Stand-in Companion – Kazufumi Shiraishi
Stand-in Companion is a uniquely compelling short story from the award-winning Japanese author Kazufumi Shiraishi. The story alternates between two competing scenarios involving a married couple – Hayato and his wife Yutori. In a future, where a population explosion has deemed it illegal to use IVF as an aid to pregnancy, Yutori and Hayato are desperate to have a child so much so, that it consumes their primary goals and focus. With such an exhausting aspiration they have forgotten to live life, love each other and recognise what they do have. They are haunted by respective medical problems that make it extremely difficult to conceive a child.
In one existence Yutori has become pregnant by another man and will now end her marriage to Hayato and focus on her new family. Hayato who is betrayed, broken-hearted and grasping the disaster that has befallen his life applies to the Human Rights Relief Committee to secure a Stand-in Companion.
“This led the committee agreeing to employ exceptional measures; renting free of charge for a ten-year period, an android unit, a stand-in companion; while also ordering Yutori, the spouse responsible for the breakup, to have her memories duplicated using Memory Copying into the stand-in companion.”
The android unit is provided with the same legal protections as a human, and it will believe itself to be human.
In a parallel scenario, Hayato gets another woman pregnant and wants a divorce to maintain his new family citing Yutori’s medical issue and the precedence of having a child. Feeling betrayed, sad and lonely, Yutori applies to the Human Rights Relief Committee to secure a Stand-in Companion. They are both successful.
As the years pass an ambiguity is woven into the story by creating uncertainty amongst the voices from each of the four characters; who is human and who is android. The story very cleverly probes into the deeper needs of a partner. Was it really all about having a child? As fond memories about the early years of their relationship resurface, perhaps the wrong decision and actions were made. I do enjoy stories that encourage a deeper philosophical consideration of their meaning, and this book certainly does that from a few perspectives.
Robotics and the pursuit of androids are very much engrained in modern Japanese psyche and the story very cleverly captured this convergence of synthetic versus nature. The story also probed into nature versus nature and what we hold as valuable in loving relationships. Perhaps the final position would be synthetic versus synthetic and with a future undecided, that may be a possible ending.
I would recommend this book and I’d like to thank Richard Nathan from Red Circle Authors for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review.