So for my first book of summer:
Afterparty by Daryl Gregory
Afterparty does for neuropharmacology what the Neuromancer novels did for computers. On the one hand, it’s a fast moving novel about people on the shady side of the law using advanced technology for their own ends. On the other hand, it deals with on religion and our minds, and how both interface with a technologic age.
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In the near future, any high school graduate with a chemical printer and an internet connection can create or invent advanced neurotropic dugs. One of these drugs, Numinous, allows people to have direct experience of the divine, in the form of their own personal diety. Having witnessed the suicide of a patient gong through Numinous withdrawal, fellow patient Lyda Rose is disturbed- because years ago, she was part of the start-up that created Numinous, as a drug to cure schizophrenia. After a group overdose that left one person dead and the rest with permanent manifestation of the divine in their heads, it was agreed that this drug was too dangerous ever to be released. And now somebody wants to put this drug, one which make any other drug obsolete, on the street. Lydia determines to track down the maker of this drug, with the help of her lover, a CIA analyst who overdosed on a pattern-recognition enhancing drug- resulting in permanent paranoia, and a friend who thinks his soul is contained in the aquarium ornament he wears on a chain around his neck. She’s going to need the help, because somebody else wants to know who’s distributing Numinous- and they’re willing to to hire a schizophrenic assassin who’s willing to kill anyone in order to get back to his miniature cows.
Like Gibson, Afterparty has a melange of assunmed technology, desperate action, low life, and a swirl of exotic street cultures from Taliban drug-lord grandmothers, to Native American cross-border smugglers. Unlike Gibson, Afterparty feels more grounded in the present, and has a degree of black humor from dealing with drug addicts who are not the most together of people. Lydia herself is broken, and having trouble just functioning- she makes completely reasonable bad choices. A good deal of humor and poignancy comes from the main character- an atheist- dealing with her own guardian angel. She knows intellectually that she is dealing with a manifestation of tangled neurons, but that doesn’t help against the belief that Numinous creates.
Ultimately beyond the near-future biopunk setting Afterparty deals with a highly current question in neurology and philosophy; when the religious or spiritual experience can be created through drugs, is God merely a matter of neurochemistry? And more importantly, does it really matter? In the end, ambiguous though it may be, Lydia gets her answer.