After reading and reviewing one of the best -- and frighteningly grave -- science fiction novels about to publish, I just had to interview sometime-comic book writer Daryl Gregory, author of Afterparty.
Gregory is one of the nicest writers I have dealt with since coming to Cosmic Book News, and that is why we have an exclusive chance to review this book of "smart drugs," redemption and a chase around the continent.
Cosmic Book News: Daryl, tell us the concept behind Afterparty?
Daryl Gregory: The book’s a near-future SF thriller about designer drugs, and one drug in particular. NME 110 gives users the feeling that they’re in touch with a higher power. Overdose on the drug, and you might wake up with a permanent hallucination of a deity in your head.
NME 110 was suppressed by its creators, a group of five people in a startup, but now ten years later it's out on the streets under the street name of Numinous. One of the creators, Lyda Rose, goes on the hunt to find out who released it.
CBN: Do you ever see such “smart drugs” coming over from science fiction to science reality? What would be the effect on the addict population, the criminal drug trade and the U.S. population as a whole?
Daryl Gregory: Smart drugs are here, now. What Afterparty suggests is that we’re teetering on the edge of a desktop drug revolution. The combination of CADD—computer assisted drug design, now in use by Big Pharma—plus the availability of chemical precursor packs, means that you could build a desktop drug printer. In the book I call it a chemjet. Once you decentralize the creation of novel drugs, you may end up with an explosion of new mind-altering substances.
Think of the desktop publishing revolution of the 90s. Suddenly, everyone could make their own posters and newsletters—usually awful ones. Now think of everyone creating their own drugs. We might get some interesting results, but also a lot of damage.
CBN: Scary! Tell us about your protagonist, Lyda Rose.
Daryl Gregory: She’s a neuroscientist who helped create Numinous, but she’s also a victim of it. Someone dosed her and her wife with a massive hit of the drug, which left Lyda’s wife dead, and left each of the survivors with their own personal “god” in their heads. Lyda’s is the angelic doctor named Dr. Gloria.
CBN: An imaginary doctor, huh?
Daryl Gregory: Lyda, as a scientist, knows that Dr. Gloria is a hallucination. But the illusion is so deeply wired into Lyda’s head that she can’t stop talking to the doctor, or stop depending on her advice when the going gets rough. The question the book asks is this: If there was a pill that could make you a better person, even if it made you believe in a being that no one else could see, would you take it?
There are several mysteries in the book. Who killed Lyda’s wife and dosed them all? Are they the same people who are making Numinous now? But the more important question for Lyda is, can she kick the habit of Dr. Gloria, and if she can, should she?
CBN: This book seems to go from noir thriller to zombie hunt to a chase across North America. One setting is hard enough, why the globetrotting?
Daryl Gregory: Well, the real zombie hunt was in my last novel, Raising Stony Mayhall, but there’s definitely a lot of chasing, from Toronto to New York to New Mexico—from snow to sand. I love driving cross country, and I’ve always loved road novels and movies. Many stories take the form of a journey—Lord of the Rings, anyone? —but there’s something built into the DNA of American storytelling, going back to westerns and gangster movies and noir classics, that likes showing tarnished heroes on the run, with the cops or bad guys (or badder bad guys) on their trail. Think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, orBonnie and Clyde, or Thelma and Louise.
CBN: How real is the Numinous potentially?
Daryl Gregory: I think it’s eminently doable. There’s a researcher in Canada named Michael Persinger who designed the famous “God Helmet” that, in some cases, stimulates the brains of people so that they experience the presence of another being. There are other drugs that mimic the bliss of the numinous state. And there are plenty of studies of temporal lobe epilepsy that suggest the parts of the brain that might be responsible for generating these feelings of the divine. I think it’s only a matter of time before we find a drug that stimulates those brain areas.
CBN: How was the process of putting this novel together for you as a writer as opposed to, say, your first novel, Pandemonium?
Daryl Gregory: It turned out that Afterparty was more similar to Pandemonium than it was to my two more recent novels. The Devil’s Alphabet and Raising Stony Mayhall take more time, and Stony covers forty years in the un-life of a polite zombie from Iowa. This new book, like Pandemonium, was all about velocity. I’m a great lover of crime novels, and I wanted the plot to move every chapter.
CBN: BTW, very belated congratulations on the win for the 2009 IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award. What did that honor feel like?
Daryl Gregory: I remember getting the call saying I’d won. It was very odd in two respects: I didn’t know about the award, and nobody had told me I was up for it. But then I looked at the names of the previous recipients, and it was very humbling. By far the best part of the award was getting to be on that list for years to come.
CBN: As a reader, you as the writer hope I walk away after reading Afterparty with …? What?
Daryl Gregory: The first thing I hope you say is damn, that was a fun read. But later, I hope you end up thinking about all the concepts in the book. If the book gets you musing about free will, the role of consciousness, and the subjectivity of religious feeling, then I’ve won.
CBN: Can you tell us what the next Daryl Gregory novel will be? At all?
Daryl Gregory: In August, I’ve got a short novel—a 39,000 word novella—coming out from Tachyon Publications called We Are All Completely Fine. It’s about a group of people who are all survivors of different types of horror stories, who gather together for small group therapy. They gradually realize their stories are more connected than they thought—and that they aren’t finished.
After that, I’ve got a Lovecraftian YA novel coming from Tor, and I’ve started work on the next adult SF novel. All the novel work has left me with less time for comics, but I am working on a creator-owned comic that I hope to announce more about soon.
Cosmic Book News would like to thank Daryl Gregory for talking with us abiout his latest sci-fi novel.
"Afterparty" comes out in April!