April 23, 2014

#AfterpartyBlogTour Brand New Drugs: an interview with Daryl Gregory, author of "Afterparty"

PR By the Book and Tor Books are in the middle of a blog tour with Daryl Gregory right now, promoting Daryl's latest novel, AFTERPARTY. For my part, I had the chance to ask him a few questions relating to the novel. But before all that, here's a little info on the man and his newest book:

About the author: Daryl Gregory is an award-winning writer of genre-mixing novels, stories, and comics. His first novel, Pandemonium, won the Crawford Award and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. His other novels include The Devil’s Alphabet (a Philip K. Dick award finalist), Raising Stony Mayhall (a Library Journal best SF book of the year), and the upcoming Afterparty. Many of his short stories are collected in Unpossible and Other Stories, which was named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly. He lives in State College, PA.

About AFTERPARTY: After a smart drug revolution allows anyone with internet and a chemjet to invent mind-bending drugs, 17-year-old Francine gets hooked on one such drug, Numinous. Credited with leading people to God, Numinous is used as a sacrament by a new church that preys on the underclass. A victim of the church, Francine is thrown into jail where she undergoes terrible withdrawal from the drug and meets Lyda Rose. But Lyda has a dark secret: she is one of the original creators of the Numinous drug which she thought no longer existed. When Francine commits suicide, Lyda sets out to make things right.

With the help of an ex-government agent and an imaginary, drug-induced doctor, Lyda begins a fast-paced chase across Canada and the United States to find the last surviving creators of Numinous—and stop whoever is still making the drug.

And now, onto the interview:

Gef: Afterparty is a novel involving drugs and is set in Toronto, Canada. Now, in case you've been paying attention to the news over the past year, there's already a guy synonymous with Toronto and drugs. Do you feel outmatched in that regard?

Daryl: Rob Ford is an excellent example of real life outstripping fiction—even science fiction.

Gef: Seeing demonstrations of 3D printers are impressive enough, but I never would have clued in to the idea of a pharmaceutical equivalent. And this isn't even some far off concept, either. When you first caught wind of this burgeoning technology, what went through your head--besides a novel idea.

Daryl: Because this book takes place in the very near future, I wanted the technology to be so plausible that you might think it already existed. In a lot of cases that meant combining a few existing technologies to make a new one. So, 3D printers + Silk Road-style ecommerce (to purchase chemical precursor packs) = the “chemjet,” a device to print designer drugs onto edible paper. I thought this was a completely novel idea, until I talked to a chemistry professor and found out they’re very close to doing this now.

Gef: A lot of stories have the "devil on my shoulder", but Afterparty features a "god in my head" with the synthetic drug, Numinous, giving users an unmatched high for the main character--and drug's creator--Lyda. What was it about this quasi-religious experience that compelled you to include it in the story?

Daryl: Lots of people—one survey had it at 50% of respondents—have experienced the numinous, the sudden feeling that you’re in touch with a presence external to yourself. It happens to believers and atheists alike, in all cultures. We can see the brains of Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks lighting up in fMRIs when they pray or meditate. People with temporal lobe epilepsy can experience the numinous every day. There’s a researcher in Canada who’s reported inducing the feeling with magnets.

People who’ve had the experience often move on, writing it off as a weird mental event like déjà vu, though much more intense. But one of the distinguishing characteristics of the numinous is that it doesn’t feel like a hallucination. Dreams don’t feel real once we wake up, but the numinous often does. Barbara Ehrenreich, an atheist and rationalist, just published Living with a Wild God, about a numinous experience she had in her teens. If you’re religious, the experience can be taken as proof that God is out there, communicating with you. Even if you’re not religious, it feels like something is contacting you.

I liked the idea of a drug that duplicated or mimicked something we consider to be so essential to humanity. If we could swallow a pill to make us a better, more loving person, shouldn’t we take it? And if it works for us, shouldn’t we convert others—dosing them if necessary? The idea of chemical evangelism is scary, but it’s the kind of thing that science fiction is built to tackle.

Gef: I remember back in the 90s, as the internet was first hitting its stride, the Anarchist's Cookbook and the idea of anyone being able to build a bomb at home was this big bogeyman floating around. But someone creating a weapon of mass destruction in his garage is far less desirable to the average American (or Canadian) than say ... replicating recreational drugs in the privacy of his/her own home. Is there a reckoning in the works for this kind of technology hitting the population at large, or will governments crack down to a degree that makes busting marijuana grow-ops look like a quaint exercise?

Daryl: There will undoubtedly be crackdowns, especially on the restrictions of precursor chemicals, but it’ll be a losing battle. The chemjet technology I’m imagining will have such a lower overhead, and smaller footprint, than growing marijuana. This is desktop technology—no grow lights! No potting soil! Once people can download recipes to try out and share their modifications, we have something equivalent to the app developer community. The scary part is that we’ll be beta-testing on people’s brains. The risk of serious harm is huge.

Gef: Chances are Afterparty could become a summer read for quite a few folks this year. What books, assuming you have the time to sit down with one through the summer given your schedule, are you looking forward to this summer?

Daryl: Summer is my season of optimism, in which I always plan to catch up on all the books I should have already read. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is sitting on my bedside table like a beautfiul anvil. I also want to read George Saunders’ collection the Tenth of December, and read the next two of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. I just finished the first book, Annihilation, and it was so. damn. weird. Can’t wait for the rest.

A big thanks to Daryl, Tor Books, and PR By the Book for their efforts. And if any of you would like to get your hands on a copy of AFTERPARTY, you can always find it on Amazon.com. And be sure to watch out for all the other blog tour stops this week!

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