I picked up Afterparty by Daryl Gregory at a bookshop because I was intrigued by the tagline on the cover: ‘Take a Pill. Get a God.’ Reading the blurb – which spoke of a future in which smart drugs are so advanced that they can even create faith in God – convinced me that I would love this book. It almost seemed tailor-made for me, as someone who enjoys both near-future science-fiction and religious themes. The fact that the book has a female protagonist was an added bonus too. I didn’t think it could get any better.
I was wrong. Upon reading the first chapter of the book, I discovered that the female lead was a lesbian like me, something which hadn’t even been alluded to in the blurb.
Afterparty follows the character of Lyda Rose, a former scientist who, alongside her teammates, developed a drug called Numinous whilst trying to find a cure for schizophrenia. Numinous is a drug that gives the user an intense feeling of the physical and loving presence of God, regardless of whether or not the user had prior religious inclinations. Many years ago, Lyda and her teammates suffered from an overdose of the drug, causing them to be stuck with their own permanent hallucinations of God, Lyda’s taking the form of an angel called Dr. Gloria. When the drug, which was never released to the public, resurfaces at local churches, Lyda sets off on a danger-filled journey to seek out her former friends and prevent the drug from being disseminated further.
There is nothing about the plot that necessitates Lyda being a lesbian, she simply is. This shouldn’t be remarkable. Why should there have to be a reason for a protagonist to be a lesbian? Yet I was so used to heterosexuality as the default orientation for genre fiction protagonists that picking a science-fiction book up off the shelves and finding a lesbian lead felt like a minor miracle. I enjoy coming out stories and f/f romance, which are often the only places that you find sapphic protagonists, but this book gave me something else that I had been craving. This book gave me a protagonist whose sexuality was incidental to the plot at hand, without it being buried in subtext or communicated in one-off lines. For whilst Lyda Rose’s character isn’t defined by her sexuality, her past and current romantic relationships with women are explored in detail throughout the book.
Lyda is a fascinating and complex character all round, an atheist who is constantly grappling with the drug-induced hallucination of God that lives in her head. Her flaws are abundant: she’s an addict, who injured pedestrians in a car crash, and she has a rather spiky personality. She’s also not above manipulating her love interest, Ollie (short for Olivia). However, despite these flaws, she remains a sympathetic character. Her quest to prevent the further distribution of Numinous is a noble one. The drug destroyed her life in many ways, robbing her of her wife and forcing her to give up her child, so it’s easy to understand her desire to prevent others from suffering a similar fate.
The trauma of her past is always with her and you really root for her to forge a better future for herself. Because of her past experiences, Lyda is initially very closed off, unable to admit to herself how deep her feelings for Ollie actually are. It’s therefore rewarding to see her slowly become a better person and develop a more positive and healthy relationship with Ollie, whom she learns not to underestimate.
I was so thrilled to discover such a well-developed lesbian character as the lead of a science-fiction novel and can only hope that we will see an increase in representation like this. I would love to see more authors of genre fiction realise that straight, white, male characters don’t have to be the default protagonists of their stories.
I look forward to the future where there will be no need to write a gushing blog post about how refreshing it is to have a leading lesbian character whose storyline doesn’t centre on her sexuality.
About the Author
Arwen Jenkins is a British writer who loves speculative fiction for the myriad possibilities it offers. When not working on her own stories, her time is spent devouring as much fiction as humanly possible.