Love Minus Eighty is a dystopian novel of manners set in a social media-saturated world. It's also about a future where one company has the power to cryogenically freeze beautiful women who die young — and rich men can revive them briefly for "dates," or long-term binding marriage contracts. We've got an excerpt.
Author Will McIntosh based Love Minus Eighty on his popular short story, "Bridesicles," and the novel immerses you in a world that is a surprisingly charming cross between Philip K. Dick and Jane Austen. Amazingly, this novel manages to deliver a light, romantic story without ever sacrificing its dark vision of the future.
The words were gentle strokes, drawing her awake.
"Hello. Hello there."
She felt the light on her eyelids, and knew that if she opened her eyes, they would sting, and she would have to shade them with her palm and let the light bleed through a crack.
"Feel like talking?" A man's soft voice.
And then her mind cleared enough to wonder: who was this man at her bedside?
"Aw, I know you're awake by now. Come on, Sleeping Beauty. Talk to me." The last was a whisper, a lover's words, and Mira felt that she had to come awake and open her eyes. She tried to sigh, but no breath came. Her eyes flew open in alarm.
An old man was leaning over her, smiling, but Mira barely saw him, because when she opened her mouth to inhale, her jaw squealed like a seabird's cry, and no breath came, and she wanted to press her hands to the sides of her face, but her hands wouldn't come either. Nothing would move except her face.
"Hello, hello. And how are you?" The old man was smiling gently, as if Mira might break if he set his whole smile loose. He was not that old, she saw now. Maybe fifty. The furrows in his forehead and the ones framing his nose only seemed deep because his face was so close to hers, almost close enough for a kiss. "Are you having trouble?" He reached out and almost stroked her hair. "You have to press down with your back teeth to control the air flow. Didn't they show you?"
There was an air flow—a gentle breeze, whooshing up her throat and out her mouth and nose. It tickled the tiny hairs in her nostrils. She bit down, and the breeze became a hiss—an exhale strong enough that her chest should drop, but it didn't, or maybe it did and she just couldn't tell, because she couldn't lift her head to look.
"Where—" Mira said, and then she howled in terror, because her voice sounded horrible—deep and hoarse and hollow, the voice of something that had pulled itself from a swamp.
"It takes some getting used to. Am I your first? No one has revived you before? Not even for an orientation?" The notion seemed to please him, that he was her first, whatever that meant. Mira studied him, wondering if she should recognize him. He preened at her attention, as if expecting Mira to be glad to see him. He was not an attractive man—his nose was thick and bumpy, and not in an aristocratic way. His nostrils were like a bull's, his brow Neanderthal, but his mouth dainty. She didn't recognize him.
"I can't move. Why can't I move?" Mira finally managed. She looked around as best she could.
"It's okay. Try to relax. Only your face is working."
"What happened?" Mira finally managed.
"You were in an accident," he said, his brow now flexed with concern. "You were working on an engineering project for the military. Evidently a wall gave out." He consulted a readout on his palm. "Fairly major damage. Ruptured aorta. Right leg gone."
Right leg gone? Her right leg? She couldn't see anything except the man hanging over her and a gold-colored ceiling, high, high above. "This is a hospital?" she asked.
"No, no. A dating center."
"What?" For the first time she noticed that there were other voices in the room, speaking in low, earnest, confidential tones. She caught snippets close by:
"... neutral colors. How could anyone choose violet?"
"... last time I was at a Day-Glows concert I was seventeen..."
"I shouldn't be the one doing this." The man turned, looked over his shoulder, then up at a black screen she could just see, set into the wall behind her. "There's usually an orientation." He turned back around to face her, shrugged, looking bemused. "I guess we're on our own." He clasped his hands, leaned in toward Mira. "The truth is, you see, you died in the accident..."
Mira didn't hear the next few things he said. She felt as if she were floating. It was an absurd idea, that she might be dead yet hear someone tell her she was dead. But somehow it rang true. She didn't remember dying, but she sensed some hard, fast line—some demarcation between now and before. The idea made her want to flee, escape her body, which was a dead body. Her teeth were corpse's teeth.
"... you're at minus eighty degrees, thanks to your insurance, but full revival, especially when it involves extensive injury, is terribly costly. That's where the dating service comes in—"
"I have a sister," she interrupted. "Lynn." Her jaw moved so stiffly.
"Yes, a twin sister. Now, that would be interesting." The man grinned, his eyebrows raised.
"Is she still alive?"
"No," he said in a tone that suggested she was a silly girl. "You've been gone for over eighty years, Sleeping Beauty." He made a sweeping gesture, as if all of that was trivial. "But let's focus on the present. The way this works is, we get acquainted. We have dates. If we find we're compatible"—he raised his shoulders toward his ears, smiled his dainty smile—"then I might be enticed to pay for you to be revived, so that we can be together."
"So. My name is Alexander—call me Alex—and I know from your readout that your name is Mira. Nice to meet you, Mira."
"Nice to meet you," Mira murmured. He'd said a wall collapsed on her. She tried to remember, but nothing came. Nothing about the accident, anyway. The memories that raced up at her were of Jeannette.
"So. Mira." Alex clapped his hands together. "Do you want to bullshit, or do you want to get intimate?" The raised eyebrows again, the same as when he made the twins comment.
"I don't understand," Mira said.
"Weeeell. For example, here's a question." He leaned in close, his breath puffing in her ear. "If I revived you, what sorts of things would you do to me?"
Mira doubted this man was here to revive anyone. "I don't know. That's an awfully intimate question. Why don't we get to know each other first?" She needed time to think. Even just a few minutes of quiet, to make sense of this.
Alex frowned theatrically. "Come on. Tease me a little."
Should she tell Alex she was gay? Surely not. He would lose interest, and maybe report it to whoever owned the facility. But why hadn't whoever owned the facility known she was gay? Maybe that was to be part of the orientation she'd missed. Whatever the reason, did she want to risk being taken out of circulation, or unplugged and buried?
Would that be the worst thing?
"I'm just—" She wanted to say "not in the mood," but that was not only a cliché but a vast understatement. She was dead. She couldn't move anything but her face, and that made her feel untethered, as if she were floating, drifting. Hands and feet grounded you. Mira had never realized. "I'm just not very good at this sort of thing."
"Well." Alex put his hands on his thighs, made a production of standing. "This costs quite a bit, and they charge by the minute. So I'll say good-bye now, and you can go back to being dead."
Go back? "Wait!" Mira said. They could bring her back, and then let her die again? She imagined her body, sealed up somewhere, maybe for years, maybe forever. The idea terrified her. Alex paused, waiting. "Okay. I would..." She tried to think of something, but there were so many things running through her mind, so many trains of thought she wanted to follow, none of them involving the pervert leaning over her.
Were there other ways to get permanently "revived"? Did she have any living relatives she might contact, or maybe a savings account that had been accruing interest for the past eighty years? Had she had any savings when she died? She'd had a house—she remembered that. Jeannette would have inherited it. Or maybe Lynn.
"Fine, if you're not going to talk, I'll just say good-bye," Alex snapped. "But don't think anyone else is coming. You're a level eight-plus."
Mira opened her mouth to ask what that meant, but Alex raised a finger to silence her.
"What that means is your injuries make you one expensive revival, and there are many, many women here, so not even your nine-point-one all-original face and thirty-six-C tits, also original, are going to pry that kind of treasure from any man's balance." He stepped back, put his fists on his hips. "Plus, men don't want women who were frozen sixty years before the facility opened, because they have nothing in common with those women."
"Please," Mira said.
He reached for something over her head, out of sight.