© 1992 Michael Crichton
In downtown Los Angeles, in a gleaming tower of Japanese commercial success, a woman lies dead on a boardroom table. The grand opening of the Nakamoto Corporation’s downtown skyscraper attracted celebrities and politicians alike, all anxious to impress the Japanese businessmen who play such an important part in the U.S. economy. It was supposed to be a festive occasion, but instead it’s turned into a source of anxiety and dread: this murder-in-the-office stuff is very bad for publicity. It turns out to be a major source of trouble for the police assigned to investigate, too, because to Nakamoto, business is war…and if trouble-making cops can’t be bribed, they can be ‘removed’.
Rising Sun combines a police procedural with a business thriller, and ends with an ominous note from Crichton that the Japanese are taking over the American economy and we’d better do something. Published just as the Japanese were drifting into their ‘lost decade’, that warning now makes it seem slightly dated. Despite this, the technological aspect gives the book a solid sci-fi edge; though set in the 1990s, we see wireless cameras, facial-recognition software, and image manipulation so intensive that the courts no longer permit imagery as evidence. Here we have forensic technology long before CSI made it popular, but most of the character-lecturing is done in regards to Japanese culture, history, and business practices. I know next to nothing about Japanese economic history, so I don’t know when Crichton leaves history behind for alt-history here. His 1990s-America is virtually a Japanese economic colony, with only its university system keeping it from being an utter subordinate. So awed by the Japanese are these Americans that Japanese lingo has crept into common usage among the political and business elite, and their power is such that LA cops have a time getting the Nakamoto Corp’s officers to let them investigate. I was a little suspicious of Crichton’s economic doomsaying; if the Japanese were ‘dumping’ under-priced goods onto the American market, why couldn’t those goods be purchased by American companies and sold as their own? Crichton’s fear is not quite as irrelevant as it seems, because today we hear the same fears about China. right down to the concern that their ownership of so much American debt is a national security problem. Awareness that there must be a line between national security and profitable participation in the global economy has become an issue in the presidential debate this year as well.
Despite being dated in some ways, Rising Sun made for a very interesting read, both as a technologically-savvy police novel ahead of the curve, and as an alt-history piece which features Japanese characters and culture heavily.