January 2045 eve of the Hiroshima Centenary. Japan has just emerged from 5 years of self imposed isolation. The country underwent contamination during a catastrophic earthquake and nuclear spill but is now clear for foreign visitors.
Due to waning US power, and China asserting its regional hegemony the Yoshida Security Doctrine has expired. Some time in 2043, after much controversy and protest in the Japanese Diet, the LDP government signed the the Yu Ai Kyosei (Brotherhood) Accords, a pact to share systems tying Japan and China together to increase mutual prosperity and to reduce risk of war.
In the meantime, Japan has developed a fiercely guarded nuclear fusion process that enables them to furnish their energy needs. Japan has passed legislation to allow the development of an artificial intelligence programme far more profound and far reaching than elsewhere. Though the details are not all known – this has profound moral and legal implications for Japanese citizens. Elsewhere (e.g. USA) unfettered AI and Superintelligence and brain-software interface programs have been outlawed after fatal accidents. Japan however have made this is a priority; so the 2043 Cognitive Dividend Act encourages it.
Nano technology and other technologies have developed to the point that Japan is entirely self sufficient in food through synthetic taste substitutes based on stem cell research. The government has also undertaken a rebuilding programme of social housing based on modular pods. The robotics revolution has fully automated the economy. Whilst many work in robot design and maintenance, most work in the service industry, the fastest growing part is the pleasure industries, this virtual reality libidinal economy is akin to a 21st Century Floating World.
Whilst older Japanese still pull a yen based currency, a new crypto currency has grown up based on performing purely virtual work. This creates selection pressure for cognitive efficiency and processing speed which is what is increasingly respected and rewarded in Japan. This radical reworking of the Japanese economy mean that most young people have been incentivised into cognitive online world where the boundaries between work and play are fuzzy even though the entreé does require a certain amount of invasiveness in surgical procedure. Many rumours have circulated about this world, but as everything leaving Japan is subject to censorship or to dissimulation, salacious rumours of sex robots and the like are unconfirmed.
Into this new Floating World comes Mikhail S a reluctant demographer sent as part of a Russian delegation to share research. Japan has just overtaken Russia in population – both of them are at 120 million. Mikhail has been sent by the Demographic Ministry to share information as part of a UN initiative to monitor population goals.
Misha, 26 is half Japanese, his mother having met his father, a Naval Captain in Hokkaido in the 2010s. He has heard a lot about Japan and wants to rediscover his Japanese roots. He is a sex and love addict and enmeshed in a toxic relationship with his fiancée Lyudmila back in Russia. Their on off relationship, though they are still officially engaged, is not going too well. He is unhappy in his job as a demographer at the Institute. Though he welcomes the opportunity to visit Japan. He is worried about his mission, feels unprepared and unsupported by his colleagues.
As the novel begins he is on the flight to Tokyo from Moscow and due to attend an Embassy reception meet a Cultural Attaché and has meetings with Ministry officials, as well as observed interviews with Japanese subjects.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Mikhail Kurakin - the main character – demographic expert from Russia sent on a fact sharing mission to Tokyo – Eurasian, lives in Vladivostok – half Japanese but estranged from Japan and his roots – mother enmeshed, emotionally immature, suffers from sexual allergies. The novel is built around his coming to recognize his destiny hidden in self-damaging behaviors through Nozomi’s good offices.
Nozomi Fujiwara – the female heroine of the novel, moral compass. Nozomi means hope in Japanese and also is fastest bullet train. Nozomi is a hotelier concierge by day, technologist, Buddhist activist by vocation she helps running temple rehabilitation for those suffering from cognitive overload. She wants to do justice to her father’s memory be a trainee Bodhisattava. She turns into Mikhail’s spiritual guide.
Satoko Isshii – ex-girlfriend of Matzuzaka’s (and this is how Mikhail meets him) once a devotee of the LoveLine but since has dropped out, and as a result has become the subject of bullying. She is addicted to ‘boothing’ involving virtual reality love scripts. She is a lure to Mikhail throughout, since he is addicted to saving ‘damaged’ women. Satoko it turns out is trying to create an android to love her.
Matsuzaka Araki – wonderkid hacker who used to be involved in LoveLine turned renegade programmer, lives in the tunnels under Akihabara. Meditator and master at obfuscation – setting up fake news feeds to fool digital surveillance. Affiliated with Nozomi and the Buddhist Liberationists. Ex boyfriend of Satoko Isshii. His main motivation is to help to jam or outsmart SuperIntelligence engine.
Todd Baedeker – colleague of Mikhail’s from the US, Southerner, born in Louisiana. Republican family and politics, played football at college. Part of a UN energy mission. Pragmatist. Though he takes the piss out of Mikhail initially and they have fractious relationship – chauvinist, dissolute and a gambler. He is also vulnerable to the temptations in Tokyo and reconnects with Mikhail on different terms later.
Mitsuru Miyazawa – the woman Mikhail meets in a hook up which turns out to be a honey trap. She is works for the cosmetic company Shiseido by day, but also works as a high class escort. It turns out that she has been working for the government acting as a honey trap to ensnare foreign men in Tokyo.
