Years in the future, dead women in cryogenic dating farms await rich, lonely suitors to resurrect them and take them home. LOVE MINUS EIGHTY follows interconnected lives touched by these dating farms. There’s Rob, who accidentally kills a jogger, then sells everything to visit her, seeking her forgiveness but instead falling in love. Veronika, a socially-awkward dating coach, finds herself responsible for the happiness of a man whose life she saved against his will. And Mira, a gay woman accidentally placed in the heterosexual dating center near its inception, desperately seeks a way to reunite with her frozen partner as the centuries pass. In this daring and big-hearted novel based on the Hugo-winning short story, the lovelorn navigate a world in which technology has reached the outer limits of morality and romance.
Genre: Science fiction | This edition: UK paperback | Publisher: Orbit | Publication date: 11th June 2013
This was an unusual book for me. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s certainly a point I’ve been thinking a lot about since I finished reading it. It was unusual because it’s a story about love, or relationships, with a science-fiction setting. This simply isn’t something I’d read a lot of before now, so what kept me reading was as much simple curiosity about the concept as it was fascination with seeing how it all turned out.
As for the rest, it made for a lovely reading experience, and I mean that utterly sincerely. This was a beautiful story. It was a deeply unnerving one, and there was more than one instance of finding certain characters irritating enough to deserve a sense-inducing slap, but in its own way that’s a good thing, too! It was well worth reading simply for the experience of feeling so deeply invested in what was happening, and the people it was happening to.
Take the bridesicles – because if there’s any one example to point to and call the focus here, it’s that concept, as well as the characters to whom that ‘name’ applies. Cryogenic dating centres, where the ‘brides’ are kept frozen when they’re not being visited. Think about that idea for half a second and I’m sure you’ll find it as creepy as I did. To make matters worse, the only way most of these women (and it is only women who are kept in the centre, which is explained briefly but succinctly, and ought to be a point to bear in mind…) ever get out of the centre is to be chosen by someone rich enough to afford them – and this is a purchase, plain and simple. There’s marriage involved, but it’s by contract, and that contract is iron-clad. For the bride, there is literally no legal way out of it. She’ll be owned for the rest of her life, because she was just that expensive.
‘Creepy’ barely covers it…
One of the bridesicles (and I hate that word as much as some of the characters here do) finds herself in just such a situation, and this was, I suppose, the other focal point of the story. She’s in the programme after being accidentally run over, and the driver responsible resigns himself to a life of poverty in order to be able to afford to visit her regularly afterward. The visits begin out of guilt on his part, but a connection is quickly formed between these two, and explored as the book goes on. I won’t give away how it ends, but for me it was the perfect heartwarmer.
What I also want to highlight, though, is the part of the story that belongs to Veronika, another of the characters followed in the book. She’s a dating coach whose own social life is in kind of a sorry state, not least because of her unrequited feelings for her best friend, Nathan. Veronika is the one I wanted to slap, but that in itself speaks pretty highly of the way Will McIntosh writes his characters…
Neither Veronika nor Nathan is particularly likeable in my view, both seeming (note I said seeming) as shallow and self-involved as each other, but as with Rob and Winter (and if that’s not the most apt name for a bridesicle ever, I don’t know what is; smell the dark humour?) I really wanted a happy ending for her. When the turning point in her personal journey came, I may or may not have fist-pumped…
Taken collectively, what I really enjoyed about all of these characters – even the social media-obsessed drama queen Lorelei – is that there is more beneath their surface than there seems. They all gave me something to think about, and even now, days after I’ve put the book down, it’s still in my head, still giving me chills, but still making me think about the ideas it puts forth.
Not least of those ideas (and also the chills) is down to the author’s take on where social media might end up – and as futuristic as it seems, it also seems like a pretty likely direction. It also makes many of the bystanders, or the ‘viewers’, in this book part of the reason I found it so creepy. These are people who are apparently so interested in what others are doing that they’ll stand around and watch a man commit suicide, just because it gets pinged on their feeds. Privacy is really, truly a rare commodity in this version of the future, and that is very possibly just as disturbing as brides on ice.
It might be difficult to see how a book with premises like those could be described as beautiful, but trust me – somehow, Will McIntosh pulls it off. It could well be down to the ending, and for my part I think it mostly was, but however creepy the ideas got, the imagery that helps to get them across is indeed pretty breathtaking. By the time he was describing the city where this book is set, I knew I was hooked – and by the time I closed this book, there was no question that I wanted more of his work.
Good thing I’ve got Defenders sitting on my shelves, then!