One love Chigusa by Soji Shimada
Translated by David Warren

Back in July 2019, I made the acquaintance of the Red Circle Minis. A new initiative from Red Circle Authors, who describe themselves as a home for authors from, or living in, Japan, the Minis are short works that are first being published in English. As they’re usually bite-sizes books, this makes them a wonderful way to explore authors who you might not have come across before. More titles have been released, and the most recent is the longest so far; at 115 pages it really deserves the title novella. And a fascinating piece of writing it is!

The book is “One Love Chigusa” and the author is Soji Shimada. Apparently something of a legend in Japan, he’s probably best known in the UK for his crime fiction (both Murder in the Crooked House and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders are published by the Pushkin Vertigo imprint). However, “One Love…” is a very different kind of book, exploring potential futures and how technology may affect our perceptions…

“One Love” is set in Beijing in the late 21st century; a man called Xie, the story’s protagonist, suffers terrible injuries in an accident. However, technology has reached a point where he can be very much rebuilt (shades of the old TV series “The Bionic Man”, for those with long enough memories). And talking of memories, Xie’s is also rebuilt and he’s given some kind of Quantum memory drive. He returns to his former life and job; but things are looking a little different…

Of course, that’s why the indicator was needed. Perhaps the effects of speech and action were being measured as cash values. People without religion, ideology or faith, only trust money as the measure of worth and value.

Xie suddenly finds that his fellow humans have changed almost beyond recognition. The women have angry red demonic faces; men have indicators on their chests with ever changing numbers. Xie is frightened by the changes and unclear as to what’s going on, becoming driven to thoughts of suicide; until one day he spots one woman, Chigusa, who not only is normal but is also the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. His pursuit of her will consume him (and much of the rest of the book) – but is even she what she seems?

I shan’t say too much more about the plot; but it’s obvious that “One Love…” has many sci fi tropes with the futuristic technologies, the modernistic settings described in Beijing and the AI elements built into Xie. However, underlying these trappings is a story of obsession; Xie becomes convinced that Chigusa is the only person who can save him in his current state; however, there is so much more to the world than he sees and understands, and this is gradually played out through the narrative.

The world was deteriorating rapidly. The news on the Internet was full of terrible incidents… He didn’t know when all this had started to happen. Morality seemed to have disappeared from the world. Making money, winning and losing, dog eat dog – these were the principles of survival. And they were being sharpened up. This was all that mattered now.

“One Love Chigusa” is actually an unexpectedly gripping read; as the tale progresses, the mysteries surrounding Xie’s skewed perceptions and gradual revelations add levels of intrigue to the plot, and there are plenty of twists. One I perhaps had an inkling of, but much I didn’t foresee – which is always satisfying. I did enjoy the book and Shimada’s writing very much, though I do have to say that I felt slightly uneasy with the portrayal of women, particularly Chigusa, who is extremely objectified to a point where it’s really uncomfortable; and when you add that to the fact that Xie basically stalks her it becomes very unsettling. It may be that this was deliberate so as to emphasise Xie’s distress at his changed perceptions and then extreme reaction when he meets someone he sees as beautiful. However, I don’t think it necessarily added anything to the narrative and could definitely have been toned down a bit.

The Minis!

Putting that aside, “One Love Chigusa” is a really fascinating work, full of all sorts of ideas about the effects of technology on we humans, and many intriguing layers. Shimada captures the strangeness of the events and emotions Xie is living through brilliantly, reminding us how many aspects of the world that we use and take for granted every day are actually not really understood by us. The Red Circle Minis are a really wonderful initiative; every one I’ve read has been so different and so good; and “One Love Chigusa” is an excellent addition to the series! 😀

I wrote about the Red Circle Minis for Shiny New Books here, and also reviewed the first three in the series on SNB here. I also covered the second batch here on the blog!