I read Daryl Gregory’s phenomenal short story Second Person, Present Tense when it came out in 2005 and ever since then he was on my list of writer to look out for. There are a few science fiction writers who like to make a go at where brain chemistry, consciousness and egos cross, but none made it feel so effortless and personal as Gregory did in that short but impressive story.
But further dips into his work left me less impressed. Good writing in general, but his other novels just didn’t speak to me the same way as SPPT had. And then I read Afterparty. It has a different set of characters, the main hook is different (a drug that once you overdose gives you your own personal god, whether you want to or not) and it thankfully goes on for far longer.
But overall, it has the same energy and verve, it’s interested in a similar set of topics and it gives you something to think about even when you close the book. It’s probably my favorite book from 2014, and a strong contender for one of the best books recently overall.
Part of the attraction is just how the book frames the entire debate: the main character is a staunch atheist who is also completely convinced that she has found god, even when she knows its all just brain chemistry. And she’s not happy with that.
As a concept, it might be blasphemous to true believers, but it’s just as uncomfortable for the true atheists. What Lyda and her friends who overdosed suffer from isn’t exactly mind control, but it’s a close cousin where you can believe whatever you want, but that drug-induced personal god won’t take no for an answer and leave. Always there, always making you feel like you have direct access to a higher truth.
It’s one thing to know its fake when you’re not afflicted, but when it’s always there, always on, it becomes its own kind of truth.
There’s a lot more going in the novel than just that. Someone has started distributing the drug she and her friends overdosed on, even as it should be impossible. And her journey to find the source and shut it down leads to personal revelations that while long overdue and necessary, still cut deep. Meanwhile, lots of characters, each with their damage, their own stories that are just as compelling Lyda’s.
The story has just the right length with a pitch-perfect ending, but it still makes me want to see more from this world and its characters.