Jennifer Marie Brissett
's first novel, Elysium, or the World After
(Aqueduct Press, 2014), portrays a fractured world, one whose seemingly irreversible destruction does nothing to dampen the survivors' collective will to live.
Brissett showed similar determination in writing the book, whose non-traditional structure places it outside the mainstream. Fortunately, her approach has been validated, first by her teachers at Stonecoast Creative Writing Program
at the University of Southern Maine, where she wrote Elysium
as her final thesis, and later by the committee that selected Elysium
as one of six nominees for the Philip K. Dick Award
. (The winner will be announced April 3).
"I wasn't sure there was a space for me in this writing world. And to a certain degree I still sort of wonder. But the idea that I could write and that my stories are worthy of being told was something [Stonecoast] really helped to foster in me," Brissett says in her New Books interview.
In some respects, Elysium
is simple: it tells a story of love and loss between two people. But Elysium
is also complicated because those two people morph from scene to scene, changing from two brothers to father/daughter to husband/wife to boyfriend/boyfriend to girlfriend/girlfriend.
When imagining the future, conventional science fiction often focuses too much on gadgets and not enough on people, Brissett says. "We think [science fiction] is about ... the new machines we'll have, the little gadgets that will make our lives easier ... but I think the civil rights movement is one of the most science-fictional things that could have probably happened, because all of a sudden this entire group of people that was totally ignored showed up at the table and said 'We want in.'"
As a child, Brissett found the Wonder Bread future depicted in The Jetsons
frightening. "I remember watching as a kid the Jetsons
and thinking 'That is an absolutely terrifying vision of the future. Where are all the black people?'" she says. "The future belongs to everybody. It doesn't really belong to any one group. And yet when you see visions of the future, it's usually mostly white heterosexual people wandering around."
In the early 2000s, Brissett owned an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she experienced the publishing industry's struggles firsthand. Rather that discourage her from becoming a writer herself, the experience seems to have solidified her desire to tell stories in the way she wants to tell them. "You have to love this field to be here. If you're here for money, you are certifiably crazy," she says.
From 6:45 to 10:24 we talk about a major part of the plot, which is revealed on the book jacket but isn't explained until near the end of the book. Listeners might want to skip this part (and not read the jacket copy) if they want to approach the story as a mystery whose answer lies in the book's structure.
Rob Wolf is the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape. He worked for many years as a journalist, writing on a wide range of topics from science to justice reform, and now serves as director of communications for a think tank in New York City. He blogs at Rob Wolf Books and I Saw it Today. Follow him on Twitter: @RobWolfBooks