The Ghost in the Shell: Five New Short Stories: Review

Walk around and you probably see more people paying attention to their smartphone screens than their own surroundings. Am I right? It does look like we’re more connected to our technology and a virtual, digital world than to each other and the “real” world, doesn’t it? Masamune Shirow anticipated much of this all the way back in the late 1980s with the original Ghost in the Shell manga (which is a great read, too), and the franchise has been ahead of the curve ever since. This take on technology, combined with old school devotion to action, politics, crime, corruption, and war, makes it one of my favorite fictional series, and it is an influence on my upcoming Red War series of books.

Ghost in the Shell is a series which paints a realistic picture of the future that isn’t dystopian, but isn’t sunny. Any world in which someone can hack into your brain and overwrite your identity isn’t altogether pleasant. If identity theft is bad now, it can get worse.

It’s a world where everyone is cyberized, where cyberbrains have taken over, and consequently, physical interaction, even speech itself, isn’t necessary to obtain information. Some people in the series choose to retreat from their physical bodies entirely. If the substitution of social media for social interaction is bad now, it can get worse.

Ghost in the Shell is never preachy, however, and that’s a source of its strength. A couple of years ago, to tie in to the 2017 movie (which wasn’t bad), some accomplished authors in Japan released five new short stories. You don’t need to be familiar with the series to enjoy them. Each one is a standalone effort.

The five stories are…

  1. Shadow.net
  2. Heterochroma
  3. Soft and White
  4. Soliloquy
  5. Springer

I’ll briefly review each one, so you can get an idea of whether this book is right for you.

Shadow.net

This was an interesting, if not the most exciting way to begin Ghost in the Shell: Five New Short Stories. You don’t see the world from the familiar perspective of the series’ protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, but rather from a drone system with attached human eyeballs. One consciousness controls the drones and can thus see the world from multiple perspectives.

While this concept is interesting, I found that Toh Enjoe never really made the most of it. The action that unfolds in Shadow.net is mostly about exploring the world from the unique point of view of this disembodied drone consciousness. The action doesn’t escalate and the reader doesn’t feel like there’s a sense of urgency.

So while the possibility of disembodied consciousness within a drone system with eyeballs is interesting in terms of speculative fiction, it’s the weakest of the five short stories.

Heterochroma

This is the strongest of the five short stories. A police officer is nearly killed in an attack from an organized crime syndicate, but is saved by Motoko Kusanagi, who awes her in the process. The (female) officer becomes obsessed with “the Major,” but not in a sexual way. Rather, she just wants to see Motoko Kusanagi again and commits crimes to do it…looking like “the Major,” with a special new cybernetic body she sacrifices a lot for just to become more like her savior.

Crimes stemming from weird motivations enabled by new technologies and resulting in climactic action is classic Ghost in the Shell. You’ll also appreciate Heterochroma if you’re interested in how memes and ideas spread. “The ideational factor called Motoko Kusanagi,” our antagonist says, is an important plot point. This resembles the copycat concept in the Stand Alone Complex series, which is the best in the Ghost in the Shell franchise.


Soft and White

This one is a direct tie-in to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, seemingly taking place after the first season but before 2nd Gig. One of the notable characters from that series is invited as a security consultant of sorts to an exclusive island where the world’s rich and famous retreat to have a good time.

The catch is that almost everything on that island is a figment of the imagination. The “stuff” only seems real because of the unique software that interacts with guests’ cyberbrains. This results in a world of illusions of the senses, but which are translated into real physical sensations via the brain.

If you’re reminded of The Matrix, Soft and White was probably inspired by it (The Matrix in turn was inspired by Ghost in the Shell). The action escalates as the protagonist looks for a terrorist infiltrator but finds himself faced with a far more sinister threat that wants to use the software as a modern-day opiate of the masses.

While I liked Heterochroma more, I wouldn’t be surprised if you marked Soft and White down as your favorite among the five short stories. It’s well-paced and paid off, with enjoyable callbacks to the wider series.

Soliloquy

Like Shadow.net, this is another of the five new short stories that’s more philosophical than narrative based, but is executed better than its predecessor. Here, Motoko Kusanagi engages in a long conversation with a doppelganger that is more her than her. It takes place in a weird point of space that almost appears like a gateway between parallel universes.

How did she get there and what does it mean? I won’t reveal too much, but the dialogue is enjoyable. If you like off the wall stories where people seem to have contact with extra-dimensional beings, this one is for you.

Ghost in the Shell Five New Short Stories
Motoko Kusanagi as seen in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Springer

This one was incredibly enjoyable. It’s about the theft of high-performance cyberbodies designed for Olympic-class athletes. If you want to talk about how transgender athletes are affecting sports, imagine what happens when you can customize your own bodies!

Turns out, there’s a certain smell that comes with those cyberbodies unless they get activated legitimately. So we follow a unique point of view as we uncover the mystery of a unique crime, with perpetrators jumping between and hiding in different bodies, all the while a ghastly body count continues.

Springer is also classic Ghost in the Shell, it’s why I love the series. Unsurprisingly it’s my second favorite among the five new short stories.

Conclusion

One of the key selling points of Ghost in the Shell: Five New Short Stories is that it lives up to its name. You can read through each of them quickly. Most of them are about 30 pages (and the book is physically small). Soft and White is the longest of the new stories at 66 pages. It doesn’t require a high time investment and you’ll be entertained.

If you enjoy action, crime/mystery, or science fiction, you’ll like Ghost in the Shell: Five New Short Stories, even if you aren’t familiar with the rest of the series. And who knows? You might just get into a bigger world you’ll like even more. Click here to get it. It’s about $12 on Amazon.

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