Fiction Reviews


Love Minus Eighty

(2013) Will McIntosh, Orbit, 7.99, pbk, 402pp, ISBN 978-103-5-650214-4

 

This novel started out as an Asimov short story, and it is easy to see this working in that form because it's got a suitably original, suitably creepy idea at its core. The short story was called 'Bridesickle' and won the Hugo short story award in 2010 as well as getting a Nebula nomination.

It works fine as a novel too, because the plot fleshes out well into a future-strange love story with some interesting characters and quirky plot twists. McIntosh writes well, with a readable, accessible style and gives us some intriguing ideas. This is proper character-driven science fiction which relies on the science to set up the story but is really about how people relate to each other, and where the societal changes brought about by developments in social media might take us.

In the relatively near future (100-odd years from now), dead people can be cryogenically frozen and returned to life, provided they or their sponsors can afford to pay. Without money, the only hope is to become a 'bridesickle', that is, to be young and beautiful enough to be selected by someone rich for revivication. In a sort of dating agency for frozen corpses, rich men (or women) can wake 'dead' women temporarily and, if they like what they find and the woman agrees to marry them, pay for the repairs needed to bring them fully back to life.

Rob is spectacularly dumped by his girlfriend Lorelei, who uses the dumping to enhance her social media score and attract followers. Winter is dumped by her boyfriend, Nathan, a narcissistic dating adviser. Winter, grief stricken, runs out into the street. Rob, also grief stricken, accidentally runs her over in his car and kills her.

This being the new, shiny future dead does not necessarily mean dead, at least not if youve got good bone structure, a winning smile and a willingness to agree to almost anything in order to get your body rebuilt. Winter is attractive enough to be selected for the Cryomed Dating Centre and, despite the cost, Rob feels so guilty about what hes done that he feels the need to buy five minutes time with her to apologise in person for killing her. But when he actually does it, he bottles the apology and promises to see her again. By the time he does admit to what hes done shes desperate to continue contact, even though she hates him, because shes only alive when shes visited.

Rob cannot afford to revive her, and he cannot afford to keep visiting, so he tracks down her ex, Nathan, and forms an unlikely friendship. The only way to get Winter out, Rob concludes, is to get her a rich husband. That breaks his heart, because hes fallen in love with her (and, inevitably, she falls in love with him too). Before long you have Rob with Winter, Nathan with Lorelei, despair, betrayal, heartache and redemption.

There's a strong subplot about closing the bridesickle programme down, which leads to some interesting ethical conundrums. The bridesickles are essentially enslaved in order to secure their reanimation. Is it better to let them die than to leave them to that fate or, perhaps worse, leave them hoping for release that for many will never come?

The narrative is strong and well realised and revolves round a group of interconnected characters who are distinct and interesting with satisfying story arcs. I particularly liked the loyal Veronika, hopelessly in love with her best friend, the shallow, serial dater Nathan, who barely notices her charms, but the novel is peppered with interesting people. Its quite funny too, even though there is some genuine horror at its core.

Love Minus Eighty (referring to the temperature at which the bridesickles are stored), is Will McIntosh's third novel, after Soft Apocalypse (Night Shade Books 2011) and Hitchers (Night Shade 2012). Both garnered good reviews but Love Minus Eighty is clearly a step up. In his spare time McIntosh a social psychologist, and it shows in his writing. Strongly recommended.

Mark Bilsborough


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