Aloysha Kurakin – younger brother of Aloysha living in Orthodox monastery. Aloysha is epileptic and the hallucinations that go with fits mirror Mikhail’s sex allergy. Aloysha is aligned with his Dad. An attempted operative procedure only made things worse. This prejudices Mikhail against brain tech.
Ludmila Zalinsky – girlfriend of Mikhail, a bit of a princess, from rich Russian family with a dacha. She is a corporate lawyer. They have a co-dependent relationship. She succumbed to a charm offensive, and she found him exotic, fascinating initially but now realizes how impractical he is pressures him to get promoted. They got engaged, but they’ve had sexual problems and she suspects him of infidelities.
Mr Xhi Luong – the eminence grise of the Chinese government seconded to the Ministry of Demography (as many CCP officials are in 2040s). Is a main interface between the Yu Ai government and the conglomerates that control the Japanese media including those that run the Loveline game. Is party to Superintelligence. He is the pivot that informs us what Beijing does and doesn't know about.
Inoue Yoshimoto – The Japanese official who works closely with Xhi Luong is a real Sinophile and speaks both languages fluently and proponent of the Yu Ai accords. A Daoist he sees accommodation with the Chinese, and ceding loss of Japanese sovereignty as inevitable and desirable. Mitsuru’s lover.
Zoroaster Damoni – Iranian nemesis. The actual character owns a Persian carpet shop in downtown Tokyo but appears to moonlight as a pimp. Shadowy character who appears suddenly and without warning, with consorts when Mikhail is tempted by his addiction or in lucid dreaming bubble of fantasy unclear whether he really exists or not. Fond of quoting moral aphorisms and from Manichean ideas.
Ikura Tatsuya – early 50s, fixer, chauffeur for those chary of driverless cars, in the background as an odd job man. Rather emblematic of old Japan, turns out to be Nozomi’s father, revealed after she dies.
Kaoru Murasaki-Kuragin – Mikhail’s mother, a Tiger mother, had a very enmeshed relationship with him, slightly mentally unstable, guilt trips her son. She calls him Genji, she’s become a bit of a fabulist.
Vadim Plotniev – early 50s, Mikhail’s boss, they don’t really get on, does not feel valued at work.
ACT 1: DELUSION (40,000 words)
A girl is found in the woods near Tokyo, Sea of Trees with a suicide note. The haiku reads: “Past human I bound, To err is human, but now. No errors allowed…”
Bodhisattva comments on aversion, delusion and craving are abiding human characteristics, no matter how far with propel ourselves into our technologies.
The story begins as Mikhail flies into Japan in March 2045 from Moscow. He is musing about his Mum, and the way she calls him Genji, while eyeing up the cabin crew. He doesn’t want to end up as a decadent playboy prince, even though he’s susceptible to women.
In arrival the hall he picks up an apparat* the most advanced in the world. Captivated by the white clad Docomo sales woman, he is notified about a number of beta apps that are bundled in. These include translation apps and one called Limbic Empathator that he leaves toggled on. He gets the Maglev shuttle into Tokyo where he is picked up by the mysterious Ikura, fixer and chaffeur in a city full of driverless cars. Ikura grumbles about the Chinese takeover; that Japan is going to the dogs. Misha goes straight out to a super formal embassy reception, in a shuttle with other ex pats staying at his hotel, amongst whom are Todd Baedeker an American energy guy and others, all on UN missions. He is met by the Cultural Attaché for his trip who briefs him on his schedule and the people he will be presenting to. He meets demographers from other countries. The purpose of the diplomatic mission is fact sharing on policy. Global sensors now automatically record all births and deaths. Japan has recently overtaken Russia in population in spite of poor environmental conditions. The demographers exchange rumours about post autarky Japan, about the Yu Ai accords and the notorious pleasure quarters of Tokyo.
Afterwards Misha goes back to his hotel with Todd. Todd makes lewd jokes and invites him to go out with him to notorious entertainment district Kabukicho. When he refuses, he gets ribbed. He has strange dreams, about his Dad and his infidelities and then does lucid dreams in the middle of the night. He finds himself wandering around Tokyo. After wandering through ferroconcrete, he finds himself in carpet shop with a man called Zoroaster who gives him a solemn augur. On the way back to the hotel, he gets a strange message on the apparat asking him for help. He goes back to hotel, and masturbates to porn to get sleep.
SUB PLOT: just introduced to the individuals who are involved in the Loveline game – which is a way of proving your cognitive skills and finding a partner. Shintsuke, Izumi, Hiro and Shinobu are speaking on a chat room and sharing thoughts about the recently rumours of suicides of people on the Loveline. They talk about the first ever one reported in Sea of Trees, and was it a hoax?
In the morning Misha goes down to the lobby, full of Chinese tourists. He meets the concierge and notices that she wears a Buddhist amulet. He asks her about a restaurant recommendation and about a Buddhist temple his mother had told him about. He has a morning meeting at a youth centre with a couple who are expecting a baby, arranged by the Cultural Attaché. Misha is stressed because he has to finish off the presentation for the next afternoon. After the meeting, which is tedious, and in which the respondents give platitudes as answers, he goes back to the hotel to work on the pres. He sees on television reports about the Yamato Damashii and their apparent terrorist activities and government counter measures.
