Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book Review: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

This was the latest book pick in our Santiago book club. It was quite an interesting one coming right after I finished Legion: Skin Deep, for reasons I'll explain below. It is a near-future story where pharmaceutical companies, religious groups, pretty much anyone really, can print out the drugs they want to use, or invent new ones to get the effects they want. The problem starts when a company invents a drug that makes you see God and despite stopping work on it, the drug somehow ends up in the streets.

Overall Impression
This was quite a fun book. It was a fast paced thriller with a good premise. The characters were interesting, but I think they could have been a bit more developed. For example, I would have liked to see more of Sasha and see more of Edo, Gil, and Rovil's gods. I guess in the interest of keeping a tight plot, this was sacrificed and the result was a good, focused story.

Plot
The story is fast paced as the main character, Lyda Rose, attempts to investigate how the mysterious drug Numinous, a substance she helped create, has reappeared in the world despite her efforts to destroy it. Numinous has led a young girl to her death and is apparently being distributed by a small church. This leads Lyda on a wild chase as she attempts to find out who is behind this and why, while at the same time someone else tries to silence her.

Characters
Afterparty has only a handful of main characters, chief among them being Lyda Rose. She worked on the development of a new drug with a handful of others- her wife Mikala, Edo, Gil, and Rovil. Through a series of events told primarily through flashbacks or conversation, we learn that they overdosed on the drug and ended up with permanent hallucinations of what they see as God. Lyda sees an angel, Rovil a Hindu god, and so forth. This is very interesting and brings to mind Sanderson's Legion in that those novellas also feature someone who hallucinates people that help him. Unlike Legion, Afterparty gives a darker and more religious tone to the hallucinations and the overall story. Of the other characters, Ollie gets a lot of time, but I felt she could have been more developed as the story hints at possible breakdowns but never quite delivers. Sasha is another character that I wish they had developed more, though she appears towards the end of the novel. One drawback in my opinion is that pretty much all the characters are addicts, psychotic, or insane in some way or another and so you get a bit of a skewed view of the world.

Setting / World Building
This is a story set in the real world, but at some undetermined point in the future. People use smart pens and smart paper to communicate, which implies that smart phones have evolved to be ever smaller. There's also a reference to a self-driving car, a smart house whose walls can be changed, and micro cattle. The most prominent focus, however, is that of the chemjets- printers made to create drugs from recipes. The story revolves very heavily on that and so we see mainly addicts, drug dealers, and the people associated with them. This presents a rather narrow view of the world, which cheapens the story. I find that this is a common problem with some near-future dystopias: the narrow focus into a particular problem with only a casual glance at what the rest of the world is like. Perhaps it's just a limitation of the genre or my contrasting experiences reading far thicker epic fantasies.

Final Thoughts
I quite enjoyed this story. Our book club tends to shoot down my scifi/fantasy suggestions, but lately they've picked their own, such as this one. I guess the problem isn't the genre itself as sci-fi can be an excellent way to explore new ideas. I read this book just after finishing Legion: Skin Deep (which I didn't review here, but see Goodreads) and found some interesting similarities with the story. The plot was fast paced and the premise quite cool, but I wished there had been more variety and depth to some of the characters. The story does go into religious matters as it presents a drug that can replicate faith and religion. That could bother some people, but whether or not you are religious, and what you take from that, is up to you.

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