I’m a big Roger Zelazny fan, but I hadn’t read “24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai” before now. No one writes quite like him, but if I had to compare him to a current author, I’d pick Neil Gaiman, since gods and myth find major roles in writings by both of them. Now that I’ve read this story, I see that Zelazny can also be compared to writers like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. “24 Views” is not gritty like Neuromancer, which was published the year before this story (1984), but it does deal with some of the same digital territory.
In the story, a man programs and breaks codes while connected into a computer through a headset. When his wife (Mari) notices that he is spending much more time than usual in the connection, she asks him about it. He says he is meditating. His philosophical musings become disturbing, and soon she finds him in a coma, headset connected. After the funeral, he contacts her - turns out he’s not dead at all, but has followed the flow right into the machine.
All of this is back story. When the story opens, Mari is running from her husband, who has become insistent that he join her. The novella contains 24 chapters, the setting of each one corresponding to a woodblock print that is part of Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji, a work by Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849). As Mari floats through the virtual world in an attempt to keep ahead of her husband, she puts herself in settings inspired by these prints.
Like Vinge’s “The Cookie Monster”, the story posits that a person’s consciousness can be uploaded into a computer. However, Zelazny’s character is not whole after the move. Mari, after taking a small taste of what it’s like to be uploaded, is horrified by the experience. Her husband, though, is enthralled by it. At one point, he tries to convince her to follow him, and she tries to explain why she doesn’t want any part of it. The conscience vanishes, she argues. All actions lose their meaning. Action and consequence are all just illusion, he says. Mari argues to keep those parts of herself that she deems the most important. Her husband argues that it’s all illusion anyway; how could it not be, when these things no longer exist where he is? But, in this story, he’s no longer himself - and no longer human - after the upload, perhaps because he’s lost the things Mari holds dear.
Of Zelazny’s other works, I found reading this novella to be most similar to Lord of Light, a novel which also won a Hugo Award. Though the subject matter is different, both stories unfold in the same way. The reader can’t tell exactly what’s happening until the story is well underway. Zelazny’s one of the best, though. Trust him, follow where he leads, and you won’t be disappointed.
I found this story in The New Hugo Winners, Volume II, presented by Isaac Asimov.
A Roger Zelazny website: LINK
A collection of all 24 Hokusai prints mentioned in the story: LINK
What’s “The List”? LINK