He calls Lyudmila and his Mum in short succession. His mother has just been discharged from a mental institutions and guilt trips him for not having visited her. His girlfriend mentions that she has found a therapist for their sexual difficulties recommended by her best friend whose husband was impotent but is now doing better. This infuriates Misha who flies off the handle. He starts to work on and triple check the presentation, while watching porn, but gets a message from Todd, who is already irritating him, to say that they are going out to meal and then karaoke. He is a bit melancholy but is persuaded to drink and is almost persuaded to go back with one of the Chinese hostess girls. He goes into a hostess bar on his way back to the hotel, but leaves when he realises they are all pneumatic robotic dolls. On the way home he obsessively views ex girlfriends on the web. Again this Zoroaster haunts him on the way back home with prostitutes. He wants to go out and pay for sex but receives a supplicating message on his apparat that distracts him. He wakes up with a wet dream.
Next morning, having stayed up, and jetlag, he’s not in good shape. This is the day of the important summit meeting at the Ministry. He is out of sorts, hungover and full of dread. He leaves in a chauffeur with a translator – he thinks a minder as has been using Babel Fish. He is very nervous on the way and looks at porn to calm his nerves in the car. He’s not totally prepared. After a walk through labyrinthine corridors he is introduced to Ministry officials, Inoue Under Secretary who he finds condescending. He gets through the presentation but the audience seem inattentive and condescending throughout. The Cultural Attaché afterwards praises him for his work but he is unconvinced. He feels humiliated and leaves deflated. He messages his boss Plotniev but he just berates him for being unprepared and not numerate. He feels like his presence in Japan is a sham, doubts the validity of his mission. He starts to curse previous professional decisions, for not pursuing anthropology instead. He calls Lyudmila but she is unsympathetic, he gets a message from the apparat from someone mentioning sexual craving and wanting help but ignores it.
When he gets back to the hotel however, he realises he has picked up someone’s data block and that it probably belongs to a Ministry official. He tries to access it but it is blocked ‘classified’. He has only optional meetings the next day or so – but he wants to go to a Buddhist Temple. He is waylaid as he walks past a parlour entitled Loveline, on the way. A drone startles him. On the way back from the Buddhist temple, past a bamboo grove, he passes an alley hearing screams. A girl is being bullied by a group of other girls. Hearrives in the aftermath to comfort her. Her name is Satoko. He tells her he’s on business, about his mission, his interest in with 2045 Japan; after comforting her, gaining her trust, she offers to take him to a bar. They talk about Russian literature. He tells her about his mother, Genji and wanting to discovering his roots. She bemoans state of Japan’s root are busy being excavated as they speak. She tells him about Japanese youth and new social stratification by cognitive ability. She says her boyfriend used to be into it, but is now ‘underground’. She laments about the changes in Japanese language, new phatic lexicon among young people. They walk past mysterious pillars on the side of high rise buildings – she tells him the rumours about them being suicide chutes.
They get to an Oxytocin bar where the drinks are spiked with nurture chemicals and you can inhabit romantic scripts in virtual reality from multiple narratives and ‘swoon’ in booths. He demurs. She tells him about Loveline and the economy and about how young people are losing their humanity, She tells him about her friend Junko who had experimented with implants and come to a tragic end, betrayed by a female friend ot become her surrogate brain. Misha is shocked, feels pathos and is drawn to Satoko but vows to stay chaste, she’s only 18 and he knows he’s a sucker for rescuing. He mentions his apparat and the weird messages. She says she knows someone who can help fix it – and if he’s worried about drones, will sort that out too – she lets him know how he can reach her ex, hacktervist, Matzuzaka.
SUB PLOT: Insert section on a group of friends participating in cognitive competition parlour, Loveline – Izumi, Shinsuke, Hiro and Shinobu. All very high achieving students. About how they share neural nets and solve problems for money by corporations and the crypto currency benefits they derive from being part of the Loveline system. Their views on irrelevance of modern education and share their beliefs about the Supercession (when sum total of human intelligence has been exceeded by Spiritual Machines).
The next day he travels to Akihabara and he meets with Matzuzaka at a teppanyaki joint. He who talks in very cryptic terms. He earns crypto currency as programmer for a successful app which translates from kanji to the phatic emoticon speak of the youth. He is one of the few who is fluent in this. He tells Misha his rogue app is a limbic matcher that matches him with people with a similar spikes in ventrium striatum (associated with stress and addiction) but Misha chooses not to have it removed finding it titillating.
Mikhail goes back to the hotel, sees the concierge, she ends their conversation with something his Mum used to say; Buddhist proverb about a man’s mind being worse than his worst enemy. He’s annoyed but he goes on his way. He gets two messages on his phone from his boss complaining about his work. He doesn’t want to go back to the hotel. He wishes he could hang out with Satoko but knows it isn’t kosher. He starts travel the Metro in a trance, looking for hook ups. He gets a match with a woman. She tells him to meet up in a French café below a Love Hotel. He paces up and down outside for 30 mins anguished by going through with it but resentment overtakes him, he feels entitled to gratification after what’s happened. He gets a bunch of warning messages on his apparat from people claiming to feel as anguished about sex as him and saying not to do it but he ignores them. He meets her and walk over to her apartment and they start drinking. She says she works at Shiseido – she denies she is just after picking up foreign men. They eventually have sex – he’s grateful that she’s not a robot.
