Map of Blue Book Balloon

7 March 2023

#Blogtour #Review - Beautiful Shining People by Michael Grothaus

Cover for book "Beautiful Shining People" by Michael Grothaus. Manila background. In the centre, an inset square in pale blue, with the faces of a woman and as man, looking slightly upwards and to the left. Their eyes are closed. In the top right of the square, an electric toaster. In the top left, a cartoon Sumo wrestler. Between these, a tree branch in reds and pinks.
Beautiful Shining People
Michael Grothaus
Orenda Books, 16 March 2023
Available as: PB, 384pp, audio, e
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781914585647

I'm grafetul to Orenda Books for an advance copy of Beautiful Shining People to consider for review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.

Beautiful, Shining People is at its heart a love story, but it is a very unusual one.

It's also near future SF - but again, an unusual example of that genre.

It's the combination of the two themes, and the way they fold together, that creates that distinctiveness together with an exploration of modern Japan, and a real concern for the future, for the impacts of technology, and for world peace. 

A mixture like that sounds as though it's going to be incoherent but Grothaus expertly brings everything together and infuses all these concerns into gorgeous, well-realised characters to create a truly memorable story. You'll worry aboutt Neotnia and Johns, care for them, cheer them on, be appalled by the risks they face and, at times, probably shed a tear at what they go through. 

John is an American IT prodigy, in Tokyo to sell his world-beating software. He has travelled from what seems like an increasingly authoritarian, buttoned-up United States - there are references to lists of 'banned keywords' - itself locked in a new Cold War with China. At first sight be may seen a classic, antisocial geek but - as we learn - there is more to him than that, John is also different in another way but he wants to be 'normal' and there is talk of surgery to bring this about.

Neotnia is a young woman with a vague past. Working in a restaurant run by disgraced ex-Samurai Goeido, she seems a lonely figure with no other family or friends. It's perhaps not surprising that she and John feel some attraction to one another and reading the book I was eager for them to build their relationship but once they do, the secrets that each keeps from the other will make any things between them far from straightforward. As Grothuas describes events over a few short weeks one Autumn, we sense these issues lurking while remaining - initially - ignorant about their exact nature.

The story therefore provokes all kinds of emotions from the outset: concern, curiosity, empathy and a growing unease about where this will all lead. The near-future depicted (the SF strand to the story) adds to that unease, as John begins to receive cryptic messages from the AI-infused bots that seem ubiquitous, and we see casual examples of the uses and abuses of the underlying technology behind them. It's a very believable future, sketched in rather than info dumped, the pluses and minuses senses rather than declaimed. It's an intuitive vision, one arising, as it were, from the cracks of our own present and forming a very credible, version of the mid 21st century. To do this, Grothaus blends demographics, climate change, scientific advances and politics, focussing as much on the factors that drive the future tech and on the scientific whizziness itself.

It does make for a rather worrying picture of the future, one that certainly menaces Neotnia and John but that threat is as much from familiar societal factors - over mighty corporations and superpower politics - as from the tech itself, the solutions therefore being human ones. The book isn't without dashes of humour, from the excesses of a Japanese Hallowe'en (it was especially fun to see that in this world, Epiphany Jones is famous enough to have people cosplay her!) to the dog Inu to that developing, tender relationship between Neotnia and John (and its inevitable strains and collapses). 

There is also plenty of action, and plenty (especially a visit to the Peace Park in Hiroshima) to give pause for thought. But the best parts of this book are those that show John and Neotnia learning to understand each other (even without understanding each other) and the atmospheric depictions of Tokyo  in particular and Japan more widely. 

A book I'd highly recommend.

For more information about Beautiful, Shining People, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy Beautiful, Shining People from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, Waterstones or Amazon.


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