One of the best things about being connected to the reviewing community is hearing about novels that I wouldn’t otherwise have picked up on my own. Will McIntosh’s Love Minus Eighty is one of those finds I wouldn’t have made if not for social media. After seeing review after glowing review in my Twitter feed, I picked it up and set it on the top of Mount To Be Read, where it was promptly buried. It took a few months before I had time to pick it up, but I managed to devour it over the weekend, despite being fairly busy with other social obligations. I don’t normally read a lot on the weekends due to a fairly busy schedule when I’m not working, but McIntosh’s fascinating tale of love and technology just wouldn’t let me go, so I finished it in record time. I’m happy to report that despite having a strong romantic element to its story line that Love Minus Eighty is one of the best novels I’ve read this year.
Love Minus Eighty centers around a single incident. Rob has just broken up with his attention seeking girlfriend Lorelei, who lives her life completely exposed to hundreds of virtual onlookers who follow her daily life by watching remotely via ‘screens’ that literally float in the back ground, when the trajectory of his life takes a turn for the worse.
Distracted by technology that allows him to watch Lorelei jettison his personal belongings out the window of her Hightown apartment, Rob runs over a jogger, a woman named Winter killing her instantly. Rob’s life spirals into a depression, despite being cleared of any criminal charges in the accident. He soon learns that Winter is now a bridecicle, a version of mail-order brides made up of attractive young women who lack the level of revivification insurance needed to facilitate a full revival. Rich men come to the ‘dating centers’ seeking a woman to marry, these women who can only speak try to convince these suitors to foot the exorbitant prices to bring them back to life in exchange for signing an irrevocable marriage contract that makes them little more than property. Determined to make amends, Rob applies himself to raising the money needed to visit Winter at the dating center, disconnecting himself from all but the most basic of technology in the process and finds himself connected by circumstance to Winter’s ex-boyfriend Nathan who feels mildly complicit in her fate, and his friend Veronika who both set out to help Rob gather the funds necessary to visit Winter. Driven by his guilt and a growing attraction to the woman he killed, Rob spends every dollar he can spare to visit Winter and to find a way to keep her from being recycled when her ‘dates’ fail to secure her a marriage.
McIntosh’s world building focuses on turning up the volume on certain elements of our own society. Real world issues such as the growing divide between economic classes, the growing dependence on technology, the exploitation of women and more permeate McIntosh’s tale. But rather than focus his story on the weighty issues it contains, readers are drawn into to the personal journeys of the point of view characters. Though the narrative focuses primarily on Rob’s journey to save Winter, and Veronika’s difficulties finding a stable relationship while pining after the obviously disinterested Nathan, McIntosh wisely adds a third point of view that provides the novel’s most introspective moments. These sections focus on Mia, a lesbian who finds herself mistakenly in the bridecicle program. Though short and infrequent these chapters focus almost entirely on Mia’s feelings of isolation, fear, and terror and drive home the inhumanity of her plight. While some readers may wonder why McIntosh gives Mia so little page time, I understood that brevity on the issues allows readers to reflect on the issues and draw their own conclusions, without the author needing to make the characters mouthpieces for his own views. It makes for a lighter and perhaps more enjoyable tale, at least in my own opinion.
With little to no action of the typical variety found in genre fiction, Love Minus Eighty lives and dies by the strength of the characterization, and McIntosh delivers in spades. Both Rob and Veronika exude so much normalcy in their reactions to the wild circumstances of their love lives that readers will almost instantly find themselves nodding along with their decisions and feeling their triumphs and tragedies as strongly as if they were their own. I can’t remember reading a novel where I found myself so frequently heart stabbed by the trials of the characters. If you like your science fiction rich with big ideas and reflections on our own society or are just a fan of strong character driven story telling, Love Minus Eighty is a must read.