About the Book
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.
I borrowed this book from my local library.
Love Minus Eighty is one of those books I probably never would have read based on its synopsis. It just didn’t look the least bit interesting to me, especially considering that I really don’t get along that well with romance. Then I wandered onto Goodreads and saw that pretty much everyone I follow who reviews books and has read this one loved it. A challenge was set. I had to find out what the fuss was about, and I’m so glad I did. In complete honesty, I ended up loving this book so much that I’m absolutely confounded in regards to how to write an adequate review of it.
Note: This review has minor spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Love Minus Eighty is a social SciFi book, meaning there is no interplanetary travel, but there’s advanced technology and a futuristic society. Our world has progressed by leaps and bounds. Society has altered and things have changed. Love Minus Eighty spends a lot of time analyzing these changes and figuring out how they affect the interwoven stories that McIntosh presents the reader with.
The amount of world building that McIntosh packs into this tightly woven novel is, hands down, amazing. The author doesn’t just present readers with the future version of New York City; he brings you there. He presents it in Technicolor, makes the sights, smells, frustrations, and norms easy to grasp and understand, while also making his futuristic version of the Big Apple believable when compared to the world we live in today. The sprawl of the city and the various individuals that inhabit it, plus the large scope of the virtual world gives Love Minus Eighty almost an epic world feel. New York City feels less like a city and more like a living, breathing, and sprawling universe. There are hints of outside places where “raw lifers” live, but the entirety of the book takes place in a few basic places that are developed so well they never seem small.
Love Minus Eighty focuses heavily on how the evolution and advancement of technology affects lives, privacy, and relationships. Love seems to be the underlying and more human, emotional theme that brings the three main (and intricately interwoven) stories together. McIntosh was smart to use such a powerful emotion as the binding ingredient of his book. It’s actually quite fascinating to see how he balances his high speed, rushed, interconnected, technological world with such a mundane and age-old feeling. The way the author uses technology and love to balance each other brings Love Minus Eighty a sense of that SciFi wonder I love so much, but also a raw, emotional feel that really made the book seem genuine and absolutely absorbing in every sense.
Love Minus Eighty has three major narrators, each of which are touched on in the About the Book section of this review. Each character has an incredibly unique and powerful voice. Mira purposefully gets less time in the spotlight than Rob or Veronika, but her story is probably the most powerful and really serves to give readers a unique and emotionally jarring view into the life of a bridesicle – their absolute loss of privacy and personal power is provocative. Her chapters are short, but their length is humbling and serves to bring intense thought to many of the deeper themes the author toys with. In fact, Mira herself is probably one of the fundamental reasons Love Minus Eighty is such a deep, compelling novel.
Rob and Veronika are both absorbing and well developed characters. They each have their own struggles. Rob is trying to right a horrible wrong by basically taking on a vow of poverty in an age where such a thing is absolutely unheard of. Veronika works as a well-paid behind-the-scenes manipulator of people’s lives (also known as a “coach”) who is balanced by her surprisingly awkward social behaviors. Her looks that are beautiful, but not the standard. She doesn’t fit in any mold, and she pays for it. Both characters are catastrophes in different ways, and readers will inevitably like one more than the other depending on their preferences. Each character seems so realistic and believable in the context of our world, but when they are placed in their advanced society, their struggles and the reason they are so overpowering are so obvious. Then, you couple their own interpersonal struggles with the context of technology and the fundamental human drive to love and be loved, and you have two pretty mundane characters that are absolutely unforgettable.
This isn’t one of those action packed books. The plot focuses mostly in inner journeys. The world is fascinating and amazingly well developed with a very real feel that is so rare to find in books, but the real focus is inward. I was told when I was diagnosed with cancer that cancer isn’t a disease that one person suffers from. The whole family is diagnosed with cancer, and that’s the absolute truth. That’s also a huge theme McIntosh plays with here. We all cause ripples in our various ponds, and those ripples flow out and spread until they affect more and more people. Rob’s accident is unfortunate, but the domino effect is evident. Love Minus Eighty starts with an overreaction, and ends with a powerful finale where a huge number of people are all somehow affected.
Alongside this is the fascinating technology that McIntosh introduces us to. Readers will see the our technology (like Facebook) in the influence of McIntosh’s future world. Screens follow the interesting and/or famous around, depending on their privacy settings. Instead of television, the world is open for live viewer consumption. Rubberneckers pop up on screens to watch people commit suicide. Some people live their lives entirely for the benefit of whoever wants to view them. At one point Rob goes to a dating bar. He isn’t allowed to enter until he creates a public profile for anyone to see, and he walks past a certain scanner which automatically adds his weight and BMI to his profile. This might seem ridiculous to us now, but think about how the internet and Facebook have virtually stripped us of our privacy. People are only as private as they allow themselves to be these days, and McIntosh powerfully plays on that with his SciFi future.
Obviously I can’t end this review without talking about the bridescicles. I guess McIntosh wrote a short story called Bridescicle, which inspired this book. Mira and Rob really bring the bridescicle story to life. Their stories, and then later on to a lesser extent, Veronika’s story add a new dimension to the deeper themes I’ve mentioned above, like the idea of death. Death isn’t the end in McIntosh’s world, the ability to reboot a life has a huge impact on so many people. Someone tries to commit suicide, only to be brought back to life by the company they work for because they are irreplaceable. A woman at an 8.4 or above on the beauty scale can be brought into these cryogenic dating centers. Death isn’t final anymore; it’s just a point where technology has allowed people to lose even more power over their own lives.
Love Minus Eighty is one of my absolute favorite books I’ve read so far this year. It’s deep, emotional, passionate, balanced and incredibly absorbing. While it’s not full of wham-bam action, it’s a study of human nature, a discourse on technology (does it empower us, or take power away from us?), the nature of privacy (does it even exist?), and how one person’s actions have the power to affect an entire world. It’s thought provoking, layered, and shockingly well developed. Honestly, I can’t say enough good about this book. Love Minus Eighty is everything I want a book to be, all packed into 432 incredibly well written pages.