Yukikaze, with its themes of drone warfare and alienation, has been translated from its original Japanese into a world where it is even more relevant than at the time of its release in 1984. After aliens invade through a portal over Antarctica, humanity regroups and pushes them back to the planet "Fairy". At the novel's beginning, the war has been all but forgotten on Earth and is regarded as something of a myth. Isolated and cut off on Fairy, the soldiers there are viewed with growing suspicion by the once again divided Earth nations.
Locked into isolated pockets of land by impenetrable jungle, the humans are forced to do battle with the aliens using advanced, increasingly autonomous fighter planes. As the humans and even their military computers begin to question the value of humanity's place in the war, the aliens become more important for their significance in this debate than for their lethality in combat. The moment when the humans eventually realize their opponents—being drone-like—may be conducting a war against the humans' machines, while remaining totally unaware of the humans themselves, is a chilling one, evocative of the debates currently raging over the military use of drones.
However, perhaps an even more significant theme of the book is that of growing disillusionment with the cause assigned to the inhabitants of Fairy. While the military expedition initially comprised humanity's greatest, the apathy of the nations of Earth has led to a military now staffed primarily with convicts and social rejects. Of this group, Rei Fukai, the main character, is assigned to a group of pilots selected specifically for their selfishness and disinterest in other people. Given the simple order "come back alive" before each mission, their task is to watch the combat, to gather data, and to make no move to intervene as their fellow humans are decimated.
The two main themes of alienation and replacement of humans by machines complement each other beautifully through the medium of Rei and his advanced fighter plane Yukikaze. Kambayashi also does an excellent job with the aliens, leaving them genuinely unknowable compared with most modern fare, and creating in the reader and characters a sense of bafflement that mirrors the confusion with which the aliens seem to regard humanity. If you are not one for big questions and philosophizing in your books, Yukikaze will likely leave you cold despite some well-written aerial combat. But if you can overlook some strange word choices wrought by translation (who names a planet Fairy?), Yukikaze addresses contemporary issues of robotics and disillusionment with a military cause through the lens of a compelling near-future sci-fi novel.