I have been following Daryl Gregory since I read his first novel Pandemonium a few years ago. He is a rare writer, able to fuse original concepts and thinking with strong emotional storytelling, so I was looking forward to reading this book, and I was not disappointed. Afterparty is a keeper.
Afterparty is set in the near future, after a smart-drug revolution, where anyone with a chem-set and an internet connection can download and print drugs, or recipes for drugs. The story begins when a teenage runaway is brought to a mental institution and the authorities think that she is on drugs but she insists she had found, and then lost the presence of God. She takes her own life, but before she dies she meets our central character, Lyda Gray, a neuroscientist whom years before had been part of a team who tried to create a drug that would cure schizophrenia, and instead created a drug that convinced the taker that God existed and was always with them-usually in the form of a hallucination that resembles an avatar familiar to each person's religious beliefs.
Lyda's hallucination that is with her always is an angel, replete with wings called Dr. Gloria. Recognizing that the girl had overdosed on the drugs that she helped to create, Lyda gets out of the institution and decides to stop whoever is producing the drug, called Numinous. Lyda helps spring her fellow mental patient and lover, Olivia, a diminutive ex-intelligence agent with her own chemical problems and begins to track down the surviving members of the team that helped her create Numinous. This is only about one fifth of the way through the book however, and I hope it gives you some sense of the inventiveness that Mr. Gregory possesses. I haven't begun to talk about the disturbed hit-man The Vincent, or the Millionaires Club, a group of female Taliban-refugees who run a drug ring.
Nearly every character is either on drugs or mentally impaired, so there is a trippy edge to the book, combined with a hard-boiled existentialism that reminded me of the best work of Phillip K. Dick, or William Gibson. All of that is interesting, but what really makes this book shine is the characters, and how much we come to care for them. As the speed of the plot increases, and the danger mounts, we never lose sight of these characters humanity, particularly Lyda, and the frail-but-dangerous Olivia. There’s also plenty of philosophical fat to chew, about religion, faith, spirituality, drugs, etc. It's rare to see so much packed into one book, and I don't want to down-play this achievement in any way, and I've kind of come to expect it from Mr. Gregory, and he does it again with Afterparty. I can't wait for his next book.