Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Love in The Age of Immortality: A review of Will McIntosh's Love Minuse Eighty

Will McIntosh was a psychology professor at Georgia Southern University until recently, when he won a Hugo Award for his novella titled "Bridesicle" (Asimov's 2009).  Then he turned his sights to his lifelong passion, writing, and we are all benefitting for it now with the many books that McIntosh has already written.
"Bridesicle" was a story about dating in a futuristic age where it is possible to revive dead people -- for a lot of money. It is disturbing and touching and, like much of MacIntosh's work, it raises question about our social dynamics and how they might complicate our already complicated personal connections in a not so distant future.
Will McIntosh
McIntosh now churns out books like there is no tomorrow, and so far all of them have been gripping -- and I'm not saying this just because I know him.  It was a humbling experience getting to read McIntosh's work, since I was the tenured fiction professor at Georgia Southern, and he was the aspiring writer who, from time to time, sought me out for advice.  There was a lot of ego swallowing involved. Writers aren't the most generous critics when it comes to their contemporaries, but McIntosh's imagination is so lively and so prophetic, and his stories so full of heart, that it's hard to resist putting down his books.  Moreover, his style of writing is always breezy and efficient: you get just what you need, without fluff or ornaments. He's one of the few writers who are simply just born with the ability to tell a story and to get out of its way.
Love Minus Eighty is yet another complete success.  Based on "Bridesicle," the award winning novella, Love Minus Eighty is a lively story about how looking for love continues to be as messed up, dysfunctional, problematic, and irresistible as it has always been, even in an age when people play with interactive holographic romance games, and, yes, can even take the dating scene to the morgue.
In spite of all the futuristic glamor, the novel really is grounded deeply in the way that people are. The need to find a soul mate, even when, or especially when, the world is collapsing seems to be one of McIntosh's trademark themes. We get to experience what that need would look like if our technology advanced just enough for humanity to cheat death -- at least for a little while.
In McIntosh's near future world, "freezing insurance" is on almost everyone's benefits package, and it will pay to freeze cadavers taken to a facility storage with the possibility of being revived at some point in the future -- but the revival itself is so costly that only the most obscenely rich can afford it.  As in previous stories, McIntosh drives home the problematic rift between social classes, and touches on other very contemporary themes: the voyeuristic culture encouraged by social media; the certain loss of personal privacy; and the dark side of science and technology advancements which, along with  miracles, also bring about more opportunities for exploitation, disconnectedness and dehumanization.
But the dominant theme is a classic one: our very human inability to confront and accept our own mortality.  The super rich will languish in protracted agony just to steal another breath, while those who rely on other's money are willing to sell their hearts and souls just to be revived for only a few minutes.
This basic human fear, the chilling terror of the unknown, is the driving force behind the plot, and it causes characters to act in sometimes abominable, and sometimes saintly ways.   Some of these characters are already trapped in a stasis between life and death, stored in a Cryogenic facility that revives them only for an exclusive, high-browed clientele of unimaginably rich people who can afford to throw millions away for a "bridesicle," a trophy wife who may yet be revived for a last chance at life.  Only the beautiful and the young get to enjoy this special "privilege" but only some actually make it out of the creche and then at the expense of their happiness and freedom.
The premise may seem dreary, but most of the novel is  humorous and light hearted, probably because most of the characters that we follow are so perfectly lovable. My favorite is Veronika: a neurotic, too-smart-for-her-own-good, sassy dating coach who, in spite of having an unparalleled talent for setting up her clients with the loves of their lives,  is completely incapable of getting over her crush with Mr. Wrong. Then there is Lycan, a neuroscientist genius with zero social skills who won't even be allowed the dignity of committing suicide without his employer's interference. And Lorelei, an attention-junky who will go to any lengths to attract more viewers, even breaking up with people she loves.
In the end, this is a story about love, about friendship and about the things most of us would be willing to put ourselves through if we had a chance to take back or make up for our worst mistake.
As with other McIntosh novels, this is a breezy, fast read, the kind of book that you look forward to sneaking away with on your lunch break. And yet the novel leaves you with so much more than just the pleasure of an imaginative and fast-paced story. McIntosh is such an astute observer of human character that you'll feel like he was lurking in your closet, spying on you and on all your best friends when he created these lively and so true-to life characters. Scary. But all in a good way.
And now this novel has been picked up by Warner for a possible movie adaptation.  I can see why: the setting of a futuristic bi-leveled Manhattan connected by a high-speed elevator between the rich people's High Town and the blue-collar Low Town surrounded by the wilderness of abandoned suburbs inhabited by the Raw Lifers, all promise visual candy of the most sophisticated kind.
And just to tantalize you a bit more, here is the trailer for the book, one of the best I've seen yet.  Enjoy.

Laura Valeri is the author of Safe in Your Head (Stephen F. Austin University Press) and The Kind of Things Saints Do (U of Iowa Press) both award winners.  Visit Laura Valeri's blog at www.lauravaleri.com

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