Book Review: Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (Audiobook narrated by Kevin T. Collins, Eileen Stevens, and Ali Ahn)
In the future, you can live forever. But only if you can afford to pay to be medically resurrected and any injuries sustained fixed. The rest put everything they have into freezing insurance, getting cryogenically frozen in the hopes that one day, someday, they might get resurrected. At the very least, they wont’ die. But beautiful women who die too young (and too not filthy rich) get a different sort of a second chance. They get awoken and given the choice of going into the cryogenic dating facility. Men will come through and pay to wake them up and talk to them, and if they fall for them, they’ll pay to have them resurrected and their injuries healed.
In this world, three different, yet intertwined stories are told. There’s Rob. A once-musician who accidentally struck and killed a jogger in the middle of his break-up with his reality star-esque wealthy girlfriend. He proceeds to take out a loan to visit the jogger to apologize but slowly the guilt turns into something more. Then there’s Veronika, a dating coach with a bad case of unrequited love and a need to feel like she’s doing some good in the world. And finally, Mira. A lesbian who was placed into the heterosexual cryogenic dating pool back at the beginning before they bothered to wake the women and ask them if they wanted to be there.
I was immediately intrigued by this book’s premise and then realized I’d already read another scifi book by Will McIntosh and enjoyed it. That book, Soft Apocalypse (review), is actually set in the same universe as this one. Although they’re not a series, technically, Love Minus Eighty takes place a bit in the future after the events described in Soft Apocalypse. I enjoyed the future imagined there, so was happy to return to it once again to see where things have gone since everything fell apart for Earth. And oh my have they taken an interesting turn.
The future is a near dystopic mess of most of the wealth being in the hands of the few. While some people have foregone civilization to live off the land, the rest of the have-nots spend their time in body suits, called systems, that are basically like a full-bodied smartphone. They reminded me a bit of Google Glass. Their systems filter out all the unsightly aspects of where they live, including garbage, and they also block pop-up ads that otherwise accost you on the street. Everyone pours their little bit of money into their systems because without one you fall entirely off the social stratum. This is already creative enough to be intriguing, but then McIntosh tosses in this idea that cryogenics and resurrection has been figured out but only the wealthy can afford to be resurrected and everyone else pours all the rest of their money into freezing insurance. Then we get the cryogenic dating program aka bridesicles, and oh wow. Any scifi reader can see what an interesting setting this is.
On top of this setting, McIntosh weaves three different, yet ultimately intertwined narrators. It’s a narrative structure I enjoy but only when done well, and McIntosh mostly pulls it off. Some things sometimes felt a bit like too much of a coincidence, but for the most part the intertwining made sense. All three narrators have unique voices and perspectives. They are well-rounded with flaws, even Mira, who is frozen a lot of the time, but they also are still likable.
The plot is complex and truly had me on the edge of my seat for the last third of the book. I was rooting for the characters and did not know what would happen. An unpredictable, yet satisfying, ending plays in perfectly with the plot.
I am of two minds about the presence of Mira in the story. On the one hand, I appreciate that McIntosh took the time to think about how the heteronormativity of the bridesicle program could affect a lesbian. On the other hand, it frustrates me that she and her girlfriend have their agency removed and spend most of the story frozen and at the whim of the heterosexual people around them. Having lesbians rescued by the straight folks just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I sort of wish there had been some modern day queer person who helped them out in some way. That was the other thing that bothered me. The only queer presence was from the past in the form of Mira and her frozen girlfriend. In such a sweeping narrative with so many characters that is also set in a city, it seems odd to me we never encountered another queer character. Particularly when one of the main characters is a dating coach.
The narration of the audiobook was wonderful. Having a different voice for each narrator really helped keep the stories straight, and each of the narrators did a wonderful job bringing their characters to life.
Overall, this book presents a richly imagined near-dystopian scifi future that gets the reader to think about if living afraid of death is truly living. The three-narrator structure lends a complexity to the plot that keeps it engaging and consistently moving forward. One of the plot choices might rub some readers the wrong way, but if the world building and narrative structure appeal, it shouldn’t be much of an issue. Recommended to scifi fans who enjoy a city setting and some romance.
4 out of 5 stars