Jennifer Marie Brissett – Elysium

I’ve had this book on my radar for a while, because it was nominated for the Otherwise Award, the Locus First Novel Award and the Philip K. Dick Award. To be completely honest, I was curious mostly because the cover kind of stands out (I’m not a fan of it) – but that much acclaim can’t come from nothing, right? When Tom chose this book to be the August Sword & Laser book club pick, I was super excited to finally read it.

ELYISUM
by Jennifer Marie Brissett

Published: Aqueduct Press, 2014
eBook: 190 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: >>
>> open bridge
Connecting…
*BRIDGE CONNECTED*

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.

divider1 - Jennifer Marie Brissett – Elysium

I love a book that is also a puzzle and this one definitely fits that description. There is a relatively small cast of characters that we follow throughout the story but these characters are… let’s say fluid. The first thing you notice is the gender swap between chapters one and two. Adrienne, our protagonist, is suddenly Adrian. Her boyfriend Antoine turns into Antoinette, their friend (sometimes more than that) Hector becomes Helen, and so on. Sometimes, the protagonists are gay, sometimes straight, sometimes transgender, you get the idea. But character genders and sexuality isn’t the only thing Brissett flips upside down several times throughout this book. The relationship between these characters also shift from romantic partners to friends to various family relations… it’s definitely weird but it’s also kind of fun to discover, in any new chapter, how these people relate to each other now.

The plot continues this general air of weirdness but there is a little more of a red thread to follow. While the cover hints at a post-apocalyptic world, it’s not until late into the book that this actually becomes a plot point. This is one of the hardest books to talk about without spoiling anything, so I hope you’ll forgive me for keeping it super vague.
Each scenario we follow puts Adrianne and Antoine in a close relationship and whether they are romantic partners, siblings or a father-son-duo, it’s their love for each other that is the one constant in this book. We may start out in a relatively normal city setting, but the plot takes us through numerous different versions of this place, some indeed post-apocalyptic, others harder to pin down. Their friend Hector first shows up as the man Adrienne is cheating with but in subsequent chapters, appears simply as a friend, and once as a transgender woman.

In between chapters – or sometimes in the middle of them – we also get lines of computer code, hinting at critical errors, at bugfixes, or at the very least at a program running somewhere in the background. It makes you question the whole idea of this novel. Is anything real? Is one of the characters an android? What the hell is happening?? The thing I said out loud the most while reading this book was “I am so confused!” which at least made my boyfriend laugh a lot.

For about the first half of the book, I kept on reading because I wanted to make sense of the mystery. I wanted to know which set of characters was real, if any. I didn’t mind the gender-flipping but I at least wanted to find out how the characters truly related to each other and which version of the world was the real one, or the one where everything started. Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t try to figure it out. That’s not the point of this novel.
I’m not sure I truly understood the point but by the end,but  at least I could narrow it down to a certain message and a coherent theme.

A brief note on the audiobook. I liked how narrator Jamye Mari Grant told this story and made the voices distinct, especially with the frequent changes in gender and sometimes age. I’m not so sure about the snippets of computer program, but that may be more the book’s fault than the narrator’s. The lines of code were read in a fittingly robotic voice, but many times, these sequences end in a string of ones and zeroes that simply go on way too long. When reading the phyiscal book, these lines can simply be skipped, but for the audiobook someone should have made the decision to cut them down. Two lines of 100100001110010100 would have been enough to get the idea. We don’t need a full 30 seconds of Grant reading out ones and zeroes… But that’s a minor quibble for an otherwise excellently read audiobook.

It’s now a couple of days after I finished listening to this book and I’m still not sure whether it’s brilliant or a bit of a mess. The mystery does get kind of resolved but many questions are left unanswered because they are simply rendered unimportant. I found the themes quite wonderful and I loved how Brissett manages to make her characters real and believable, no matter the setting or circumstances. Adrienne may worry for her very sick partner Antoine in one chapter, and in the next Antoine may be Adrian’s big brother – but in each version, their love felt real. This being a very short book, it’s all the more impressive how quickly the author built a whole new set of rules in each chapter, introduced us to new character dynamics, and made everyone come across as three-dimensional human beings. It also takes a bit of work to forget who the characters were before, because whatever their flaws in one chapter have been, they never existed in the next.

I’ve purposefully left out any information about the later chapters of the book but those were definitely my favorites. The world building becomes a lot clearer, new characters are introduced and the entire book gains a sense of coherence. This is also where the central themes truly get to shine. In the end, it’s hard to know what the author set out to do and whether it was accomplished through this experimental mode of storytelling. Elysium is definitely a book unlike any other I’ve read before. Only time will tell if it leaves a lasting impression or if it was just a book I enjoyed while it lasted. Goodreads tells me that Brissett is publishing a new novel in 2021 with Tor Books and even if Elysium doesn’t stick in my mind until then, I am looking forward to reading that new book. She’s clearly very talented and I am curious to see what she comes up with next.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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