Tor, 2014, 304 pages
It begins in Toronto, in the years after the smart drug revolution. Any high school student with a chemjet and internet connection can download recipes and print drugs, or invent them. A seventeen-year-old street girl finds God through a new brain-altering drug called Numinous, used as a sacrament by a new Church that preys on the underclass. But she is arrested and put into detention, and without the drug, commits suicide.
Lyda Rose, another patient in that detention facility, has a dark secret: She was one of the original scientists who developed the drug. With the help of an ex-government agent and an imaginary, drug-induced doctor, Lyda sets out to find the other three survivors of the five who made the Numinous in a quest to set things right.
A mind-bending and violent chase across Canada and the US, Daryl Gregory's Afterparty is a marvelous mix of William Gibson's Neuromancer, Philip K. Dick's Ubik, and perhaps a bit of Peter Watt's Starfish: A last chance to save civilization, or die trying.
Daryl Gregory's Raising Stony Mayhall is one of my favorite zombie novels, and Afterparty makes him an author to look out for. Set about 20 years in the future, in a world where chemjets allow anyone to "print" custom-made drugs with easily downloadable recipes, it reads like a Michael Crichton technothriller but with more of a Gibsonian cyberpunk/conspiratorial vibe.
Lyda Rose, the protagonist, was a partner in a start-up called Little Sprout that developed a drug that was supposed to cure schizophrenia. Instead, it turns out that "Numinous" rewires the subject's brain and gives them permanent hallucinations — specifically, of having a personal relationship with a manifestation of God. Numinous literally makes people religious.
Somehow, all the founders of Little Sprout ODed on Numinous during a celebratory party gone horribly wrong, which left all of them seeing visions of the divine, and Lyda's wife dead on the floor.
(Yes, Lyda is a lesbian. This book is actually one of the most deft handlings of a lesbian main character I've ever read — it's part of her character, but it's not the defining part of her character or something that figures significantly in the plot. It doesn't read like something done for Social Justice cred, nor are Lyda's occasional detours into girl-kissing particularly titillating.)
Lyda has spent the past few years in a psychiatric hospital, but when a teenager commits suicide after having taken a drug that sounds an awful lot like Numinous, Lyda is determined to get out and find out who has reproduced Little Sprout's ill-fated schizophrenia cure gone horribly wrong. She is accompanied, aided, and threatened by an assortment of shady characters in the futuristic Pacific Northwest drug scene, and watched over by her own personal guardian angel: "Dr. Gloria," a bonafied flaming sword-wielding angel with librarian's glasses and a schoolmarm's sensibilities.
This is a well-paced thriller with plenty of twists and revelations. There is a grandmotherly Afghan refugee who rules the Seattle drug scene, a schizophrenic hit man who calls himself "The Vincent" and raises bonsai buffalo herds in his apartment, a millionaire whose adopted daughter has her own imaginary friends to help her, and many other interesting characters.
Like Gregory's other books, Afterparty is a completely self-contained novel, a tidy and interesting story with an original premise.
Verdict: Afterparty is a worthy piece of modern speculative fiction, with some genuinely original ideas and diverse and interesting characters, all of which are driven by a good if not entirely unpredictable plot. 8/10.
Also by Daryl Gregory: My review of Raising Stony Mayhall.
My complete list of book reviews.