I suppose I look at the "Manga Bookshelf" site fairly often. Seeing the eye-catching title "Last and First Idol" on its front page, though, left me with an impression of having been lucky to have had something so precisely combining diverging personal interests catch my attention before the steady march of new content could push it out of sight. Sean Gaffney's review had explained the electronic release from J-Novel Club was a collection of three short stories using idol singers and other tangents off the anime-manga nexus to set up some pretty hard science fiction. I could amuse myself wondering how many other people have not just some interest in idol singers (I might not have quite as much as some, but it seems "enough") but also some awareness of a science fiction book from the beginning of the 1930s, less a conventional novel than a "fictional history" of its near to a very far future, named Last and First Men by an English author, Olaf Stapledon.

Before I was ready to put down money on Gengen Kusano's work, though, I did want to see how its translation into English had turned out, aware of how often I find "light novels" sort of a slog compared to works originally in English. J-Novel Club does offer its e-books through the iBooks store, so I downloaded the preview from there, taking note of the description "existential widescreen yuri baroque proletarian hard sci-fi idol story." Starting to read, I was aware of something Sean Gaffney had mentioned from where it had been tucked away in the book's afterword. In a thoroughly postmodern twist, the title story had started as a work of Love Live fanfiction and then had the copyright infringement sandpapered off. As much as I wonder as I always do if mentioning this myself might "give the surprise away" for someone else, knowing it might have tided me along through a seemingly conventional, "school idol"-focused opening, one that invokes what seems one of the most popular slash pairings among other fans of the property (even if I have to keep admitting that sort of thing doesn't seem to grab me like it does others). By the time I'd reached the end of the preview, though, a school idol's skull had been sawn open to wrench out her brain and stick it in liquid nitrogen for later revival. At that moment, my paying for the full text was pretty much a given.

From there, it was on to sudden solar disturbances, genetically engineering spiders and jellyfish to try and shield the Earth only for this to not turn out well for humanity, and the revival of the "2nd Generation Idol," who overcomes her grotesque appearance thanks to a brain transplant from her obsessed former school idol companion and goes on to rebuild herself over and over through multiple "Generations," leaving the used-up Earth to embark on a voyage of ultimately cosmological significance that even manages to knit together all its unusual occurrences. It was peculiar, grotesque, and memorable, and in its own stretch of time and evolution it wound up feeling "Stapledonian" to a certain extent for me. A little while later, in looking up the story's original Japanese title, I managed to figure out Last and First Men had been translated into Japanese with a similar title, staking the resemblance to its origin rather than just interpretation.

The second story, "Evolution Girls," begins with a young woman about to hit bottom playing a "gacha game" (based on an anime-in-the-story that had me wondering about what I've heard of "Kemono Friends" before that actual series was mentioned in the afterword) tuned to diabolical effectiveness being hit by a truck instead. While she does get a second chance at existence, it's rather less good-looking than a typical "isekai" story; as with the first story, at the end of all the gruesomeness there's a grand sort of statement about deep workings of mind and universe. Throughout, though, I was at least conscious of how long I've played the Love Live School Idol Festival game, clinging to the distinction "I don't spend money on it"; whether this economy means spending less or more time playing than the big spenders do seems something to keep in mind.

Concluding the collection with "Dark Seiyuu" brought me to something with more "space opera" trappings, although it still seemed "hard space opera," at least. The "voice actresses" of the story kept up a definite touch of grotesqueness with their genetically engineered "laryngeal sacs," protruding organs that could power speedy interstellar travel and fire maser beams; their monstrousness to both each other and unsuspecting bystanders was perhaps softened by the steady tossing-off of scientific concepts. It's perhaps still more something I've experienced than analyzed, even with the afterword mentioning "bad otaku" willing to mash more than just similar intellectual properties together. Certainly, it's not as easy to just brush off the same way "typical light novels" sometimes threaten to be.