Daryl Gregory

The Next Big Meme, er THING: Afterparty


So there’s a meme goin’ round, with writers talking about their upcoming books, and tagging other writers, and all of us answer the same  questions. My pal Ian Tregellis (whose got TWO books coming out in 2013, one that completes his very cool Milkweed Trilogy about super-soldier psionics versus warlocks in World War II and beyond) tagged me last week.

If you want to follow the bouncing Meme, next week my pal Jack Skillingstead will be talking about his fabulous new SF novel Life on the Preservation, coming out in 2013.

Now here’s the thing: some of the questions in this meme are a bit off, and they come in the wrong order. So I’ve rearranged to suit. (Me. To suit me.) Also, this is the first time I’ve talked about this book online. So, I’m basically offering this scoop to myself.

Here we go!

1: What is the working title of your next book?

The working title is Afterparty. My own private subtitle for it, the name I call it when I’m singing it to sleep, is The Atheist’s Prayerbook.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Before Don LaFontaine died, I had him record a voiceover for the book. His estate won’t let me post the audio, but the text of it is: “In a world where God is a drug, one woman has to get sober.”

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

See, I’m going to pretend that this was a two part question starting with “What’s the book about?”

Afterparty is about a drug called Numinous that opens up a portal to God–or at least a convincing illusion of one. The protagonist is Lyda Rose, a neuroscientist who helped create the drug. Ten years ago someone overdosed her and four other coworkers (including her wife, who died), and ever since Lyda has been haunted by a permanent angel–Dr. Gloria. Lyda tries to remind herself that the doctor is just a manifestation of her temporal lobe, but the angel is awfully hard to argue with.

The book is also about neuro-atypcial people in general, and all the ways that our brains are fooling us, often for our own benefit. I’m happy to report that the book includes the only combination  sex scene / debate over free will in any science fiction book.

The ideas came from the short stories I’ve been writing over the past decade. Many of them were concerned with the so-called hard questions of neuroscience: What is consciousness? How do we construct a self? And do we have free will or is it all a massive prank pulled on us by our own neurons? Some of these questions have crept into the fringes of my novels, but I wanted to write a book that took on these ideas head on.

3: What genre does your book fall under?

Afterparty falls in the genre that my editor, David Hartwell calls “Neuro SF” — hard science fiction about neuroscience. You could further sub-categorize it by calling it near future neuro SF. I found that I didn’t need to set the book very far from today, because current research about what’s going on in our brains is mindblowing enough.

It’s also a drug novel, and  a crime novel. I’m a lifelong reader of Elmore Leonard and Philip K Dick, and it’s clear now that their books have been having sex in my head and hatching strange babies.

4:  What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have a stipulation in my contract that any adaption must take the form of claymation.

6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

See, that’s a weird question. The “or” part I mean. Because it’s not self-published, but I am represented by the amazing Martha Millard. The book will be coming out from TOR, and edited by the also amazing David Hartwell.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I wrote the first three chapters five or six times over the course of a year in which I was mostly working on other things. The direction of the book changed radically with each draft. Once I finally settled on a line of attack, it took about seven months to write, counting rewrites. Actually, I’m writing the last chapter this week, and I’ll be rewriting as soon as my writer friends explain to me what’s wrong with it.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t know any other near future neuro SF books. Can someone help me out? But if we compare to books set further into the future on this topic, then I’d be pleased if they put this story in the same genre as Peter Watts’ Blindsight or Greg Egan’s books about consciousness.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by the neuroscientists who took the time to write books for lay people, so that I could rip them off and write SF stories about their research: V.S. Ramachandran, Antonio Damasio, Daniel Wegner, and the dean of neuro porn, the man wrote the first book that got me interested in the strangeness of the human mind: Oliver Sacks. These people write brilliant books that are non-fiction but read like science fiction.

10: What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Did I mention the free will debate / sex scene? Okay, how about people like these?

  • A voluntary sociopath
  • A man who carries his mind in a plastic aquarium treasure chest
  • Native America Cigarette smugglers
  • Frat boys throwing drug-induced “Gay for a Day” parties