Books: Rebuild World

February 15, 2023 · 0 comments

By Jonathan Clements.

When we first see Akira, he is gripped in the jaws of a mutant dog. Nahuse’s Rebuild World ditches the tiresome induction scene of many a “light novel“ – there is no sob-story about someone from our world magically transported elsewhere. Instead, we have an author who seems confident in his own story enough to just tell it. And it’s a rip-roaring opening scene, dumping the reader right in the middle of a savage, visceral fight over resources in a post-apocalyptic world.

Akira doesn’t really know what he is looking for, only that officials back at the town will pay various fees for whatever artefacts he can bring back from the Old World – a lost, ruined society with a technology often so advanced that it appears to be magic. Or sometimes, they have, like, carrier bags and mugs and stuff. But on one mission he runs into an unexpected discovery that will change his life.

Alpha is a disembodied artificial intelligence, first appearing as a naked, ethereal girl. She knows huge amounts of information about the world, but needs a human meat-puppet to do her bidding, as she assembles artefacts from the Old World for an unspecified purpose of her own. In the inevitable gamified narrative of so many light novels, Alpha becomes a god’s-eye presence in Akira’s world, showing him his position on the map, warning him about approaching threats, and setting him missions in the ruins. She also becomes someone for Akira to talk to, curing him of his irritating habit in the first chapter of talking to himself.

Alpha and Akira form an odd-couple partnership in the world of the scavengers. She makes no secret of the fact that she has already saved his life twice, and that, were it not for her divine influence, his hard-scrabble life in the slums would have already come to an end. The ruins are home to a menagerie of horrible monsters, leftovers from an ancient war – rogue war machines, unpleasantly evolved bio-weapons, and clouds of toxic nano. And, one suspects, Alpha too, since she must also be some sort of military relic, albeit one that has learned that the way to hook in a teenage boy is to appear as a naked girl.

Weighing in at 270 pages for “part one of volume one”, Rebuild World is hardly what I would call a “light” novel. As ever, “light” here is an attempt to manage the reader’s expectations, a get-out clause that says you would be foolish to expect novelistic density, despite a page-count that takes up half a tree. It’s not quite some teenager’s fan fiction thrown up online and then stuck between covers as IP bait to lure in an anime company, but that’s largely because I can see that an editor has been near this: the first chapter is the work of a much better author than the second, as if the experience of writing the book has already taught Nahuse some tricks of the trade, and he snuck back to write a better opening. Either that, or he had his whole life to write chapter one, but chapter two came swiftly afterwards, against a deadline.

Back in the “Old World” as someone might say, if a manuscript like this made it out of the slush pile, it would have made it to an editor who threw it back at the author with some notes. Had the author considered, perhaps, telling the whole thing from the point of view of Akira, using language appropriate for an illiterate groundling with no concept of the backstory of the world he is wandering through? Or had the author considered telling the whole thing from the point of view of Alpha, a practically omniscient AI, forced to use an unskilled teenager as her agent in the physical world? Instead, Nahuse blunders through a number of different registers as if still learning to write as he goes, flitting between gritty scenes of a post-holocaust world, and long pontifications about how it got that way.

The early part of the book contains a wonderfully cynical idea, that the corporations running the safer enclaves deliberately distribute free food in the slums in order to lure the needy there as a distraction for the beasts of the wilderness. They also leave weapons caches, to incentivise the locals to turn to hunting in the ruins as the sole means of escape. Just think of the fun an author could have had letting their characters discover this, instead of just spoon-feeding it in an infodump.

Similarly, after receiving his meagre reward for a life-threatening expedition in the ruins, Akira is set upon by a group of thugs hoping to steal his money. He fights them off, but is left with a wound that would have been fatal, were it not for one of the quasi-magical Medi packs that Alpha advised him to hang onto. This is a great scene to unpick, but it passes in the book in roughly the same wordcount I just used to summarise it, a by-the-way that, inexplicably, the author doesn’t seem to realise would have made for good drama.

There are moments where Nafuse seems to work this out as he goes, such as a telling scene where Akira feels refreshed and energised, and Alpha archly informs him that he now merely feels human, and that what had passed for normal for his whole life previously was a constant vortex of malnutrition and stress. But one also gets the sense that we are watching a promising young author still learning how all this works, a common complaint about the rush to publish so many “light” novels.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. Rebuild World is published by J-Novel Club.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


The latest news, articles, and resources, sent to your inbox weekly.

© 2020 Anime Ltd. All rights reserved.