events, then no individual has the freedom to choose between alternatives. Such a power would not only curtail drastically an individual’s choices but would also limit any moral system based on free choice and responsibility. Certainly Professor Katsumi’s confidence in the benign power of the machine is subverted by the events that befall him—the forced abortion on his wife and the taking of his son, his own assassination for the good of the project.

Yet, as the novel shows, Katsumi’s free choice has been an illusion from the start; he has always been a pawn of the undersea project, whether he knew it or not. Furthermore, his insistence on being in control is not necessarily justifiable, for the outcome of the project may benefit humanity as a group, even if the individual must suffer in the short run and self-serving capitalists profit from the venture. The ultimate enemy, after all, is the impervious force of nature, and Katsumi’s refusal to cooperate with the project is, in effect, a refusal to accept an inevitable change. The chapter “Blueprint” explains the individual’s hesitancy to accept change itself: In the computer’s prediction of a world largely submerged by water, a young aquan swims to a small island and climbs onto land, feeling great happiness before perishing on the rocks.

The flooding itself is a key metaphor for the ineluctable erosion by time and change of a familiar, comfortably knowable world. Two responses are possible: accepting and even exploiting the inevitable, as the Society for the Development of Submarine Colonies does, or resisting this change—a futile effort, as Katsumi discovers. The first attitude seems cold and pragmatic, the reader finding little to recommend the scientific detachment and inhumane methods of the researchers; the novel’s plot and point of view lead the reader to sympathize instead with Katsumi’s more human response to change. The novel does not glorify Katsumi as a hero, however, any more than it unambiguously portrays...

(The entire section contains 698 words.)

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