In THE JUICE, Jarat Ellington is just an exile from Elite society, trying to lead a simple life, when a genius friend drops an explosive mystery in his lap. The old pal, Thom Tseng, created a priceless chemical substance called the Juice that turns mildly charming people into extraordinarily charismatic beings, known as Charismites. But the Juice is stolen, and Thom killed.
With the help of a secret organization, Jarat goes on an obsessive quest to uncover the deadly adversary who now controls the Juice. He must fight his intense attraction to a Charismite named Luscious Melada—once a dirt-poor, homely teen who, with the help of the Juice, transforms into an extremely magnetic starlet. And he goes up against Petra Cardinale, a powerful, ambitious media executive with a secret agenda.
If you love the cyberpunk science fiction of William Gibson; the dystopian world of A Handmaid’s Tale; or sci-fi detective novels, add THE JUICE to your reading list!
Scifi and mystery are my 2 favorite genres, and they come together beautifully in Janet Stilson’s new novel, The Juice. It’s a thriller set in a high-tech near future. The characters are colorful and unique individuals, the tech is believable (and sometimes quite scary!), and the story sucked me right in. If you are a fan of cyberpunk ,or of just good storytelling, don’t miss The Juice.
Read on for an excerpt from the book, and be sure to visit the other blogs on the tour for giveaways, interviews, and more!
Note: This excerpt is the opening pages of THE JUICE, Chapter 1, which is told from the perspective of Jarat Ellington, one of three main characters in the novel.
The rachitty-dunk, rachitty-dunk of the subway car had me in a deep state of zenitude, so when a giant tomahawk slashed two inches from my face, I didn’t blink. But I had to smile.
The ax was part of a giant graffiti hologram of Señor KickingBird. The cartoon character was looking boyish as ever—his jovial face sticking out of a beaded Indian buckskin outfit. And his headdress was so madly yellow and pink that the car was stained, as if by colored glass.
The other passengers smiled at the holo, thoroughly entranced. It gave them something to do other than staring at me. Not that I blamed them. My mass of pewter and black hair, scruffy faux-ostrich leather jacket, ripped cowboy boots—and most of all, my golden skin tone—were so different from their drab, ragged clothing and more varied complexions. The underground was the province of the lower class, not the extremely small Elite ranking of society that I’d been born into nearly 30 years before. My clothes were more offbeat than most Elites, who were artfully groomed, but it didn’t hide my origins.
As Señor KickingBird went through his antics, a school chum, Thom Tseng, came to mind. In younger days, when we were at MIT in Massachusetts, the two of us had personal holo graffiti collections. We were obsessed with finding every single version of KickingBird on the OuterNet. It was a diversion from all the serious frustration we were going through trying to make some experiments work at school.
There in the subway, KickingBird went through a blur of slasher moves leaping from seat to seat like a big ol’ butterball, never speaking, just whooping. As a grand finale, he sunk his tomahawk into the ceiling, causing a red rain to sparkle down and fill the floor with a virtual lake of fizzy pomegranate juice. The bedraggled people around me went wild with applause.
Then the vision stopped. My skin prickled as the face transformed into a gold saucer, and then into Thom, with his mashup of Asian features. The left side of his face was mutilated with flaming wounds, and there was a black hole where his eye should have been. His right cheek was covered with ghoulish bruises, and his mouth quivered with pain.
Under normal circumstances, nobody could look down his nose as arrogantly as my friend. He had a self-confident swagger, and his eyes were constantly flickering as the computer chips in his head worked on multiple lines of thought. It was hard not to envy his brilliance.
It took considerable effort to hide my horror at his gruesome transformation. No one in the subway car was reacting. This last part was a private vision from Thom directly to me. I swiped the air like I was merely taking a call on my mobile so that nobody would think I was talking to the holo.
“Blazing hell! What happened?” I whispered.
Thom’s blood-crusted lips croaked out, “The Juice. They took it.”
“They? Who’s they?”
There was just shrill, silent terror on his face. He didn’t know; that seemed clear.
As far as I knew, I was the only other person who knew about his bizarre concoction, the Juice. The consequences of it getting into the wrong hands could be deep, and dire.
“Where are you?”
“Mt. Sinai. ICU. But leaving.”
“But you look so –”
“Have to. Now.”