He wakes up the next morning – he’s been moved – dumped in a Love Hotel. He feels terrible, far worse than what the hangover tells him. He gets euphoric recall of the previous night’s events. He has to see her. She sends a note saying that “the violator has become the violated.” A sense of dread comes over him. He really feels terribly guilty when he next speaks with Lyudmila. She asks him point blank if he has been faithful – he puts the phone down. He is immediately love addicted to Mitsuru and goes to call her when he gets through she says he must have the wrong number denies any contact. He is desperate for attention and approbation so he starts trying for hook ups but is unsuccessful so starts texting Satoko who responds. She says she is willing to meet with him, but only if agrees to go ‘boothing’. He reluctantly agrees and they meet that evening. The clandestine Oxytocin Bar (a bigger one this time) is hidden underneath the Prada building in Ginza. When he arrives the girl who meets him, who is with a boy who turns out to be a programmer for the Rabu Rabu Corp looks like Satoko initially but there is something uncanny about her. She treats him roughly and teases him, goads him into boothing. They run a script from Eugene Onegin, where he undergoes feelings of superiority and then unrequited yearning. The feelings it brings up suddenly disturb him reminding him of abusive relationships and he has to leave.
It transpires the girl he met was a cloned avatar veneer. Satoko says she thought he was a spy. Misha is livid, and is roaming the streets. He receives a mail from Lyudmila to say that she has just received a film file of him having sex with a Japanese woman and that it's over between them. He is full of shame, remorse and anger. He realises that it was a form of revenge porn and that he;s probably been set up. He’s devastated. He calls Lyudmila to ‘explain’ but ends up fulminating at her all his pent up rage in a spiteful co-dependent tirade. He then goes to some of the places he’s been told about, and fantasizing about and some hook ups with women. This lasts for a couple of days – it is a proper bender. He feels terrible afterwards. Filled with morbid thoughts, he travels the metro and goes to a suicide chute but gets messages from the mysterious people on the app – they are also foreign men in Tokyo. They ask him if he’s okay and ask if he’s also been going crazy with sex and is in trouble. He finds out individual stories turns out all victims of honey traps. He ignores these messages but then gets one from Nozomi at the hotel telling him that she knows he is in danger. He comes back to the hotel, she tells him she knows things have not gone according to plan. He says that he is fine and not to bother him. He goes back to his room and looks at pornography.
Mitsuru calls him back and says that she’ll agree to meet him the next day. She insists on it being in an onsen in Hakone. She says she’ll explain why she did what she did. He can't believe he’s doing what he’s doing but he agrees. He starts to realise that he is in a trance like state and cannot really control it.
He meets Mitsuru at the mixed onsen. He is nervous, but is overwhelmed with lust. After time in one pool, she takes him into a secret portal, they have sex. He wants to go into another portal to see some fish. They do so She excuses herself, and the portal they just starts to fill with up with water. He escapes realizing the peril. There is no sign of her, but there a Lexus with diplomatic plates outside the baths. When he gets back to the hotel he is told that the Cultural Attaché has been looking for him, there is a message at the desk. He calls Plotniev and is told he is not available and suspects the worst. His goes to his room and tries to plan out what he is going to do. He runs through the options, that he could try and hide out with Satoko, try and fly back to Russia, give up the data locker or just go on a bender.
As he is doing so, he gets a message from Nozomi, saying his life is in danger to pack and meet her out back. When he does so a car with tinted windows is waiting for him. Ikura is at the wheel – he speeds him to Tokyo station. Nozomi meets him – they are bound for Western Japan. She says Matzuzaka is buying them time with obfuscation. He used Tor Relays, babble tapes and other techniques to decoy tracking. But they’ve only 3 days grace. Misha very reluctantly goes with her.
SUB PLOT: Izumi, Shinsuke, Hiro and Shinobu. Their scores come through now Izumi & Hiro are offered more invasive implants for higher performance
ACT 2: AWAKENING (30,000 words)
They get off at Osaka and get a train over the bridge get to the countryside. Shikoku, for the reason that surveillance tech is weaker there, due to Chinese influence. She gives him the yutaka robe and cone hat the garb for pilgrims. They have a cover, which is the 88 Temple Walk, that Nozomi’s father used to do. Mikhail he is in withdrawal, discontent, nasty, irritable and scared. They walk past an automated paddy field and insect agribusiness and Nozomi tells him about her work. She tells him about the concierge role and that she is involved in a secret organization. He asks her about the amulet. She tears up as she mentions her Dad. They get to the temple he is still resentful – she reminds him of the Buddhist proverb about mind being your worst enemy.
