Beautiful Shining People by Michael Grothaus

A damaged young man meets an enigmatic waitress in a Tokyo café, and they embark on a journey that will change everything … an emotive speculative literary novel set in a near-future Japan

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 ordinary – and it’s about to change forever…

There I was one evening recently, picking up book after book and bouncing off each in turn. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on what I wanted to read next. What was I in the mood for?

Then I remembered that I had a copy of the new Michael Grothaus book from Orenda Books on my kindle. I liked the sound of it – near(ish) future SF set in Japan, with a disgraced Sumo wrestler with an odd dog, and an enigmatic waitress. I’d also enjoyed Michael’s previous book Epiphany Jones a few years back.

Sure, let’s give it a go, I think to myself.

Beautiful Shining People is a book that just wraps itself around you and refuses to let go. I think I finally emerged blinking from it several hours later, and well past my usual bedtime (let’s just say I needed a LOT of coffee the following morning!).

It’s in part a love story, albeit an unusual one, meshed in literary science fiction. Like the title, this story is beautiful, the characters shine and you watch entranced as they come together, each with their own secrets and past, each trying to figure out where and how they fit in this strange new world. It’s a world of superpowers battling with deepfakes and AIs rather than conventional weapons. Of quantum computing and how it’ll change our society. Of Big Corporations and whether they’re good or bad. And how humanity is dealing with all of this.

The characters are extraordinary, yet very ordinary. John, a 17 year-old wunderkind brought to Tokyo by Sony, who wants to buy his revolutionary quantum code. Neotnia, the waitress from the tiny cafe that John stumbles across one evening and who will change his life forever. Goedio, the ex-Sumo wrestler whose life was upended by deepfakes and who now runs the cafe with his oddly spherical-headed dog, Inu.

Much like the Tokyo of the story, Beautiful Shining People is deeply layered, beautifully contructed and one of a kind.

Glorious. Hugely recommended.

Beautiful Shining People by Michael Grothaus is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda for sending me an advance ebook to review.

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

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