Occasionally, very occasionally, while reading book I would have the thought: Why hasn’t anybody written a story about near-future designer drugs and the impact on the individual and humanity? Used here and there, but most often as devices rather than focal points, it wasn’t until coming upon the premise for Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty that I held out hope the 2014 novel might be ‘it’. Having now read the story, was it?
A dynamic, edgy story, Afterparty tells of Lyda and her quest to find the center of distribution of a newly created designer drug she calls Numinous. With repeated, scaled use, Numinous converts and re-routes synapses and linkages in the human mind to the point they become real, at least in the schizophrenic sense. Gods and deities coming to life in users’ minds, those who don’t know any better come to take them pieces of existence. Churches naturally the most likely to exploit such ‘symptoms’, Lyda takes it upon herself to locate the source and put an end to it once and for all.
No, Afterparty is not the novel to examine what near-future, printable, designer drugs means to humanity and society. But that is my hope, not Gregory’s intention. Gregory’s intention was to write a sharp, fast-paced thriller that brings to point humanity’s addictive tendencies, humanity’s tendency to exploit things which are addicting, and the trade, legal or illegal, which springs up around such items with realistically enough drawn characters. If that was indeed his mission, he succeeds. Pace, editing, style—all converge to produce a tale the reader wants to keep turning the pages on. Thus, if you’re looking for a William Gibson style book which trades cyber for pharma, Afterparty may be what you’re looking for.
But I need to call out Gregory for one thing: the three-and-a-half wall. I cannot say fourth wall given at not time does Gregory address the reader directly. But there is a moment, unfortunately the climax, in which he breaks his own story’s rules by introducing an element that on one hand readers who don’t’ give a fuck will call “brilliantly eucotastrophic” and readers who do will call game breaking. If the underlying intention was to get readers to think about the ultimate possibility of designer drugs, well then, success. I did. But only for a moment. It’s all pure speculation. I will leave things at that lest I spoil the story. I for one, however, was not happy with that ending from a story or technique perspective.
In the end, I wish Gregory had dug much deeper into the character/human side of the story. There is a lot of room for excavation, and I hope another will someday (if they haven’t already). But what Gregory did produce makes for entertaining, enjoyable reading. A nice length, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, treats its reader intelligently, and keeps them interested in what happens next. One other note I would add is, even though six years old, including years of societal and technological development, the novel still feels fresh. Only a matter of time before the printing technology becomes commonplace, one indeed starts to wonder, and be scared by, what drugs humanity can accidentally cook up.