Welcome to my stop on the AFTERPARTY by Daryl Gregory blog tour.
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 Watts’s Starfish: a last chance to save civilization, or die trying.
Goodreads | Author | Amazon
Source: Finished copy provided in exchange for a honest review.
To be honest, I originally accepted this book for review thinking it was a sci-fi, YA novel, similar to Suzanne Young’s The Program. In reality it’s an a adult, genre defying, mind bending novel. Is neuroscience noir a thing? If not, I think Gregory just made it one.
Lyda Rose, a scientist, a widower, a drug addict, and a psychiatric ward patient with an angel named Dr. Gloria at her side, is one f*cked up heroine & unlike any that I’ve read before.
This was way outside my normal reading zone and I struggled to wrap my brain around the science jargon but I was fascinated by this near-future (fictional, yet possible) world of designer drugs and the moral abyss Lyda finds herself swimming through as she races to put the genie back in the bottle.
Afterparty explores big ideas like addiction, religion and power in an action packed mystery with a cast of quirky characters. If you're a fan of sci-fi, crime with a noir feel, irreverent humor and questionable ethics give this genre mash up a shot.
I’ve included the prologue and link to Chapter 1 for Afterparty below:
The Parable of the Girl Who Died and Went to Hell,
Not Necessarily in That Order
She didn’t understand why He would turn His back on her now, after He had saved her life. She’d been living rough for two years. At night she navigated by bunk-finder apps, competing for space in the shelters with the thousands of other teenagers roaming the city. She did bad things to get by. She worked the crowded sidewalks, beaming her profile pic to the dashboards of the trolling cars, climbing into front seats and climbing out again fifteen minutes later. She stole, and she beat other teenagers who tried to steal from her, and once she did something terrible, something unforgivable.
When she thought of what she’d done, even glancingly, a black tunnel seemed to open up behind her eyes. Anything might trigger the memory: a word, the sight of an old woman, the smell of soup burning on a stove. On those days she thought the black would swallow her whole.
Then one night, at the end of a week of black days, she found herself in the Spadina station looking over the edge of the platform, measuring the short distance to the rails. She could feel the train coming, growling to her, pushing its hot breath down the tracks. The concrete rumbled encouragement to her feet. She moved up to the yellow line, and the toes of her sneakers touched air. The only way out of the black tunnel, she realized, was through it.
She felt a hand on her arm. “Hey there.” It was a friend, one of her first on the street, a tall black boy older than her by a few years who maintained a crazy rectangular beard. He said, “You doing anything?”
She didn’t know how to answer that.
She followed him up out of the station. A while later, an older man with hardcore prison tattoos picked them up in a rusting SUV and drove them a few miles to a strip mall. Most of the stores were empty. The man, who said he was a pastor, opened one of the doors and said, “Welcome to our little church.”
People began to filter in and take seats in the circle of folding chairs. The service began with singing, songs she didn’t know but that sounded familiar. And then the pastor stood in the middle of the circle for the sermon. He turned as he talked, making eye contact with the people, making eye contact with her, which made her uncomfortable. She couldn’t remember now what he’d spoken about.
At the end of the service, everyone stood up and formed a line in front of the pastor, their hands out, mouths open like birds. Her friend looked at her questioningly; it was her decision. She stood up with the others, and when it was her turn the pastor held up a piece of paper with a single word printed on it: Logos. “This is the word made flesh,” he said.
She wasn’t stupid. She’d eaten paper before, and knew that the ink could contain almost anything. She opened her mouth, and he placed it on her tongue. The paper dissolved like cotton candy.
She felt nothing. If there was anything mixed into the ink or the paper, it was too mild to affect her.
That night, as she lay on a bed in a shelter that the pastor had lined up for her, the black tunnel was still there. But there was something else, too: a feeling, as if she were being watched.
No: watched over.
She made her way back to the church the next day, and the day after that. The feeling of a loving presence grew like sun rising over her shoulder. The pastor called it the Numinous. “It’s knowledge,” he said. Proof that we are all loved, all connected.
Her problems weren’t solved. She still slept in restaurant bathrooms, and lifted snacks from gas stations, and gave blow jobs to men in cars. Still struggled with the black tunnel. But she could not shake that secret knowledge that she was loved. She could not yet forgive herself, but she began to think that someone else might.
One night, a month after that first church service, just a few days before her birthday, the cops swept through the park, and she was arrested for solicitation. Because she was underage, they would not release her until they found her parents. She wouldn’t help the police; the last thing she wanted was to let her parents know where she was. God, she thought, would provide a way out of this.
But as the days passed in the detention center, something was changing. God’s presence faded, as if He was moving away from her, turning His back on her. She began to panic. She prayed, and wept, and prayed some more. Then a female guard caught her creating her own sacrament, swallowing scraps of toilet paper, and thought she had smuggled in smart drugs. They took her blood and swabbed her tongue and made her pee in a cup. Two days later they transferred her to a hospital west of the city, and locked her up with crazy people.
On her second night in the hospital, a red-haired woman appeared in her room. She seemed familiar, and then suddenly the girl remembered her. “You let me sleep on your couch once.”
The woman stepped into the room. Her red hair, the girl saw now, was shot with threads of gray. “Wasn’t my idea,” the woman said. “But yeah.” It had been ten below, and the red-haired woman had found her shivering outside a gas station. The girl had thought the woman wanted sex, but no; she’d fed her pizza and let her spend the night, and the girl had slipped out of the apartment before morning. It was the kindest thing a stranger had ever done for her, until she met the pastor.
“What are you doing here?” the woman asked. Her voice was soft. “What did you take?”
How could she explain that she’d taken nothing? That they’d locked her up because she’d finally realized that God was real?
“I’ve lost it,” the girl said. “I’ve lost the Numinous.”
The woman seemed shocked at the word, as if she recognized it. Perhaps she was part of the church? The girl told her her story, and the woman seemed to understand. But then the woman asked questions that proved she didn’t understand at all: “This pastor—did he tell you the name of the drug? Where he got it? How long have you been in withdrawal?”
The black tunnel seemed to throw itself open, and the girl refused to say any more. After a time the red-haired woman went away, and the nurses came to her with pills that they said would help her with her depression, her anxiety. A psychologist brought her to his office—“just to talk.”
But she did not need antidepressants, or soothing conversation. She understood, finally, why God had withdrawn from her. What He was trying to tell her.
When she was full of God’s love, she couldn’t do what she needed to do. God had to step back so that she’d have the strength to do what she should have done months ago. So she could make the required sacrifice.
At her next meeting with the psychologist, she stole a ceramic mug from his desk. He never noticed; she was practiced at lifting merchandise. An hour after that, before she could lose her nerve, she went to the bathroom and smashed the mug against the edge of the stainless steel sink. She chose the largest shard, then sawed apart the veins in her left arm.
God, she knew, helps those who help themselves.