Maestro Hiroyuki Namba: His Science Fiction and Music
Takayuki Tatsumi,Ph.D. (Literary Critic; Professor of American Literature at Keio University)

I first came across the name of Hiroyuki Namba (born Sept. 9, 1953 in Tokyo)
on the very day I entered junior high school; it appeared in the then-latest
issue (No.23) of Karamatsu ([Japanese Larch]), a little magazine edited by
the school literary club, which Namba served as manager. A ninth grader at
Gakushuin (a school system founded to educate members of the royal family),
Namba had written an extensive, highly stimulating essay entitled “SF
Carnival” for Karamatsu on the subject of Anglo-American and Japanese
science fiction. This  far-ranging survey was at once so readable yet
penetrating as to entice a novice science fiction fan like me deep into the
central mysteries of the genre.

The enfant terrible himself I made it my business to meet in November of the
same year, soon after he won the Nousei Abe Literary Award (named,
incidentally, for the president of Gakushuin) for his short story Seidouiro
no Shi (Death of a Bronze). The story itself impressed me deeply; a
proto-cyberpunkish narrative which explores the fate of a terminator-like,
out-of-control cyborg soldier, it reflects the strong influence of first
generation writers like Ryu Mitsuse and Yasutaka Tsutsui, despite Namba’s
obsession with Kobo Abe. Furthermore, since the award competition was open
to the entire school system (the Gakushuin system includes an elementary
school, junior high, high school, university, and even a graduate school),
it was unprecedented for a boy in his early teens to win. Yet Hiroyuki Namba
ユs story knocked aside the entries of the older candidates and took the
prestigious award. I made up my mind to visit the literary club.

In person, I found Namba to be a typical acti-fan, pursuing SF and SF 
fanacs with great vigor and dedication (which offers some indication, I
believe, of why he felt it necessary to write “Seishounen SF Fan Katsudou
Shou-shi” [“A Short History of Juvenile SF Fan Activities”], which was
published serially in Takumi Shibano’s fanzine Uchujin [Cosmic Dust] from
1972 through 1973). At the time of my visit, the club had just published a
mimeographed SF fanzine called Taiyo no Kami  (God Sol ) which Namba had
edited; Without  the inspiration gained from this close encounter, I could
not have launched my own fanzine, Kagaku-Makai  (Techno-Apocalypse) in
January 1970, and thus I would never have had the opportunity to publish
Namba’s first progressive rock fiction, Hikousen no Ue no Shinsesaiza- Hiki
 (Synthesist on a Zeppelin). Appearing in the 31st issue (June 1972) of
Kagaku-Makai, this Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP)-dedicated story was no less
than a science fiction version of  Fiddler on the Roof; Synthesist on a
Zeppelin proved a masterpiece, and lived on to be published as the title
story of Namba’s well-received 1982 collection of short fiction, as well as
to inspire the release of Namba’s progressive rock album of the same name.

Turning to music, I first attended a live Namba performance in November
1971, at the Gakushuin high school cultural festival. Namba captivated us
with his keyboard work in the jazz/fusion combo Peaceful Band (later known
as La Vogue); this performance came as no great surprise, as I had learned
that the mullet-talented Namba grew up in a musical family, with a classical
vocalist mother and a jazz organist father. As a junior in the Law
Department of Gakushuin University, Namba joined the progressive rock trio 
Ai no Sanshoku Sumire (Lovely Pansy), which covered the tunes of ELP, PFM
and Focus. This trio, which was a forerunner of Namba’s present unit Sense
of Wonder (1981-), appealed to the famous fusion bassist Yoshihiro Naruse,
who invited Namba to join Naruse’s new band Mari Kaneko & Bux Bunny in
1975. 1979 saw the completion of Namba’s first solo album, Sense of Wonder,
which he dedicated to the Anglo-American science fiction masters —
Frederick Brown, Isaac Asimov, R. A. Heinlein, Alfred Bester, Larry Niven,
and others. Thus did Namba begin a professional career that paved the way
for the rise of Japanese progressive rock.

Hiroyuki Namba composes and performs such a variety of music that his work
defies easy categorization, yet one would not strike too wide of the mark in
describing his original music as a marriage of the Western progressive rock
of the 1970s and the Japanese pop of the 1960s. In the former, Namba locates
the science fictional potentiality of electronic musical instruments, in the
latter, the science fiction lyrical sensibility that he has cultivated so
fruitfully. Hence has the happiest union of the European musical avant-garde
and the Japanese musical mainstream proceeded, and herein lies the
innovative greatness of Hiroyuki Namba, maestro of science fiction music,
and of musical science fiction.  (8/23/2000).
Hiroyuki Namba and I
Takumi Shibano (Author; Translator; Editor of Uchujin [Cosmic Dust])

For the first time in years, I had an opportunity to enjoy a live keyboard
performance given by Hiroyuki Namba: he was scheduled to perform during
ZERO-CON, this year’s Japan Science Fiction Convention. Far more strongly
than any vinyl or compact disk recording, Mr. Namba’s living music that
evening “struck a chord” in me, a joy felt through and through.

At the outset of the performance, I was surprised to encounter the familiar
theme of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” woven into his first number, “Hello
Thomas” — a piece inspired, Mr. Namba explained, by the true story of one
of Thomas Edison’s inventions.  The second number, “The Green Hills of
Earth,” was also familiar to me, being an arrangement of a Kiyoshi Imaoka
original, not to mention a Robert A. Heinlein reference.  There then
followed a tune which I recognized, but couldn’t quite place. As I was
pondering where I’d heard it before, Takayuki Tatsumi — who happened to be
sitting beside me — leaned over and whispered, “this is ‘Ringworld,’ you
know.”  Indeed I had encountered this piece, on the album which Mr. Namba
had given me to commemorate my translation of Larry Niven’s novel of the
same title.

I believe it was the end of 1966 when I first met Mr. Namba, then a
precocious seventh grader newly selected for membership in the literary
coterie Uchujin (whose name translates as “Cosmic Dust”). Mr. Namba came to
pay me a visit in my role as founder of Uchujin and editor of its magazine
(also called Uchujin), a post I occupied for many years.  Mr. Namba went on
the following year to win the Nousei Abe Literary Award for his cyborg story
“Seidouiro no Shi” (“Death of a Bronze”), and thus won acclaim as a writer
long before becoming a famous musical artist.

His writing career prospered. A collection of Mr. Namba’s SF short stories,
“Hikousen no Ue no Shinsesaiza-hiki” (“Synthesist on a Zeppelin”) appeared
in 1982, and was followed by several other books. Even now, the series of
reviews he wrote for Uchujin  from 1972 to 1973, “Seishounen SF Fan
Katsudou Shou-shi” (“A Short History of Juvenile SF Fan Activities”) is
regarded as indispensable to understanding Japanese SF fandom during that

If I am qualified to write liner notes for an album by Hiroyuki Namba, it is
as a fellow lover of science fiction rather than as a music aficionado.
What pleased me most about his performance that evening was that the image I
‘d had of him as a fair youth had not changed one bit after all these years.
I could feel it in the strains of his marvelous music.

May Hiroyuki Namba’s good fortune continue, and may his youthful spirit
endure forever. (8/20/2000).