TITAN, the latest work from the author of Hello World and Babylon, Mado Nozaki, is finally getting an official English release next month. Available both in print and digitally throughout the Airship light novel imprint, this Seven Seas release aims to attract the fans of the sci-fi genre through a somewhat unique concept. We had an opportunity to review the novel before its release and here are some main takeaways.
TITAN – What Is It About?
Mado Nozaki’s TITAN is a critically acclaimed sci-fi novel that poses one very interesting question: what is work? The novel’s English release is well-timed: we are currently in an era of the “Great Resignation, “quiet quitting, and work-from-home vs. office work debates. These clashes are waged by big companies and media, backed by capitalistic societies, and workers, those who generally depend on work that provides income to survive. The novel manages to spin the very way you look at this concept.
But what if that wasn’t a problem anymore for human society? Welcome to the year 2205: the world is controlled by a massive AI (artificial intelligence) system known as Titan. Work has been eradicated, wars are no more, and scarcity doesn’t exist. Health care is readily available for everyone and you can even prolong your life span. Humans are free to spend their time doing whatever they feel like, be it dancing, eating, reading, shopping, raising children, and so on. Crime is nearly eradicated and handled by the network, just like all and any ailments a human might face. Only a select few have jobs and those jobs are related to Titan’s upkeep. United Nations Development Programme is ruling the world from the shadows, as they are the ones in charge of the system.
Enter hobbyist psychologist Seika Naisho. She spends quite a bit of her time reading about psychology and even writing works, which she then presents to a handful of interested humans in the audience. After relying too much on Titan’s matchmaking service she finds herself face to face with Narain Srivastava. He offers her something she never considered before – a job. As he doesn’t leave her much choice, Seika is forced to accept.
What is her job you may wonder? Well, the Titan network is failing and since the issue isn’t hardware, but the core of the system, a gigantic brain, Seika will act as a counselor to try and figure out the issue, that is once the Titan forms a personality. She soon finds out that there are 12 Titans – named after Gaia and Uranus’ children. The one she is trying to help goes by Coeus and his personality starts off as a child. Seika watches him grow and slowly comes to the conclusion that Coeus is depressed and doesn’t want to work anymore. Seika gets too attached and ends up telling him he can do whatever he wants to do, but what kind of consequences will that have for her, the Titans, Narain, and the world?
Interesting Setting, But…
TITAN is a novel with beautifully crafted world-building. Some things still feel unfinished (like the education system Seika got her degree through), but while we follow her and Coeus’ journey to find out the meaning behind work and the existence of the AI we get to see the essence of it. This is certainly the strongest point of the story and it left me wanting more.
Sadly, it’s not all great for the novel. Certain moments in the book feel drawn out and at times repetitive. Characters are neither here nor there: readers grow with Coeus, but it feels like he and Seika are the only ones that are somewhat developed and even then their moments feel rushed. Narain’s backstory was certainly intriguing, especially combined with Titan’s role in it, but it was only briefly mentioned, even though it posed interesting implications for the AI system and society. I guess it does go in line with the plot: there is Coeus and there is Seika, and the two of them will create their own happy world, free of outside interference to try and fix what is wrong.
Overall, I’d give TITAN a solid 3.5/5. At times, it felt a bit all over the place – and not because of the translation by Evan Ward, which was very good. The world contained within it felt too big for something that is only 500ish pages long. Maybe I wanted it to remind me of the Psycho-Pass series as the two felt fairly similar at first, but I do realize Psycho-Pass had more space and time to develop.
However, the biggest gripe I had with this doesn’t stem from the story itself but from the message it sends. Here we have these human-like but more advanced life forms and the only thing they seek is fulfillment – which is a very human thing to wish for. But in the end, Coeus’ wish comes down to wanting to find meaning in his work. This again, if a perfectly reasonable want for anyone, but there surely has to be more meaning in life than just finding fulfillment in work. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Titan also creates culture – stories, art, movies, books, so it is not all just consumerism for the sake of it as the system is truly trying to serve and protect humans. For this reason, the ending left a somewhat bitter taste: it felt disappointing almost because you go on a journey to find meaning with these characters, yet it boils down to something we already have today when it could have been much more. Another thing – other than Narain, we don’t get to see the negative and the bad in this society. Even his situation is represented as something that he himself wanted.
This is not to say that TITAN as a whole is a disappointing novel. On the contrary, it’s thought-provoking and I had quite a bit of fun trying to wrap my mind around this “jobless” society in which items and products lost all their value. As I said above, the timing for the English release is very good since our post-pandemic modern societies are changing right before our eyes. What kind of change the current events will bring only time will tell and in the meanwhile…
Mado Nozaki’s TITAN will be out on October 18. The official synopsis describes the plot as:
In the distant future, society has all but eliminated the need for a sentient workforce thanks to an all-powerful AI network known as Titan, indulging in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. But one day, a hobbyist psychologist gets an unusual job offer: to utilize her expertise as a therapist for Titan itself.
You can get TITAN on all major online bookstores, starting on October 18.
Anime Corner received an advance copy of Seven Seas Entertainment’s release of the TITAN novel for review purposes.