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Literature / Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

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Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Japanese: 世界の終りとハードボイルド・ワンダーランド, Sekai no Owari to Hādo-Boirudo Wandārando) is a 1985 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The story alternates between two narratives, "Hard-Boiled Wonderland" and "The End of the World", and has a strange, dreamlike quality running through both.

The first narrative ("Hard-Boiled Wonderland") tells the story of an unnamed protagonist in a Cyberpunk future Tokyo who is trained to be what is essentially a human data processor, whose subconscious holds an encryption key to prevent the information from falling into the wrong hands. The second narrative ("The End of the World") follows an individual who has just arrived in a strange walled town where the inhabitants, including the narrator, have been separated from their shadows and are not allowed to go beyond the town wall. The two parallel narratives begin to bleed through into one another as the novel reaches its conclusion, exploring themes of identity and consciousness.

The novel contains examples of:

  • And I Must Scream: What the protagonist and the Professor think living inside one's own mind would be like.
  • Badass Bookworm: The Professor is an old man and a brilliant scientist. Despite his age, he still manages to climb an underground mountain with a sprained ankle while fending off horrible underground creatures. His granddaughter also qualifies - she's learned huge amounts from her grandfather and has no trouble dealing with a pair of Semiotec goons.
  • Beneath the Earth: The lairs of the INKlings.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The End of the World plot, leading to a Downer Ending for the Hard-Boiled Wonderland plot.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: According to the narrator, the Granddaughter is pudgy in a very attractive way.
  • Big Eater: The librarian in Hard-Boiled Wonderland is a thin woman who always seems to be hungry.
  • Consummate Professional: The Narrator is very cool, methodic, and disciplined about his job.
  • Crystal Skull: The protagonist is given a skull by the professor which glows.
  • Cyberpunk: Hard-Boiled Wonderland.
  • Downer Ending: See the entry for Bittersweet Ending above.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The Professor's laboratory is hidden under a high-security office building in Tokyo.
  • Empty Shell: The citizens of the town at the End of the World are basically this, and it is implied that the narrator will become like this once his shadow dies and he is fully assimilated into the town.
  • Epiphanic Prison: The End of the World.
  • Eye Scream: The narrator's initiation as the Dreamreader in The End of the World.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Whether or not the protagonist's eternal life in The End Of The World qualifies as this is handled ambiguously, and ultimately left to the reader to decide.
  • For Science!: The Professor's motivation. He only took a job with the System to get funding and test subjects, and his single-minded pursuit of knowledge means he has an unfortunate habit of disregarding little things like experimental ethics when they get in his way.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: The Granddaughter is attracted to the Narrator. The Narrator rejects her despite being attracted to her as well, out of professionalism and common sense.
  • Human Popsicle: The narrator of Hard-Boiled Wonderland might end up as one until the Professor figures out how to get his mind back.
  • Identity Amnesia: The narrator of The End of the World can't remember anything about himself before coming to the town.
  • Living Shadow: The narrator of The End of the World has been separated from his shadow, which seems to have a mind of its own and which desires to get inside the town so that it can reunite with him.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Unicorns are rarely an aphrodisiac.
  • Long Title: It is a combination of two titles, kind of.
  • Loss of Identity: A major theme.
  • Market-Based Title: For whatever reason, the English translation swapped the order of "The End of the World" and "Hard-Boiled Wonderland".
  • Mind Rape: The procedure required so that a Calcutec can use the "shuffling" technique to encrypt data.
  • Mind Screw: It's Haruki Murakami's Creator Thumbprint.
  • Nameless Narrative: None of the characters in the book have names.
  • Neuro-Vault: The protagonist of Hard-Boiled Wonderland has top secret data hidden inside his subconscious to prevent the anti-government Semiotecs from getting at it.
  • Noodle Incident: Some of the Professor's past work.
    Granddaughter: You sometimes get so wrapped up in what you're doing, you don't even think about the trouble you make for others. Remember that ankle-fin experiment?
  • Ontological Mystery: The End of the World and its town.
  • Prefers the Illusion: Our protagonist almost escapes from his Epiphanic Prison, but turns back at the last minute, choosing to stay in the town, committing mental suicide.
  • Red Herring: Although unicorn skulls have an undeniable, albeit cryptic importance to both plotlines, the story about the Soviet scientist investigating alleged unicorn remains in a part of Europe with unusual terrain ends up having no discernible connection to the plot and is completely dropped a few chapters after its introduction. At first the protagonist is sure that this story is of vital importance and that he might even be in possession of the very same skull that had been excavated by the Soviets decades ago, but by the end of the book he seems to have completely forgotten about this idea.
  • Science Fantasy: Hardboiled Wonderland is science fiction, while The End of The World is fantasy.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The two plots are structured like this.
  • Unicorn: At the End of the World, there are beasts living outside the town that are described as unicorns, although they are quite different from the traditional description. The narrator uses their skulls for "dreamreading". The narrator of Hard-Boiled Wonderland also encounters a unicorn skull at one point.