If you haven’t read Daryl Gregory yet, maybe Afterparty (2014) will inspire you to get with the program. It’s a fast-paced comic thriller full of gonzo futurism, conspiracies , weird drugs, and weird religion, with memorable characters and a thought-provoking, satisfying plot.
In a Toronto psychiatric hospital, Lyda Rose is a patient with a dark past: she’s one of the scientists responsible for creating a dangerous new designer narcotic, Numinous. Numinous is so powerful it reprograms belief systems, enabling people to “see God;” even Lyda, an atheist, has a guardian angel from an accidental dosage. When Lyda learns that Numinous is now wreaking havoc on the streets, spreading through an insidious new church that preys on the unfortunate, she feels responsible and checks herself out to stop it. With the help of new friend Ollie Skarsten, a former federal agent, Lyda investigates Numinous’ resurgence to uncover who is masterminding its production. It’s a mission that sends her, illegally, back to the United States to reconnect with former colleagues at her failed pharmaceutical start-up Little Sprout, to find out what’s happening and shut it down.
In his other books, Gregory has reminded me a little of Philip K. Dick: quirky, inventive, full of fascinating and weird ideas. Afterparty strengthens that impression, but stirs in gonzo skiffy futurism in the vein of, say, Cory Doctorow or David Marusek. His world here is a zany, bizarre reflection of our own, made even weirder by chemjet printers that have revolutionized drug dealing. Lyda, Ollie, and the rest of the characters are terrific windows through which to view this world, and their interactions provide not only a satisfying surface narrative, but scads of amusing and thought-provoking sociopolitical commentary, particularly in the science versus religion vein. And it’s all in service to an entertaining, well structured plot. Afterparty is an intelligent, brisk, and exciting read – but most of all, it’s fun.