Organizational Management, Ouroboros Wave

Getting warmed up for MoshiDora fer reals dudes.

I exchanged a couple words with 2DT a couple days ago over twitter, and he reminded me how despite Spice & Wolf is a sheep in wolf’s disguise in terms of hard-hitting econ concepts (ie., it’s kinda basic as far as econ concepts go), it forwards some key big-picture notions to a hopefully-young-enough audience that they may be intrigued by them. In the first book the biggest one of these is the notion of silver content as it ties into the power, wealth and prestige of a country issuing them, and how even you could have a ton of money, it can still bankrupt you because some bits of information get leaked (namely, how your money has the just the tiniest less amount of silver than previously thought), despite that there is intrinsic value in silver. I thought learning how to charm a wolf-woman was the far more practical advice offered in the light novel series, the art of relating with somebody in which the bargaining chips are not so easily quantified.

We can extend the same views to Ouroboros Wave, the somewhat-neglected Haikasoru title from late last year. I think it came out with Rocket Girls (which I also finished recently), and since it is kind of this generic not-so-near SF anthology about human colonization of the solar system that feels almost too stereotypical, it didn’t get a lot of attention. I think the fact that it is an anthology hurts it; as a series of short stories there aren’t much in terms of the overarching threads connecting the story other than the setting. A few characters show up in a couple different stories, but it doesn’t matter if you read the story they were first from since only one interesting thing carries over, and it wasn’t a big deal if you missed it. At least, other than the setting, of course.

A strength and weakness shared by most of these short stories is that they all have the same kind of theme and concepts, may it be a story about catching a terrorist on Mars or investigating alien life under the polar ice cap of Europa, the same kind of “magic wand” gets waved around. The story is not very strong on characters, except perhaps the first of these. On the other hand, the strong similarities in theme and concept it has with other franchises like Crest of the Stars and Mobile Suit Gundam (UC timeline) enables some decent comparisons. At the same time though, it shows how those two series entirely overshadow this one when it comes to characterization.

What I want to pick on is Ouroboros Wave’s incessant notion of organization. I understand this is coming from a Japanese cultural context. And frankly Japan is not known for its progressive, productive and innovative management styles in their corporate environment. The social structures and culture just don’t allow for it. Looking at it from that perspective, the notions proposed in Ouroboros Wave in regards to its modular and performance-driven organizational society is a radical notion. It’s almost Borg-like in that there’s an unstated equality between everyone in terms of understanding their role in the mission of their lives, and it’s very Japanese. At the same time it goes to criticize hierarchy and the forceful fitting-in, that passive-aggressiveness in which is part and parcel with that sort of work culture.

It would be fine and another not-very-noteworthy footnote to Ouroboros Wave if I saw it from that perspective. To me, organization management is just like any other branch of information technology or logistics in which we can empirically march towards a technologically superior mode as t approaches infinity. Just like how we didn’t have airplanes 200 years ago and spaceships 100 years ago, we didn’t have the assembly line 200 years ago or Scrum 100 years ago…

And the problem is, while the proposed organizational structure in Ouroboros Wave escapes the worst kind of mistakes (that Nisioisin makes regularly: being outright outdated by today’s standards or completely wrong), they were kind of just there. It’s like telling the reader how there’s FTL drive, and you keep on talking about there’s this FTL drive, but you never even wave your hand to explain how it works beyond current understanding of these things. In other words there’s no equivalent of a “warp bubble” in Ouroboros Wave’s notion of organizational structure. It is as if the way people organized themselves today was not subject to any kind of rational reason as to why they do it in the first place. I guess “the webs” is kind of that? Or a break with tradition (which would sell to a Japanese audience I suppose)? But it seems like an answer to the wrong question. I mean maybe it’s just that the company I work for operates in a manner not too unlike the one described in the book (Earth is not exactly small, after all), so I know some of the challenges are in those situations. Ouroboros Wave addressed none of them, and that is a big letdown in my opinion.

Still, I guess to some people (since this is mostly targeted for young teens and teens) it can be an eye-opening kind of thing. Like how the popular understanding of technology applies not just to Dysonspheres and personal electronics, but also project management and corporate governance, or how currency trading involves large volume and fast reactions. It’s the usual head trick of applying today’s tech to illustrate a bright future, in the meanwhile teach some curious reader a thing or two about something they wouldn’t know. I just didn’t think Ouroboros Wave did a good job at that.

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2 responses to “Organizational Management, Ouroboros Wave

  • schneider

    Yay, an Ouroboros Wave post! I thought the blurb was a little misleading. Made me expect a novel when the book is actually just a collection of stories. Aside from that 20-page story about a goddamned rock, I enjoyed it a lot.

    (How can you beat a Golgo 13 plot with mass drivers on Mars?)

    I’m not experienced in the ways of hard sci-fi, and so the AADD’s handwaved organizational structure went over me. I took it at face value and liked it a lot–sure, the Terrans were portrayed as backward humans tied down by gravity, but at least the AADD isn’t made up of angsty robot pilots. (Who am I kidding? I’d gobble that up!) Got me thinking, what would happen if we acted that way?

    Oh, I got a kick out of the last story. There’s just something romantic about long-term space projects that last decades, the people who throw themselves at them, and their proteges who come after. Aguri ;_;

  • omo

    I thought the rock story was kind of cool, coming from someone who’ve read the Next Continent. LOL.

    As far as the space human v. earth human thing, more and more I think it’s rooted in some kind of allegory between Japan’s old generation and new generation. See this NYT article for a dose of perspective.

    It’s a very personal thing for me, at least, when it comes to dealing with corporate organizational structures. It’s serious business that at least the western world take, well, seriously. It makes and breaks companies, sending their stocks soaring or plunging. In the land of Rising sun, however, they are immune to that kind of thought. Those companies do not and can live without reinventing themselves every 10 years.

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