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Book Review: Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (Audiobook narrated by Kevin T. Collins, Eileen Stevens, and Ali Ahn)

January 11, 2014 2 comments

An ambiguously Asian looking woman is seen through a foggy glass pressing her finger down.Summary:
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.

Review:
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

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh (Audiobook narrated by Erik Davies)

July 24, 2012 3 comments

Blue/green cover featuring a man wearing a gas mask.Summary:
Jasper can’t believe he’s actually homeless, although a lot more people are homeless now than used to be.  But still. He got his BA in sociology. He’s worked hard. How did this happen?  He’s living with a tribe of other 20-somethings.  They keep hoping things will get better, but somehow they just seem to keep getting worse.  The economy doesn’t improve. Home-grown terrorists known as Jumpy-jumps start routinely terrorizing people.  Driving anywhere, having dependable food, actual working police forces, they’re all a thing of the past.  Not all apocalypses happen overnight.

Review:
I actually hesitated over keeping this book on my wishlist, but I’m very glad I did.  I found it to be not quite what I was expecting.  In a good way.

I think a lot of men in particular will enjoy it, because it kind of reminds me of a Judd Apatow film.  There’s this complete and utter loser guy who you entirely hate (and I suspect McIntosh hates too) but who is just so damn funny you keep reading it.  A lot of apocalypse books focus in on a strong leader type, but Jasper is actually a coward who just keeps trying to squeak by.  On top of that, he claims to be looking for true love, but is actually completely lacking in any understanding of women.  One of his “apt” observations, for instance, consists of stating to a guy friend, “Have you noticed that fat women have been getting hotter?” He’s trying to say that the more starvation threatens, the more attracted he is to women who obviously have enough to eat.  But he isn’t philosophical about it at all, and that’s kind of hilarious.  He also tries to impress a girl at one point by commenting on the fact that she’s reading a book, but he says it in such a way that it’s obvious he himself doesn’t read at all, which is utterly baffling in a world that no longer has electricity or other entertainment.  Basically the whole book is laughing at a cowardly dude-bro, and that’s fun.

The apocalypse itself is quite creative.  As the title and blurb imply, it’s a slow one.  Gradual.  Things get bad and just never get better then more things get bad.  It’s a creative mix of economics, homegrown terrorist groups, scientists trying to make things better but actually making it worse, and international politics.  None of it came across as utterly absurd or ridiculous, which shows that McIntosh did a good job.

There are two scenes that are truly horrific, which of course I loved.  There’s a very creative death scene that I think will haunt me for a long time.  (Again, that’s a good thing).  The plot overall is a bit meandering, but that makes sense since Jasper isn’t the most focused or proactive dude on the planet.  I’m a little sad the book ended when it did.  I get why McIntosh ended it there, leaving things open-ended for readers, but….I could have read about Jasper much much longer.  Yes, he’s a guy I would hate beyond all reason in real life, but I guess that schadenfreude factor is what makes the book so fun.

Now, I did read the audiobook, and I have to say I was very disappointed in the narration by Erik Davies.  It does not live up to the content of the book at all.  My main problem with him is that he does that awful thing of putting on what he thinks is a woman’s voice every time one of them speaks, but what actually sounds like a small child and nothing like us.  I actually had to stop and rewind a couple of times to double-check if I was angry at how the book was portraying women or if the narrator was making it seem like the book was portraying women as childish idiots.  Suffice to say, it’s definitely the narration, not the book.  Yes, Jasper objectifies women and basically calls any woman who doesn’t fit into his definition of what a woman should be “crazy,” but the whole book is laughing at him, so really the book is showing how ridiculous it is to view women like that.  The narrator reading women in this childish voice really messes with that whole presentation.  So, definitely don’t get the audiobook.

Overall, then, this is a fun apocalyptic scifi featuring a cowardly loser who is delightful to follow and laugh at.  I highly recommend it to scifi fans who also enjoy slacker flicks, but definitely get the print or ebook versions, not the audio.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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