Afterparty by Daryl Gregory (Tor, April 22nd, 2014)-Lyda Rose has just gotten out of the detention facility where, recently, a 17 year old committed suicide. Turns out the girl had taken a drug called Numinous, which helps its victims find God, but when she came down from the mind altering substance, joy turned to despair, and death is the only way out. However, Lyda is a little bit different from the typical addict. Numinous sounds suspiciously like a drug she herself helped develop, and she’s determined to find the source. The drug that Lyda developed, like Numinous, helped the user find a higher power, but if you OD’d the hallucinations stayed with you. That’s where Dr. Gloria comes in. Dr. Gloria is an angel, and she is Lyda’s permanent hallucination. Lyda’s goal is to find out where and how the Numinous is being made, and eliminate the threat. The use of this drug must NOT spread, and Lyda will do anything to make sure that it doesn’t. But there’s much, much more at work here then just one bad guy (or girl) heading up the manufacturing. Luckily, Lyda has a few friends (plus an angel) to help her out.
Afterparty is one of those books that’s very hard to write about. The reason for this is that it refuses to be pigeonholed, which is a good thing, but sometimes hell on the reviewing process. But, I’ll try. Afterparty is told mostly in Lyda’s voice, with interludes into the doings of other characters, and Lyda makes for a fascinating narrator. She’s a rather brilliant neuroscientist with an addict’s sensibility.
You’ll of course guess pretty quickly that Dr. Gloria is Lyda’s subconscious made whole, but Dr. G is so vibrant, you’ll soon begin to think of her just as Lyda does, as a very alive, breathing entity. Lyda knows that Dr. G. isn’t “real”, but to Lyda, she is real. That doesn’t seem to make sense, but it will when you read it, I promise. Her motivation seems pretty clear at first; to find out who is manufacturing some new and very diabolical chemjets (drug making is as easy as printing out your resume in this book, when you have the right stuff), and get Numinous off the street, but soon becomes much more complicated when she runs into a couple of dead bodies and the cunning and ruthless lady leader of an Afghan criminal gang who doesn’t want anyone honing in on her drug turf, and plans to use Lyda to make sure that doesn’t happen. Lyda recruits one of the team that helped develop the original drug, and her friend Olivia (Ollie), whose experience in special government ops make her an invaluable asset. Ollie is also in love with Lyda. See? It’s complicated.
This book is complicated, but not in the way you might think. It reads like a near future thriller, and is paced much like one, but it also explores the nature of faith and also the vast ability of the human mind and our perception of the world around us. I mean, perception is everything, right? The “world” of Afterparty is pretty much like our own, but you’ll notice, aside from the chemjet technology, small futuristic details like the pens that are used like phones and data tablets, and even bigger ones, like a fully interactive “smart” interface that encompasses an entire house. Gregory uses this to fantastic effect in the last quarter of the book. Afterparty is very, very good, but Gregory’s biggest talent lies in his characterizations. They’re just…interesting. Every last one of the characters in this book is three dimensional (even the bad guys, and girls), and your mind will fill in some little details even if the author doesn’t hit you right on the nose with them. I love that. Everyone has their motivations, and they’re never black and white. Lyda isn’t black and white either. She can be quite selfish, but she’s damaged (and Ollie, oh Ollie…), and I’m leaving out a lot, because to tell you would be to spoil this excellent novel. Afterparty is a unique experience, sometimes dark, sometimes hopeful, with a bit of satire thrown in, some fairly black humor, and some of the neatest little touches (keep an eye out for those tiny bison.) There’s no neat little bow tying everything together at the end either, and that’s ok.
In the apt words of Sarah at Bookworm Blues: “Just read the damn book.” I don’t think I could have said it much better.