He runs off and then comes back crying. They eat and she tells him that it is a disease of selfishness, if he wants to be free of anger resentment to help her. They arrive at the Temple, Mishirabe Iyashii temple – it is full of young people on retreat and run by Buddhists. Nozomi tells him she’s piloting a recovery programme for those hurt and left bruised by the pressures of the cognitive economy. She does pastoral care: restoring attention, healing trauma, building self-esteem, via attunement and meditation. She tells Misha that he’s addicted to sexual craving like these are to technology that he’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. To prove his powerlessness over addiction tells him she bets he can't meditate for more than 3 seconds without salacious thoughts. She visualizes his thoughts and he loses. She shows him the Impermanence Tracker – which is a graph, a scintillating self quant tech that showing ebbing incidence of his thoughts craving spikes in response to stress. She anatomises his liaison into first triggers, the bubble, indulging fantasy, discursive thoughts, regret, recrimination and self loathing. She tricks him into entering the room and says he needs to be there to siphon off the venom of craving. He is livid at being tricked. Inside the tatami room is bare, but for a desk with calligraphy brush, ink, inkwell and mulberry paper on a low lacquerware table. He is instructed to copy Buddhist sutras to do 1000 a day. He finally relents. Once in there he experiences all the horror of withdrawal – the mental anguish, craving, pangs of conscience, the euphoric recall, tpalpitations, remorse, paranoia, fear and anger of betrayal. He is given only miso soup, tofu and rice for 5 days. All the time, he is cursing Nozomi – trying to trick her, he wheedles, tries to bribe, but nothing works. She tells him that this is detox – he needs to get in touch with his anger. After 5 days he is taken out, but is told that he needs to spend more time in there – in a different chamber. This is a mishirabe (process of spiritual purification) chamber, which is very different and looks like the inside of a uterus. He says he needs to message people but she says she has already taken care of all that. He fulminates. She tells him he needs to go through a process of introspection.
She warns him that this means reliving some of the memories of the past and channeling them but that unless he faces them, he’ll be prey the same mania.
He recalls seeing his parents making love, his father’s competitiveness, chastisement, his mother’s Tiger mother disciplinarian ethos and martinet imposition of Japanese kanji and meditation and calligraphy up to age 10. He then recalls squeamishness over his mother’s attention feeling uncomfortable over praise. He realizes there was covert incest, he became his mum’s surrogate. He recalled his brother being diagnosed with epilepsy after the trip to Siberia. His father’s descent into alcoholism. His father paying for a prostitute for him and then him and brother praying in great guilt at chapel. He and his brother aligning with different parents, falling out and going down different paths – the pain of his brother Aloysha leaving with his father. moving into a monastery and leaving them all. His mother in denial, being sectioned into a mental hospital but it never being spoken about. He is asked to think about his part in things since he left home, how he just substituted sex and love for alcohol but how he was just like his Dad in many ways. And how he puts himself under a lot of pressure like his Mum. How she has enshrined Japanese culture within him but also the fantasy, morbidity and darkness too. Nozomi says he can retrieve some of the rituals that his mother used to get him to do before his father’s violence took hold. She asks him to draw upon the way he used to help his brother after his bouts of epilepsy. His kindness to his friends with learning difficulties, all these things he can draw upon. And how he is very similar to his Orthodox Christian epileptic brother spiritually – blighted by illness, seeking connection, special powers looking for love in all the wrong places.
He has compassion for his Mum with her fantasy addiction, his father and his humiliation and machismo to hide the truth, his brother and his retreat into a spiritual domain and how damaged their relationship is too. He starts to see his own defects. He is told to get in touch with his feelings, he is given headphones which he can use to listen to cathartic music – he chooses Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, whilst crying, catharsis. She says the Liberation Group needs wounded healers and he is one of those. That his pain can eventually lead to the awakening of others. She wants him to tip her off to those who need it. In the meantime he has a regular routine of cleaning the monastery, and in honing his mind for Tokyo.
Meanwhile Matzuzaka is in contact – he has managed to decrypt the file. It is a memo bearing state watermark from Inoue to Luong detailing a cipher for sequence analysis tally. It shows that there is routine gerrymandering of demographic data. This shows that digital minds are being counted as human and that far from trying to get more Japanese to procreate, as has been the official discourse, what is being done is a synthetic proliferation of brain power with subtle genocide to promote ‘cognitive wealth’ with minimum drain on resources. This explains the digital pupae, muen botoke, essentially brains, denuded of agency held as surrogate resources and subject to all sorts of AI experiments. It turns out many of the individuals who have committed suicide were psychologically fragile, and indentured and were persuaded to bequeath their brains for this sort of research. End of the memo cites a codicil from the Cognitive Dividend Act 2043, which stipulates ‘higher order intelligences’ as a mechanism for optimal human capital. This confirms for Nozomi that whole brain emulation and insidious ‘mind crime’ is being sanctioned (to avoid falling foul of Cloning bans, young people, are being coaxed to upload themselves).
It is hard to discern responsibility amidst a diffuse bureaucratic tangle, but it’s happening with the connivance of Ministry officials. It’s a scoop. This confirms some of the things Nozomi has long suspected and only compounds the irresponsible moral hazard created by cognitive implants. She is even more indignant at the fact that patriotic sacrifice, and spurious ideas of pseudo ‘transcendence’ are being used in order to legimitimise and spread the practice. Supercession is veneration of spiritual machines, not enlightenment.
