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Female and male infertility afflicts many Japanese couples. Recently, the condition and its treatments have featured in Japanese speculative fiction, most notably in early works by Sayaka Murata. An interesting male perspective is offered in “Stand-in Companion” by Kazufumi Shiraishi, an award-winning author known for his previously translated works “Me Against the World” and “The Part of Me That Isn’t Broken Inside.”

Stand-in Companion, by Kazufumi Shiraishi, Translated by Raj Mahtani.
58 pages
RED CIRCLE AUTHORS, Fiction.

The story is set in a future where the government decides everything, including a ban on infertility treatment. Hayato and Yutori, a married couple in their 30s, are unable to conceive, despite years of trying on hot-spring vacations. When Yutori gets pregnant after sleeping with a coworker, she leaves Hayato to live with the father. A new law allows Hayato to be assigned a “stand-in companion” — an android that serves as a new partner, equipped with Yutori’s duplicated memories. Granted full human rights, companions don’t know they are androids with only a 10-year lifespan. As Hayato spends time with the companion, he takes revenge on it for his real wife’s betrayal, while coming to terms with his own infertility.

The novella has a great premise, richly imagined and rendered with playful skill. Shiraishi is not afraid to mine the frustrations of a childless couple, the self-accusation and unspoken blame that can eat away at a relationship. At just over 50 pages, however, it feels more like a teaser than a complete work, with a lengthy exposition and a sudden, pat resolution. One would have loved to see what Shiraishi could do with the material if he had fleshed it out into a novel.

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