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February 2001
 
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The Box from Japan by Harry Stephen Keeler (1932)

Harry Stephen Keeler's The Box from Japan is one of the more unusual sf/mystery novels. Keller wrote the book in 1932 to predict the far-off wonders of 1942. He predicted the Giant Sugar Cactus---a cross between the sugar beet and the saguaro cactus---which became the mainstay of the Mexican economy (their dried flesh makes an inexpensive taco meat). Keeler predicted the second Prohibition, the special Vigesimal Mail election that requires that votes be mailed in on years evenly divisible by the number 22---which insured blacks having a chance to get the polls in the South---a logical conclusion that I'm sure you all see. He predicted the hologram as the color TV process of 1942. He predicted the creation of laser crystals from sugar. He predicted that personal names could not be said on the radio in 1942, since they might contain code.

Keeler is not merely a prophet. The intricate, tight-plotting of the book defies description. Keeler invented his own plot system called the "web-work plot" which consists of weaving together as many possible coincidences as possible. The Box from Japan is based on approximately 350 coincidences, any one of which would strain the non-Keeler reader's credulity to the breaking point. (Keeping track of the 40+ major characters isn't easy either.) In short there's a L-O-T going on the novel's brief 765 pages. I'll let you in on one secret: that box contains a dye for marking the feet of identical twins, but don't think that will make it easier for you to solve the murder mystery that drives the plot. No one can figure out a Keeler mystery, certainly not Keeler!

—Don Webb

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