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BEAUTIFUL SHINING PEOPLE by MICHAEL GROTHAUS


Today, the blog spotlights a new release by journalist and speculative fiction author Michael Grothaus. Having visited Japan, I find this novel's setting intriguing.


Enjoy.


 




It’s our world, but decades into the future ... An ordinary world, where cars drive themselves, drones glide across the sky and robots work in burger shops. There are two superpowers and a

digital Cold War, but all conflicts are safely oceans away. People get up, work, and have dinner.


Everything is as it should be...Except for seventeen-year-old John, a tech prodigy from a damaged family, who hides a deeply personal secret. But everything starts to change for him when he enters a tiny café on a cold Tokyo night. A café run by a disgraced sumo wrestler, where

a peculiar dog with a spherical head lives alongside its owner,enigmatic waitress Neotnia...


But Neotnia hides a secret of her own – a secret that will turn John’s unhappy life upside down. A secret that will take them from the neon streets of Tokyo to Hiroshima’s tragic past to the snowy

mountains of Nagano.


A secret that reveals that this world is anything but ordinary – and it’s about to change forever...


Extract

2 – Japan is good.


‘I’m sorry,’ I say to a maintenance bot carrying out minor curb work. I’ve bumped into it after glancing the time on my phone. It’s just after eight p.m. and I’m headed back to my apartment, hoping my missing backpack is there. Hearing my apology in English, the bot replies, ‘No worries,’ and I turn the corner onto my apartment’s street.


This morning, when I woke, it felt as if I’d been in a long, dense hibernation and for several moments I stayed motionless in bed. The fine particulates of atmosphere floating among the rays of light flooding the apartment were captivating, and as their microscopic bodies swayed overhead, I couldn’t help thinking something was peculiar about the way they were illuminated – almost as if the photons adhered to some unknown physics that had developed in secret while I slept.


I rose, slid open the glass door and stepped onto the balcony. It wasn’t just the rays of light in my room – the whole world looked different.


Then I saw the time, and it hit me why: I’d never seen Tokyo in the nine-a.m. light.

Or the 9:09 a.m. light, to be precise.


I dressed and flew out the door. It was the first day I’d managed to wake in time; there was no way I was going to miss it again. I weaved so quickly through the crowded streets I reached Shibuya Station in half the time it should’ve taken. And despite the station being an endless tangle of paths and corridors, punctuated by indecipherable signs among a jungle of people, bots, stores, trains and buses, I caught the 9:45 tourist shuttle to Hakone.


My guide app listed Hakone as the best daytrip from Tokyo – just ninety minutes away. For the most part, the journey was unspectacular, but for the last thirty minutes, the shuttle skirted a bay and then the terrain became mountainous as we turned inland.


During this stretch, an elderly couple across the aisle struck up a conversation about how beautiful the water looked. They asked if I’d been in Japan long and where in America I was from. They were Canadians, and it was their first time in Asia. We chatted off and on, but when we reached the station at the mountain’s base, we became separated as everyone formed into packed lines for the cable cars. The one I boarded was filled with Chinese tourists who had arrived via another shuttle.


The cable car took us over yellow pits bellowing sulfuric clouds. They’re Hakone’s most popular attraction – though one girl in my car almost fainted from their smell. She had to sit, and someone covered her nose and mouth with a damp cloth. The car dropped us at the mountain’s summit, where we wandered the vast observation deck with good views of the yellow slopes. I took the obligatory pictures most everyone was taking, then rested my elbows on the safety railing and gazed at the plumes for a long time.


It occurred to me how clear-headed I felt. The fog of jet lag had finally lifted. I thought of the girl from the café. Her sleeveless denim dress and her clear, blue-grey eyes. I suppose I had her to thank for my slumber.


It occurred to me how clear-headed I felt. The fog of jet lag had finally lifted. I thought of the girl from the café. Her sleeveless denim dress and her clear, blue-grey eyes. I suppose I had her to thank for my slumber.


At one point, a priest from a Vietnamese tour group offered to take a photo of me overlooking the pits. I think he realised I was alone. I don’t like to be in pictures but stood for one anyway and thanked him. I emailed it to Mom and told her I was having a blast, then rode a cable car to the opposite base of the mountain, where it met a massive lake, and I boarded a ferry for a cruise. It was all part of the package. Besides, it was something more to do, at least – to fill all the time I have. Out on the lake, I took in the views and spotted a striking orange gate in the waters just off the shoreline.


That’s when it hit me: I didn’t have my backpack. I couldn’t remember where I would’ve taken it off on the observation deck. And then I realised I didn’t even have it on the shuttle. Had I left it at the apartment in my rush out the door? Or did I leave it in the café after the ear cleaning? I was so sleepy when I left, and the girl had asked me to remove it. There was nothing valuable inside.


It had the novel I’d been reading and the magazine from the doctor’s office. But my passport was in there, too.


It was almost four when the ferry reached the other end of the lake, right as rain clouds crept over the mountain. I followed the other tourists across the docks to the parking lot where we were to meet our rides; but once there an attendant announced an issue with some of the shuttles’ nav systems and said we’d need to wait another hour for replacements. The ones that finally arrived were the old-school kind that required an actual driver – and it meant I didn’t return to Shibuya Station until almost eight.


 

About the Author


Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist and author of non-fiction. His writing has appeared in Fast Company, VICE, Guardian, Litro Magazine, Irish Times, Screen, Quartz and others. His debut novel, Epiphany Jones, a story about sex trafficking among the Hollywood elite, was longlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and

named one of the 25 ‘Most Irresistible Hollywood Novels’ by Entertainment Weekly. His first non-fiction book, Trust No One: Inside the World of Deepfakes was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2021. The book examines the human impact that artificially generated video will have on individuals and society in the years to come. Michael is American…

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