“Okay. Where do I meet you?”
Thom’s head started to jerk, and then the graffiti faded. With a circular hand movement, I snatched the feed and stored it in my mobile two seconds before it disappeared completely.
Five hundred pounds of hulking bot cop plowed down the subway aisle toward me. Everyone cringed. The New York security forces had embedded sensors in the wall paint about the size of dust motes. They recorded the movements of every single person, knew everything about them. If there was any evidence that discord was about to break out, they showed up. No doubt my zooming heart rate and sweat glands gone wild had triggered the bot’s sudden appearance.
I pretty much despised the whole surveillance system—the constant invasion of privacy and the monitoring of even the most trivial actions. So when the thing stuck its snout in my face, I punched it hard, which sent a thrill through the car. The other passengers were stunned. An abundantly sized lass sitting opposite had such frightened rabbit eyes. Her tight blouse, the color of overcooked Brussel Sprouts, waved up and down with her breath.
The bot raised a tentacle to slam me. But it backed off as the data readout emanating from the mobile stud in my ear informed it that I was Jarat Ellington, son of Evander Ellington. My father was the CEO of Silverton Enterprises, one of the most powerful companies in United America. The nation that stretched from the state of Canada down to Argentina.
“Is everything okay, Mr. Ellington?”
“It will be if you suck my cojones.”
The thing attempted a laugh, but it came out more like a cough. As it retreated, Rabbit Eyes curled her mouth into a grin.
There was no time to think any more about that. Thom was all that mattered. In a split second, my mobile displayed all the contact numbers I’d ever had for him on a private air screen, which was composed of nothing but colored lights. Every single number was no longer in service. In two minutes, I’d navigated through a maze of Mt. Sinai numbers and found the right one for the ICU unit’s nurses’ station. An actual human answered the phone. I told her who I was looking for in a half-whisper, trying to keep the conversation as private as possible in the subway car.
“Thom Tseng is no longer here,” said the dullest voice on the planet, mangling the name. Tom Zeng. That’s how it sounded. But there wasn’t time to correct her.
“Can you tell me where he went?” I swiped the air and turned on the mobile’s visual feature so the receptionist could see my pleading, harmless expression.
Her hollow-eyed face popped into view as she swiped through information in the hospital database. “And who are you?”
“It says here that he doesn’t have a brother.”
“I’m the closest thing to it. Please. I need to take care of him.”
Her tired expression grew sad. “He doesn’t need that anymore.”
She was telling me he was dead without saying the words because that would have gotten her into trouble. There was no doubt of that. I felt as if my chest was filled with bleeding tears.
“That’s not possible.” How could Thom have ever managed to create a holo graffiti when he was so close to the end? It was confounding: he’d come back in my life out of the blue, told me about the terrible theft, and then died?
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Where do I visit him?” It was too hard to say the words “his remains.”
“Only real family members can do that. Security would have your head before they let you through.”
It seemed more than likely that the Ellington name wouldn’t clear the way in this particular instance. I managed to thank the receptionist and swiped away the call.
The rachitty-dunk, rachitty-dunk of the subway car grew louder. Shoulda kept up; shoulda kept up, it clacked. I hadn’t spoken with Thom in years, didn’t have a clue what sequence of events had led my friend to this final point.
Want to read more? Purchase your copy on Amazon , and leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy. (US ONLY) On 2/25/2021 I will pick one commenter at random to win a copy of The Juice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janet Stilson lives in two worlds. On the one hand, she is a journalist. On the other, she writes scripts, novels and short stories that largely fall in the grounded sci-fi and fantasy genres and illuminate the human condition in provocative ways.
Her work has been selected to be part of the Writers’ Lab for Women, which is funded by Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman. And it’s also been published by the esteemed sci-fi literary magazine Asimov’s.
As a journalist, Janet got her “chops” at the storied showbiz bible Variety. She has traveled the world, chronicling the business of media and entertainment.
It afforded her many busman’s holidays in places like Shanghai and Paris, for which she is forever grateful. Along the way, she interviewed lots of executives about many aspects of showbiz—most notably, where the heck we’re all going.
Janet lives in New York City with her husband and two mischievous cats. To learn more about her, visit janetstilson.com, or connect with her on Twitter @janetstilson.