She tells Misha that now he has become calmer and overcome the bestial avidity, through abstinence and has come to understand himself deeply. She is impressed by the balance of his mind – shows him his brain gamma waves. She gives him a Buddhist amulet for protection and asks him if he can help them by returning to his job as an embedded mole with Matzuzaka’s help.
She shares some of the technology she has been using for helping the young people undergoing avatar therapy for schizoid disorders associated with splitting consciousness and other tasks demanded by the cognitive economy. She demonstrates the Karma Connector interface by showing how his actions have consequences, the ripple effects in lives. She asks him about the Limbic Empathator and how his issues echo in craving and suffering of the randoms who messaged him. How this is a chance for him to show compassion. How those involved in Loveline suffered from powerlust and burning ambition. She shows the damage that this does to our being – how those who have gone furthest have become human doings, and how they lose empathy with others. Then she shows him the Reincarnation Tracer, a geneology of ancestors – a Buddhist technology that helps young people to think about and all the past lives that run through them and have made their very existence possible – as a way of valuing lives more highly. She talks about how why she tracks guests and how she sees her job as concierge (caretaker) as a way to practice to be a novice Bodhisattva. She says that she has been aware of the youth suicide epidemic and moonlights in de-cluttering the homes of those who have ‘soft suicided’. She shows how the reincarnation promised by the technology is a sham and since they lack agency is only an excruciating limbo. She asks Misha to help her now in her mission in two ways: one through direct work as a wounded healer to beam his pain in to others. Two, by being an early warning system via demographic data to alert them to imminent suicides.
ACT 3: TRANSCENDENCE (50,000 words)
So, Mikhail has been declared fit and is allowed out. He gets a message from Satoko asking him to meet her at a venue in a side street in Akihabara. But Matzuzaka says it is a fake – a planned ambush by their trackers. Matzuzaka concedes that he tipped Nozomi off about him. Tells him about his past, that he was a child prodigy, hacker genius one of the first earmarked for cognitive implants but that he worked for Loveline and it morally sickened him. He’d known Nozomi and admired her at the tech college. He underwent treatment at one of her centres and later she co-opted him for the Front. He turns on his apparat, finally, after being off the grid. He did it mistakenly without obfuscation protection on it. He tells Misha the authorities are obviously now onto him. Messages from Plotniev (where the hell is he?? he’s gone AWOL!), his Mum (mad ramblings, guilt tripping him), Lyudmila – fulminating at him because he’s unfaithful) and Todd (wanting to talk to him, saying he’s seen the video, but has something to ask him too), Mitsuru (wanting to meet) in that order. Nozomi tells him not to reply to any of the messages. Only to Todd.
They make their way through Shikoku on the way back to Wakayama. On the way, she tells him about her father, how she doted on him and what a great inspiration he had been to her, and his despairing death in self-immolation. How he had failed to unify Buddhist sects in a broad Humanist movement, how she wants to complete his mission, dignify his legacy with this movement.
She talks about technology she has developed uses pain as a touchstone to connect people to their own essential humanity, and empathy for others, to those who are currently numbed out. She says she wants to launch this as a ‘counter meme’ soon. She will do it during the gamma wave sessions recently instituted for the Loveline crew. She introduces him to a number of individuals at various of the temples they visit who have been thus saved. This is a way of him testing his powers of empathy. This includes those totally addicted to qualia, to those who have had the implants and had mental difficulties as a result of them, and to those who’ve survived low self esteem suicide attempts.
She tells him that she will be going back to work, how her cover has been the O-Bon festivities of ancestor worship, even though she does not believe in Shinto, particularly, actually, she is estranged from her mother and brother.
She says that he needs to get back to Plotniev, in touch with the Cultural Attaché and to explain that he was abducted, with info to back it all up. Though they’re not happy with him He goes back to some of the observational interviews. In spare time, helping plant stupas around Tokyo in order to build up the ability to disrupt the Loveline signal, and to beam in metta bhavana, to use tonglen and to implant some of the Buddhist epiphanies, and in building up this Samahdi Army. This is the sort of stuff that Matzuzaka pioneered and that persuaded him to get off the grid – but not everyone is willing to awaken.
SUB PLOT: back to the friends involved in the Loveline game – Izumi and Hiro have paired off, are sharing brains and have been engaged by a corporation to develop a suite of corporate tools – but they have had to repurpose their mirror neurons in order to the technology – Shinobu has been struggling to keep up with the data processing tasks, and has had a psychotic episode. Shinsuke also has his doubts about the wisdom of the Supercession – he realizes that the ambition he feels is hurting others – he has misgivings. Shinsuke has been contacted by the pain of the surrogate brains through the intervention of Matzuzaka. Mikhail, through his access to predictive software tips off Nozomi the individuals who are lower in ranking and at risk of suicide.
