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…
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.
My thoughts: what started out as a rather sweet boy meets girl, fish out of water, romance becomes something very different once John discovers the truth about Neotnia and Inu (the dog). Neotnia’s got some questions and a missing father, who is the only one who can answer them. She needs John’s help first, and then they start digging into her father’s past, hoping his whereabouts are hidden in the few clues they have.
Through them, the book explores questions about the past, future, AI, technology and how humans will use and misuse it. John is a teen tech genius, poised to sell his quantum programming to Sony, but could it instead aid humanity? Rather than just be another algorithm with shopping, social media and deepfakes as its end.
The book is startling, moving and rather sad. By the end I was completely swept up in it and found the last section profoundly tragic but with a tiny pearl of hope right at the bottom. It’s also intensely thought provoking.
Blending discussion of Japan’s past – specifically Hiroshima and Nagasaki (I have a uni friend who lives in Hiroshima and sends me beautiful pictures of her home town) and the horrors of the bombs that were dropped on those towns with fears about AI and how it could be used militarily and not to help. Scientists don’t necessarily create and find things with the end point in mind – the author tells us of Einstein who after seeing the devastation wished he had never discovered E=MC² .
As we race into this imagined future, where bots do the menial jobs companies struggle to fill, and Japan’s aging population need carers (as is true elsewhere too), and tech becomes increasingly advanced, are we too building a dangerous future where we can’t tell if a deepfake is just that? Terrifying and mind boggling but we do have time to change course. Absolutely brilliant and I’ll probably be mulling this over for some time.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.