We’re reading LOVE MINUS EIGHTY by Will McIntosh

5 Jun

Keith Brooke enjoys love in a cold climate


Love Minus Eighty
Will McIntosh
Orbit, PPB £7.99

Sometimes you start a book and you can’t put it down. You sit up late, just waiting for that “convenient place to stop” when you know the only convenient place to stop is at the end. Will McIntosh’s Love Minus Eighty took me almost two months to read from start to finish. Those two months featured far too much in the way of hospital time for me and those around me, and there were plenty of other little dramas to intrude on my reading time. To read this book I had to pinch ten minutes here, twenty minutes there, often with long breaks in between. Reading like this can be a chore unless you’re blessed with a really good book, and this, I believe, is just that: it was one that occupied my thoughts when I was unable to sit down and read, one I genuinely looked forward to coming back to, and one I intend to revisit under better circumstances, when I’m free to stay up a bit longer, and stop at that most convenient of places.

Love Minus Eighty is the story of billionaires using innocent young women for sex: that whole rich alpha male thing. No, we’re not looking at the boom in Fifty Shades of Grey-led billionaire erotic romance (just search on “billionaire” at Amazon, I dare you); in this case the women are corpsicles, attractive women who died young and have been kept on ice with the possibility that they might, one day, be revived and fixed. Cryomed’s bridesicle programme revives such women for brief “dates” with their wealthy suitors. If they are lucky, they will revived and married off to the billionaires, contractually bound to do whatever their new husbands demand in return for a second crack of the whip. Fifty Shades be damned: while it is a story of love and relationships that cross paths and intertwine, McIntosh’s gripping and sweetly moving tale is anything but a pile of romance cliches.

There’s something very Golden Age about this lovingly detailed future: a constant and entirely welcome subtext of “look at this – isn’t it cool!” This is a world where the population are immersed in social media and extra-sensory augmented realities, where everything is overlaid by extrapolated versions of Facebook and YouTube, where things aren’t real unless they’re validated by your virtual followers. It’s a world where reality TV has become reality: exaggerated, superficial, and always played to the audience.

In a core cast of maybe half a dozen characters, the lead is Rob, an innocent musician, out of his depth in the High Town world of the elite, and a thoroughly decent guy (it’s hard to write convincingly about a character who is so nice, but McIntosh gets this spot on). When his girlfriend decides to analyse and destroy his private possessions in a bid to increase her virally-growing online audience, Rob drives off in a rage and, in a momentary lapse of concentration, knocks down and kills an innocent woman. When he learns that she has been “saved” as a potential bridesicle, he knows he has to somehow get in to see her and apologise, but how can a down-and-out musician pay the fees? And what becomes of a bridesicle who doesn’t get enough interest to justify the expense of preserving her?

While Rob’s story is powerfully told, the more poignant parts of Love Minus Eighty are in the form of the vignettes told from the point of view of Mira, the oldest woman remaining in the cryo facility. She is eighty years out of her own time, a gay woman who must pretend to be straight in the hope that one of her wealthy male suitors will rescue her. Fragmented memories of her past are set against the brief fragments of hell she experiences in the present day, sticking a wonderfully memorable character in an unforgettably impossible position.

For such a fine novel, the end is a disappointment – rushed and pared down, and a little hard to swallow – but that shouldn’t stop Love Minus Eighty being a contender for awards.

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