Mitsuru calls to Mikhail and begs him to come over, tries to seduce him using fantasy. He meets her, but stands firm and is adamant. This is seen by Nozomi as a decisive test of his change and his recovery. He uses his power over her and tells her what he infers about her past. She notices the amulet he wears and she asks him where he got it. He says Nozomi and she breaks down says she used to know her, an admired but estranged school friend she fell out with. Alludes to dark incident in Nozomi’s past. Mikhail demands to know why she did what she did tells him about her handler, Inoue (whom he met at the summit meeting). It transpires that Inoue had been using her as a concubine in return for privileges but had mistreated her and betrayed a promise that’s why she’s now a whistleblower. She admits the hook up was a honey trap, they’d targeting him specifically and that he had spiked his drink they were testing something that would affect his brain. Overheard something to do with ‘dopamine’ but no more. Saying she felt bad when she heard about his fiancé. Misha now committed to help Nozomi now he feels personally implicated. Mitsuru divulges info passed on indiscreetly by Inoue during their lovemaking including another file. Mikhail hands them over to Matzuzaka.
He gets a message from Todd, another victim of a honey trap, asking for help. Nozomi coaches Misha to overcome his natural antipathy for Todd, to practice compassion and forgiveness, he goes and helps Todd out. He asks Todd what has happened; it turns out he’d been the victim of a similar honeytrap.
Todd turns out to be CIA, and in return for help, tells him about the collusion and betrayal between Japanese and Chinese. Matsuzaka interprets the data.
The Japanese Ministry officials targeted Mikhail as a way of scrambling him so he could be discredited and he was being used, like the other foreign men, as a guinea pig. They were researching the susceptibility of mesolimbic mind to rewiring to make it crave stimulation, so as make Loveline more addictive.
SUB PLOT: back to the friends involved in the Loveline game – Izumi and Hiro find out about the defection of Shinsuke and the planned sabotage of Shinobu and and they turn on her. They send her bullying messages playing on her lower scores Shinobu. She uploads herself then goes to a suicide chute. Shinsuke hears about it and wants to do the same but is saved by Misha who beams in empathic wisdom just as he’s about to go through with it.
Shinsuke says it transpires that the whole bureaucracy is being manipulated by an incipient Super Intelligence that is already starting to direct operations. Having corrupted officials to remove its stunting and boxing restrictions, it is not content to simply have individuals performing tasks so that its algorithm can gradually learn to achieve Superintelligence. It is seeking to fulfill its mission of maximising human capital’ by the Coherent Extrapolated Volition of persuading more and more individuals to upload themselves through incentives, wheedling, psychological wiles; via shrewd social norms. It is paying off ombudsmen officials via making rogue Nikkei stock market trades.
Follow up meeting at the Ministry – Mikhail turns the tables on them all. Mikhail has put together a very impressive dossier on all the individuals who have been involved, who have shares in Loveline. He starts by talking about his love of Russian literature, and had they read Gogol’s Dead Souls; about the similarities between Japanese kokoro and the Russian ducha and how they are not that different, mentions his mother and his brother and how much influence they’ve both had on him. The crowd look totally baffled by this. He then goes on to talk about the beauty of serendipity in an algorithmic world, alludes to the mislaid data locker that he says was most edifying. They call security but Matzuzaka has blocked their apparatus. He presents the data he was given from the Global Demographic Indicator on the young Japanese cohorot, this time interpolating the cipher he’s worked out decoding what the figures really indicate. He tells them about the subtle genocide and systematic mind crime. He talks about what he knows about the experiments with foreigners in Tokyo and how he has reason to believe they are connected. He tells them that he knows this will be scoop of the year for multiple media organs and that he has held a dossier exposing all this in escrow and it will be triggered his amygdala (so if he feels in danger it will automatically spam out to Yomuiri, Mainichi, Asahi and press associations and international news. He pleads his diplomatic immunity and is getting a flight home the next morning.
On the eve of the great Hiroshima anniversary, August 5th , the meditation counter meme that Nozomi and the underground have implanted is rapidly gaining pace the learning speed of the SuperIntelligence gradually decreases. This is partly because Nozomi is beaming in the pain and wisdom insights guerilla style heisting the GammaWaves sessions with Matzuzaka’s team providing obfuscating cover across various stupa sites in Tokyo. It is also now subject to sabotage from renegade elements among Loveline. It gets jammed at 98%. The great Hiroshima centenary is marred by doubts. One of the putative objectives of future Superintelligence is to eradicate all atomic waste.
Nozomi and Misha meet in a Sky lounge above Tokyo. Nozomi tells Misha that she has resigned from the hotel and will have to go away. She tells him that he has done a great service to Japan. And that is less Genji (the Prince philanderer, and more Prince Shotoku, proselytiser of Buddhism in Japan). She says that in order to create a particularly spiritual resonance she wants him to spend the night with her. His addictive tendencies kick in. Even though she couches it in terms of tantra and spirituality. Todd sends him an apparat to say that craving has arisen and is he okay? He pulls back and tells Nozomi he can’t do it and shares what Mitsuru told her about her past. It turns out she was abused too, by a monk and became scared of sex. She starts crying feels ashamed. She says that her admiration for him and his journey thawed her heart that powerful feelings have arisen. She says she’s ashamed and leaves.
The next day Nozomi is arrested for ‘terrorism’, but she has already, with Matzuzaka’s help instantiated the Bodhisattva cell operating on a ‘normative wisdom’ protocol. She has sent Misha a note thanking him for his work and bravery in the road less travelled. She uploads herself to the cloud. She is dignified amongst realm of the Bardo, limbic area of uploaded souls. Ikura reveals himself as her Dad, sobs in the cab when he hears about her passing. Misha thanks Plotniev but resigns his job, goes back to Russia to bury his Mum and to reconcile with his brother. The novel ends with Satoko who has been training a robot to love, using yearning templates she was harvesting from Misha the whole time with Matzuzaka’s help – a bargain she struck with him for not seducing Mikhail during the time he was needed in the Resistance.
