Okay, I’ve kind of fallen in love with Daryl Gregory’s work.
I discovered him last year by chance, with the psychological novella We Are All Completely Fine, and he wowed me again with its Lovecraftian YA prequel Harrison Squared.
Now I’ve gone back to check out Afterparty, and it may be the best so far.
A thrilling, futuristic rave of a book, Afterparty
is a vision of the near future when anyone could create designer drugs to meet any need. Want to be gay for an evening? There’s one for that. Remove your morals and empathy? Perfect for a wannabe assassin. Need lightning focus to recognize patterns in disparate data? They give that one to government analysts.
“Any high school student with a chemjet and an internet connection could download recipes and print small-batch drugs. The creative types liked to fuck with the recipes, try them out on their friends. People swallowed paper all the time without knowing what they were chewing. Half the residents of the NAT ward weren’t addicts; they were beta testers.”
Afterparty focuses on Numinous, a drug that will allow the user to feel the presence of God. And in high enough doses, see Him for the rest of their lives.
The novel starts with a homeless girl seeking shelter in the Church of the Hologrammatic God, taking the drug as a sacrament and basking in the love of her chemical God. When she is picked up for vagrancy and taken to a mental hospital, however, she starts withdrawal and commits suicide. But not before she tells a fellow patient about the wondrous drug.
Which surprises that patient, Lyda, because she invented Numinous years before. Along with her wife and friends, the former neuroscientist had produced the drug, hoping to cure schizophrenia. Until they all accidentally overdosed on it and now saw God permanently (manifested as a guardian angel named Dr. Gloria in Lyda’s case). After that experience and its grim aftermath, the group swore not to make the drug again.
Lyda gets herself released from the mental hospital, and, along with Dr. Gloria and Ollie, a government operative whose mind is a whorl of conspiracies and coincidences from her own drug use, set out to find out which of her friends is distributing Numinous.
It is a feverish, paranoid journey across North America with a cowboy assassin, “The Vincent”, in pursuit, as Lyda reconnects with her former partners, all still dealing with the damage of their Numinous ODs, leading to a climactic confrontation in the New Mexico desert.
By the end Numinous has become a go-to recreational drug, giving everybody a glimpse of the divine. Ollie observes that there has never been such a phenomena before, but Lyda corrects her in my favorite line from the novel:
“Sure we have… It was called the Great Awakening. But this time the crash is going to be bad.”
There is so much I loved in this book, from the flashbacks, designed as “parables,” to the surreal humor, from The Vincent’s hobby of raising a herd of miniature bison in his apartment, to the Millies, Toronto’s largest drug cartel, run by elderly Afghani women. The fast-paced action builds plenty of tension throughout, especially with Ollie’s gripping paranoia, a side effect (or is it the primary effect?) of her drug use as a government spook.
I’m not exactly sure how to classify Afterparty. Its kinetic action and electric prose remind me of vintage cyberpunk, but there’s little “cyber” involved here, at least not in the foreground. Still, Afterparty hit those same nerve endings that Gibson and PKD assault, pondering the divine in a dystopian future where science’s attempts to save society may have fucked it up further.