Jacket design by Laywan Kwan
You gotta wonder about the pitch for this novel. “I got this idea, you know, for a book about a highly contagious virus. The country is unprepared, people die by the thousands, the president says it will be cured soon, but then there’s mass layoffs, the borders are closed and California is quarantined.” I can see the editorial team exchanging glances, shrugging and saying, “It’s far-fetched and crazy, but I like that bit about California under quarantine. Does it affect surfers?”
Katie M. Flynn’s debut The Companions was published March 3, perfect timing for a viral-apocalypse novel. It got all the press you’d expect. The New York Times included it in “Your Quarantine Reader” (alongside Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and Stephen King’s The Stand), and it was listed in Bustle’s “16 Novels About Viral Outbreaks To Make You Feel Less Alone,” and The Hollywood Reporter’s “8 Pandemic-Themed Books to Read Amid Coronavirus,” among similar lists. I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing that opens wallets these days, but you know what they say. No such thing as bad publicity.
Lumping The Companions in with other viral-outbreak entertainment probably does this book a disservice, however. Yes, it opens with a plague, but the novel also addresses questions about identity in a world of machines, and wraps it all up in a compelling story of a 16-year old trying to solve her own murder.
Here’s the description from Bustle.
After a massive viral outbreak, one company brings the dead back to life by preserving their consciousnesses inside new bodies. Those who cannot pay for the service become servants to clients who rent them, which is exactly where The Companions‘ protagonist, 16-year-old Lilac, finds herself at the novel’s opening. But Lilac is determined to get out of her contract, come hell or high water, because she’s got a murder to solve — her own.
And here’s the complete publisher’s blurb.
In the wake of a highly contagious virus, California is under quarantine. Sequestered in high rise towers, the living can’t go out, but the dead can come in — and they come in all forms, from sad rolling cans to manufactured bodies that can pass for human. Wealthy participants in the “companionship” program choose to upload their consciousness before dying, so they can stay in the custody of their families. The less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death, but all companions become the intellectual property of Metis Corporation, creating a new class of people — a command-driven product-class without legal rights or true free will.
Sixteen-year-old Lilac is one of the less fortunate, leased to a family of strangers. But when she realizes she’s able to defy commands, she throws off the shackles of servitude and runs away, searching for the woman who killed her.
Lilac’s act of rebellion sets off a chain of events that sweeps from San Francisco to Siberia to the very tip of South America. While the novel traces Lilac’s journey through an exquisitely imagined Northern California, the story is told from eight different points of view — some human, some companion — that explore the complex shapes love, revenge, and loneliness take when the dead linger on.
The Companions was published by Gallery/Scout Press on March 3, 2020. It is 259 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Laywan Kwan.
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