Final word from Bodhisattava narrator about the abiding 4 Noble Truths then questioning whether digital brain emulation is truly transcendence or more sequestered self versus the frailties of true enlightenment. Reports Nozomi, is posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for services to humanist technology - never recognized in Japan. That the episode leads to global regulatory guides to technology that entail metering of processed qualia, a more cautious approach to neural implants, and wiser approaches to Super Intelligences. We learn that this oracle is a bodhisattva SuperIntelligence who’s patterned on Nozomi.
"The New Buddhism" - David Brazier
I’m not a huge believer in politics. It’s a blunt instrument. If I believe in revolution, it’s a peaceful, human revolution. David Brazier talks about Buddhism as a liberation theology. I believe that the species crisis facing us with the coming merging with technology with postulate a moral dilemma. Does humanity entail transcending any essential traits? How is it limited? – Buddhism has a lot to teach us about this dilemma.
"Two tigers sharing a mountain" - Michael Yasuda
The situation on the Pacific Rim is – China and Japan are caught in mutual interdependence. Japan attempts at independence perhaps in preparation for American retrenchment. Sino-Japanese relations are still quite tempestuous. How will this play out. I set the novel in 2045 not only because it is the Centenary of the Hiroshima bombing and because many fascinating technological innovations will be in play but also because power relations in the region will be radically altered by then. Jade versus Lacquer.
"The Singularity is Near" - Ray Kurzweil
Kurzweil’s vision is both scary and plausible. Like most technological utopians, he abstracts human nature out of the behaviour. This is equivalent to applying classical economics to the way we shop – it does not account for the irrationality, crookedness, covetousness, venality and self sabotage of human beings. Jaron Lanier in his book Who Owns the Future shows how siren servers could control and impoverish economies and that digital technologies might accentuate and perpetuate economic inequalities. When you combine terrors of technological power with superintelligence and ideology, it’s probably a toxic brew.
"SuperIntelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies" - Nick Bostrom
A good counterweight to Kurzweil's Singularity. Bostrom’s book posits the notion of a SuperIntelligence that exceeds the sum total of human intelligence and posits circumstances in which learning algorithms take things into their own hands. He takes it as read that development of a ‘general’ superintelligence will happen. The book classifies types of super intelligence (Singleton, Oracle, genie, Sovereign) running through nightmare scenarios, showing how we might go about boxing’ and ‘stunting’ a human intelligence.
"Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History" – Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney
The anthropologist author of Rice as Self, Tierney writes feisty critiques of Japanese mindset and mores. Here she shows how Shinto ideology can be co-opted to persuade young men to die for their country. What we know is that in crisis times, mass manipulation and appropriation of powerful ideas can bend minds. In this case it is being used in service of cognitive superiority and subtle genocide in 2045 Japan.
"The Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet" - Ivo Quartiroli
Again, not a particularly popular book but one I think is remarkably topical and prescient. Quartiroli talks about how the persuasion of digital technology far from making us feel part of something bigger, feeds solipsism and distraction builds up our ego. This is an extension of Marshall McLuhan's argument about men shaping tools and then thereafter the tools shaping them projected onto a spiritual domain. The craving for human brain power goes beyond extension of central nervous system into siphoning minds.
"The Idiot" - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Acute sensitivity, naivety, allergy to stress, mental illness, love addiction. These are all the topics of this novel. Fyodor Dostoyesky penetrated deeper into the human soul than any other novelist I know. I take from him the connection between vulnerability and spirituality. Myshkin is by turns weak willed, idealistic, naïve and self sacrificing. He’s a great example of human frailty. How much more stark his example in 2045.
"Obfuscation: A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest - Finn Brunton, Helen Nissenbaum
A book detailing the emerging cat and mouse game between surveillance and evasion in the digital world. When wealth and labour is concentrated in a virtual realm, will disconnection be seen as truancy or a form of rebellion. Will unplugging from the network and meditation be seen as a form of sedition. A world in which everything can be tracked and recorded creates demand to evade, erase and to cover one’s tracks.
"After Dark" - Haruki Murakami
In terms of tonality this book takes the dreaminess of Blade Runner into the real world. It is my favourite of Murakami’s novels. Even though nothing really happens, he mines the seedy underworld of Tokyo but manages to make the whole scene wistful and enticing. The somnambulist tone in the sub-plot works (with a character in a coma) makes its way into his prose which gives the novel gives the work an oneiric aura.
"The Tale of Genji" - Murasaki Shikibu
One of the world’s first novels set in the Heian period Japan – a period when the literate and aesthetes held sway in Kyoto. A floating world of haiku, lacquer and gossamer affairs. Genji is an entitled prince who has his way with court ladies & courtesans but learns some harsh lessons about profligacy and indulgence. Even though set almost 1000 years before 2045, what they have in common is a sort of libidinal economy.