In the distant future, Earth has become uninhabitable due to nuclear war. The humans that survived the war managed to get themselves on a spaceship to locate a new planet to call home. On this planet, they discover an ore that can be crafted into a drug, which they call “Lyfe.” For some, it makes them practically immortal and eternally young. For others, it turns them into hopeless junkies. This creates a caste system in which the former rule over the latter.
Elektra is a mortal. Addicted to Lyfe and alcohol, she finds herself heartbroken when her girlfriend Miranda leaves her to marry an immortal man named Hipparchus. She wants nothing more than revenge on her ex-girlfriend and the society that beats her down. She begins an affair with Hipparchus in between working as a waitress, scoring and shooting up Lyfe, getting drunk, and taking care of her father, a former actor dying from the side effects of Lyfe.
“Elektra swallowed her rage with an audible gulp. Pretending not to want to kill people was getting easier, which almost made her feel worse. She felt old and dead of passion, and sentimental for the days when rage was pure, and a lover was sweet to her, good to her, when she thought the heartbreak that cursed the rest of the human race might pass over her house. She saw starry nights flitting through her memory files as though her current self had been riding around far behind the eyes, in the android of this youthful idiot.”
LYFE is primarily a science fiction tale revolving around the titular drug and the society driven by it. However, it also combines elements of noir and dirty realism. Sterzinger shows us a fascinating dystopia in the new world the humans have settled down on. For example, recording and broadcasting equipment is scarce and the way to manufacture them has been lost to history. Because of this, the theatre is the primary form of entertainment in the City of Heaven, the city where Elektra lives and the only one on the new home world. Stage acting is the most prestigious occupation, with merchants, scientists, and even any other artists being looked down upon in comparison. Of course, one could argue that’s not much different from the real world if one replaces stage actors with film actors.
In her previous novels, Sterzinger was very concerned with the plight of people who do grunt work and struggle to get by. That applies just as much to LYFE. Some of my favorite parts of the book were not the more fantastic parts, but the struggles Elektra faces working as a waitress. Anyone who has ever worked in food service will understand the way she deals with bitchy customers, asshole managers, and disgruntled co-workers. As usual, Sterzinger’s satirical barbs spare no one.
This is not to say the main plot of Elektra seeking revenge on her ex-girlfriend and the ultimate mystery of why Lyfe works like it does are dull or feel unimportant. They do fade in the background at times, but this works very well. The mixture of the overarching plot and Elektra’s daily misadventures blend together in ways that feel very natural. The result is like a mixture of “classic” science fiction adventure and “new wave” science fiction in the vein of Thomas Disch’s 334.
The ending will certainly leave some people frustrated. This is the first book in a series and the ending is definitely a cliffhanger. Despite that, it still seems like this book was cut from a bigger one. It feels like it just stops rather than concludes part one of the story.
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LYFE is a great read that combines intrigue, romance, mundane life, and a fascinating fictional world all told with Ann Sterzinger's trademark caustic humor. It confirms my belief that Sterzinger is a criminally underrated novelist who deserves far more attention. I'm very excited for the future installments in the Elektra's Revenge series. Review copy provided
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