Tuesday, December 8, 2020

ELYSIUM, a fan-damn-tastic first novel from a writer who we need to hear more from soon

ELYSIUM Or, The World After
Aqueduct Press
$7.95 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A computer program etched into the atmosphere has a story to tell, the story of two people, of a city lost to chaos, of survival and love. The program's data, however, has been corrupted. As the novel's characters struggle to survive apocalypse, they are sustained and challenged by the demands of love in a shattered world both haunted and dangerous.


My Review
: The author, whom I follow on Twitter, commented rather sadly on some people in the blogosphere who took her to task for this book, which apparently was not to their taste.

It was to mine. I enjoyed it so much that, after reading the library's copy, I ordered one for myself because I wanted to have ready access to some of my favorite quotes to share with my Young Gentleman Caller. He's quite partial to this one:
"...You got wings now. You might as well learn how to use 'em. I'll teach you and then you'll come with me."

It makes me very happy to be able to share that with him, and have it mean something good to him, too.

But here's the thing, readers. Here's the central principle of this book as I understand it: Forget Reality. It doesn't exist.

As this idea bothers a lot of people, and some people more than is remotely justified, let me talk a bit (vaguely, sorry, spoilerphobes are every-damn-where like the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys) about why I think this is Elysium's core value. First, are the characters male or female? Straight or gay? Lovers, friends, family? The proper answer to this question is "Yes." Full stop. There are no binaries or trinaries (is that a thing?) here. There is a world beset by failure from within...the computer code between sections and chapters is you clue to remove linear expectations from your reading repertoire. You're not spoon-fed anything in this book, nor are you denied the clear and intentional signs of what the author wants you to know before continuing your read.

Antoine and Antoinette being one person, though not the same person, is an idea that frightens a lot of (mostly straight, though certainly not all) people. That these two names for one being, one soul as the more spiritually inclined would say, are frequently interchanged and in a constellation of ways in relationship to Adrian/Adrianne will confuse many. Which, I think, is part of the point. We're in a world whose worldbuilding includes the concept that this is all a malfunctioning program. And now the technophobes have checked out...no, no, no, no! It's not about a HAL-9000 programmed by an Australopithecus at a Cosmic Terminal controlling the Universe. Perish forbid Author Brissett be so uncreative, so bog-standard boring.

There is a point at which Hector/Helen, the relationship spoiler between the primary dyad Adrian/Adrianne and Antoine/Antoinette, becomes...repetitive...and a new role surfaces, a different means of being within the circle of safety that these connected beings represent. A sibling has a powerful position in a person's life. But here there must be room made for change. Partners don't often make that accommodation where siblings will. Now and then the relationship drama can feel overdone, but one is wise to trust a storyteller to make it all make sense.

The larger canvas, the backdrop of The World Ending, isn't overplayed, isn't made the blaring obvious focus of the people we're invested in's lives. It happens almost offstage, it's so much a part of the way the players play out their scenes. It happens, and it happens, and it happens; it is in this endless loop of recursion that the computer code "interruptions" become ligatures. The linking of all the worlds that are failing, losing, coming unstuck, is always being battled and resisted. Our main characters might not be the ones doing the fighting (note use of conditional), but they're at the forefront of the evolving disaster.

The disasters, regrettably, include a bit of characterization that I'd call transphobic. It was an uncharacteristically lazy slip-up. I'm not going to belabor the point because it's part of an overall branching exploration of dichotomy, a sense of making the characters (and latterly introduced characters as well) conform to standards that are slapped on with labels. That's not always comfortable to explore...but I believe Author Brissett, a Jamaican-British person resident in New York City, would be very much inclined to do. How many labels can one entity, one consciousness, support or bear or exemplify? All three main characters bear the entire range of them, and others determined by cultures only invented instead of observed.

Comes the ending. I was, at that point, hazy and a little tired; but the book's ultimate frame gave me the five-star glow. This ending makes every odd and jagged edge Right and Proper. I loved it, and was so very happy that it came to be.

But for the transphobia...that's the half-star off.

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