Will McIntosh’s Love Minus Eighty was RUSA’s Reading List choice for the best science fiction of 2013, and also received accolades in places as diverse as NPR and the science fiction website Io9. It’s the kind of book that most book groups wouldn’t give much thought, but they should. McIntosh blends science fiction, romance, and social commentary with a touch of comedy in a very readable dystopia.
At the core of this book is a future that is both scary and believable. The split between the haves and have-nots has grown to epic proportions, with a few wealthy people living in a technological playground that is literally on top of the dirty, monotonous world of the majority below them. The extremely wealthy can pay vast sums to have themselves revived through cryogenics and complex surgeries after death (although the repair is imperfect and shorter with each repeat of the procedures.) Privacy is a thing of the past. Internet and social media are fed to individuals via skin tight suits that hide unpleasant realities from their wearers, allow them to use consultants during social encounters, and enable them to “follow” certain narcissistic personalities in a combination of social media and reality television, watching them as they move through their days trying to create a dramatic show. Perhaps most horrifyingly, a new kind of dating service is prominent, in which attractive women are frozen upon death and become “bridesicles.” They can be revived for short visits by wealthy men, who can then pay to bring the woman back to life if she is sufficiently attractive…. and compliant. If the women don’t bring in enough clientele, the company will terminate them.
Rob, a musician who has managed to work himself up from poor origins to the fringe of wealthy circles, but as the story opens, Rob’s world comes crashing down. His girlfriend Lorelei dumps him and publicly humiliates him in her attempt to gain more viewers. Rob drives away, but in his distraught state, he runs over a jogger, Winter, and kills her. Without Lorelei, Rob is forced to take up a menial job and return to the house of his father, who still pines for a long missing wife. Although he has no money, Rob decides to slowly and agonizing save enough to get a few minutes with Winter and apologize to her. Out of desperate loneliness, Winter makes Rob promise to return for future visits, and a strange relationship begins to bloom.
Rob finds an ally in Veronika, a dating consultant whose own social life is sadly insular. She has a crush on another dating consultant, Nathan, who coincidentally was Winter’s boyfriend briefly before her death. Although Nathan likes Veronika, he’s more interested in himself. There’s also Mira, another bridesicle, one of the oldest in the system. If she doesn’t find someone to revive her soon, she’ll be terminated, but in life she was a lesbian with a committed partner whom she still loves. But her only visitor is Lycan, an intelligent but socially awkward man whose motives remain mysterious.
The plot is hard to describe in a short post, and I don’t want to give too much away, but don’t fear, McIntosh paces his story well and it’s never hard to follow. This is ultimately a story about the many permutations of love and how our relationships are affected by our social context. It’s powerful, cautionary, but ultimately redemptive and will appeal to a wide range of readers. Even if you don’t normally read science fiction, don’t let that put you off of considering this lovely book. It would generate a fantastic conversation in a book group.