Reading Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium

ElysiumJennifer Marie Brissett’s novel Elysium moved me so much that I began making a list of people to give it to.

This is a perfect book for my friends who only read “literary” fiction, I thought. It’s beautifully written and relationships are at the core of the story. It’ll convince them that science fiction is literature.

Then I realized the reader doesn’t know what is going on in this story until the end of the book. Catastrophic change is taking place in a place that must be New York City, but the reader doesn’t know what is happening, much less what is causing it.

And the characters change constantly, though at the center they are always Adrian/Adrianne and Antoine/Antoinette. Sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes lovers, sometimes siblings, sometimes parent and child. The relationships change and so do the situations, though every time the story incorporates the various ways people deal with those they love in times of crisis and extreme stress.

As near as I can tell, the main difference between those who read science fiction and those who don’t is comfort with Jennifer Marie Brissettuncertainty. Science fiction readers are content to dive into the story, trusting that it will all make sense in the end. Other readers want to know what’s going on from the beginning.

As pointed out in an author’s afterword, Elysium is rooted in the story of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his lover Antinous. But Brissett has set their story in a shifting world. In the end, the reasons for all those odd lines of computer code, all those shifts in personality, become clear. The human relationships are essential to the story, but they’re not the only thing going on. (I’m not going to tell you what those other things are, because I don’t want to spoil your reading pleasure.)

There are good reasons why this book was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, and why I’m planning to recommend it for both the Nebulas and the Hugos. It is beautifully written. It is highly imaginative. It incorporates the human past and makes changes in it. I’ve never read anything in any genre quite like it.

Elysium is published by Aqueduct Press, which is also bringing out my forthcoming novel. It joins a number of other stunning books they’ve published, such as Gwyneth Jones’s Life and Andrea Hairston’s Mindscape.

Go forth and read.



Reading Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium — 4 Comments

  1. Don’t be too quick to pigeonhole literary fiction, though. Uncertainty, ambiguity, and just plain old intellectual games are very much a part of the modern scene. In fact, a few literary writers have even played around with computer tropes.

    • You’re right. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction in the literary genre lately. I’m particularly fond of James McBride.

      I began reading SF seriously in the late 70s, when all the so-called literary novels seemed to be about suburban angst and divorce, subjects that bore the hell out of me. But these days the literary genre has become much broader and embraced speculation. Perhaps that’s because we’re living in such a science fictional world. Another argument for doing away with genre, not to mention subgenre.

      But I have heard from those who shun science fiction that they don’t like being set down in a world in which the rules are unknown. Of course, these are the same people who have told me that they don’t read SF/F, and then, when asked who they read, reply, “Margaret Atwood.”

  2. Nabokov, for instance, comes to mind as doing all of these and more in the gorgeous and lush Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, published in 1969. 🙂

    Love, C.

    • And I read that back then (or in the early 70s sometime) and remember loving it. It was probably people like Nabokov who spoiled me for suburban angst fiction!