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Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
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It is 2029 and the first world is troubled by an aging population compounded by a worldwide fertility crisis. In Japan this crisis has led to the importation of immigrant workers to care for the elderly, but the culture and the politics make it incredibly difficult for workers. All are required to pass rigorous language tests if they wish to stay in the country. The development of smart technology and robots are also being used to cover the needs of a less and less able-bodied population.

Angelica Navarro is a nurse for an elderly woman, Sayoko, in Tokyo, her job seemingly secure because of Sayoko's resistance to most modern medical appliances. Then, Sayoko's son gives her a new kind of care-giving robot with sympathetic technology that allows it to educated itself on its owner's needs. Angelica can only watch as a bond begins growing between the two and fear what will happen to her.

This is one of the better near-future novels I've ever read. It immerses the reader into modern life in Tokyo through Angelica's forced "outsider" perspective. Chapters from Sayoko give perspective on how Japanese culture adapted, or failed to adapt, after World War II and the upheavals of the 20th and 21st centuries.

I was a little frustrated at first with Angelica's antagonistic relationship with Hiro (the caregiver robot), but it is completely understandable once more of Angelica's background is revealed. Sayoko's seeming lack of compassion is settled as well. This book covers some complicated, fraught ground of race, globalization, ethical technology, pollution, and more with grace. There are no neat endings and people who are being victimized do not always make judgements that satisfy a reader. This was a great sociological science fiction novel, and I'm waiting for it to make greater waves in reader's circles in the coming months. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 20, 2019 |
What Made Me Read It They had me at artificial intelligence in a Japanese setting.

The Good "Plum Rains" is a mix of historical fiction, science fiction and dystopia, with a focus on contemporary issues. It's not action-packed but a quiet character study about the relationships between an elderly Japanese woman Sayoko, her Filipino home nurse Angelica and the highly evolved but not quite legal AI robot caregiver Hiro. The characters are complex and fully fleshed out. Through them we get a good sense of the reality they're meant to represent. Even though it's set in the near future of 2029, the novel explores deep and current themes of environmental disaster, immigration, artificial intelligence, diminishing birthrate and rising longevity. But it's also a story of buried secrets, shame, forgiveness, acceptance, relationships, dependency, connection, loneliness, relevance.

The Not So Good Personally, "Plum Rains" was a disappointment - too dark and depressing for my taste. I read to escape reality, not to be reminded on every single page of how miserable real life is. But it's a personal distaste and the sole reason I gave it such a low rating. The novel does possess enough strong points to satisfy most readers, specially those who enjoy real life tales. Also, fair warning: there's a whole chapter on sexual slavery. If you're sensitive to the subject you might want to skip it.

Read the full review on: https://literaryportals.blogspot.com/2018/11/book-review-plum-rains-by-andromeda....

Final Rating "Plum Rains" is a dark, thought-provoking mix of historical fiction, science fiction and dystopia, with a focus on immigration policies and human/AI relationship. Recommended for those who enjoy character driven stories that explore the effects of past traumas, buried secrets and cultural pressure. ( )
  LiteraryPortals | Nov 21, 2018 |
This book is set in the not too distant future of 2029 in Japan. The fertility rates have dropped extremely low and the elderly are living even longer. Japan is bringing in more and more immigrant workers to take care of their old. They are also working on artificial intelligence to handle where humans are falling short.

After a slow start, I really became engrossed in this story of the Filipina nurse, Angelica Navarro who is caring for Sayoko Itou, a very private woman about to turn 100 years old. Sayoko’s son sends his mother a prototype robot caretaker that educates itself to bond with her and anticipate her needs. Needless to say, Angelica fights against this AI as she sees and hears how attached Sayoko is becoming to her robot. While I know that science fiction lovers (and you have to question how much of this is really science fiction) will really like this book, the story is engrossing enough for most readers. Once I got into this book, I did read it straight through. ( )
  Dianekeenoy | Jun 6, 2018 |
This novel centers on two characters: Sayoko, a Japanese woman nearing her centenary (and the attendant media coverage of that birthday), and Angelica, the Filipina immigrant nurse caring for her.

It’s the year 2029. Robot development has taken a “Pause” after the Musk-Hawking 2015 letter warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence. There was the South Korean Sexbot Ban of 2025 and the E.U.-U.S. AI Accord of 2026 (rather short-lived since the E.U. goes into the ashbin of history in 2027). Other regional agreements put similar bans in place.

But it’s just a pause, and that’s made clear when a new model of Taiwanese robot shows up to take care of the rather technophobic Sayoko. It’s was ordered by Itou, Sayoko’s son and employed by METI, according to some the government agency that really runs Japan.

The best part of the book is that robot, Hiro, and his conversations with Sayoko and Angelica. Hiro is not a programmed robot. He’s designed to learn and, particularly, learn about his charge Sayoko.

Romano-Lax does a credible job describing the Japan of 10 years from now. As now, immigrant nurses have to keep up on their medical Japanese and are tested regularly. To that, the Japanese have developed a sophisticated monitoring network to meet the needs of the natives and keep an eye on the foreigners.

This being a literary novel, there’s lots of trips back to the main characters’ past and a gradual reveal of their secrets. One of those, revealed early on, is that Sayoko is at least half Taiwanese, and we hear about her childhood during the Japanese occupation of that island.

There are, of course, subsidiary characters: Junichi, Angelica’s lover and a co-worker of Itou; Rene, an African working as a physical therapist in Japan; and Datu, Angelica’s ne’er-do-well older brother. He works in the BZ, a heavy metals mining area in Alaska – that’s BZ as in “Burned Zone”, a cordon sanitaire that killed most of the animals in Alaska to prevent the spread of bird flu.

A question I had is why go to the work of hiring people to be poisoned slowly in the BZ when robot technology is increasing in sophistication. However, Romano-Lax handles the technological extrapolation fairly well.

However, as a science fiction reader, I thought this book could have been tightened up considerably with shorter passages about Sayoko’s and Angelica’s early lives. Some descriptions could have used just one, not three, similes to present a picture.

The central conflict of the story, robots or humans to care for older Japanese, is well shown in Angelica’s mixed feelings about Hiro. After all, Hiro is potentially her replacement, and she needs the job to pay Datu’s and hers debts to a Filipino loan shark.

But Romano-Lax dilutes and cheapens that conflict by bringing in an element that makes the future of Japanese elder care as robots or humans an unlikely either-or dilemma because pollution has rendered most Japanese infertile. Thus, the normal solution, up that birth rate, is taken off the table.

There is also the question of the book’s concluding tone. Sinister implications of robot technology rub shoulders with some cyberpunk hero story. It’s almost as if sequels are planned. Though, that said, I might read such a sequel since I didn’t dislike this novel – just thought it unnecessarily rigged its central dilemma and was too long in parts. Part of that change is encoded in the metaphor of the title. The “plum rains” of Taiwan are the dreary season of rains followed by spring.

Finally, it must be said that, while it’s fairly obvious that Romano-Lax comes down on the notion that Japan needs more immigrants, she’s not heavy-handed about it. And she has presented a story with some nice ruminations on sacrifice, need, and love. ( )
2 vote RandyStafford | Apr 27, 2018 |
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"2029: In Japan, a historically mono-cultural nation, childbirth rates are at a critical low and the elderly are living increasingly long lives. This population crisis has precipitated a mass immigration of foreign medical workers from all over Asia--as well as the development of refined artificial intelligence to step in where humans fall short. In Tokyo, Angelica Navarro, a Filipina nurse who has been working in Japan for the last five years, is the caretaker for Sayoko Itou, an intensely private woman about to turn 100 years old. Angelica is a dedicated nurse, working night and day to keep her paperwork in order, obey the strict labor laws for foreign nationals, study for her ongoing proficiency exams, and most of all keep her demanding client happy. But one day Sayoko receives a present from her son: a cutting-edge robot caretaker that will educate itself to anticipate Sayoko's every need. Angelica wonders if she is about to be forced out of her much-needed job by an inanimate object--one with a preternatural ability to uncover the most deeply buried secrets of the humans around it. While Angelica is fighting back against the AI with all of her resources, Sayoko is becoming more and more attached to the machine. The old woman is hiding many secrets of her own--and maybe now she's too old to want to keep them anymore. In a tour de force tapestry of science fiction and historical fiction, Andromeda Romano-Lax presents a story set in Japan and Taiwan that spans a century of empire, conquest, progress, and destruction. Plum Rains elegantly broaches such important contemporary conversations as immigration, the intersection of labor and technology, the ecological fate of our planet and the future of its children"--… (more)

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