Title: Dusk Upon Elysium
Author: Tamel Wino
Following a deadly pandemic, the remaining population is confined to enclosed “units” and live under rigid totalitarianism. They have a virtual reality program, “Paradiso,” designed and regulated by the regime to escape the grim hopelessness of their lives.
Dusk Upon Elysium opens with a beautifully descriptive passage that still manages to convey a sinister, mechanical remoteness. What instantly sets this novel apart from other post-pandemic Dystopian offerings is the natural, easy elegance and poetry of Wino’s prose.
The concept of Dust Upon Elysium is not necessarily original but is shrewdly conceived by Wino with neither the sensory, chromatic Paradiso nor the stark, confined world of the units being over-engineered or ridiculously impenetrable to understand.
Both areas are painstakingly well-realized and structured. Much of the technology in each environment is already present in contemporary life and has been plausibly and imaginatively expanded on, making Dusk Upon Elysium horribly compelling and, consequently, addictive to read.
The main protagonist, Geoff, a researcher for Paradiso, is acutely observed. He is an everyman and recognizable as such, yet as the story unfolds, he is given unexpected impulses and desires. Wino excellently depicts the suffocating claustrophobia and profoundly desolate isolation of his life in the units.
The early part of the book certainly echoes the feel of a rebooted 1984 and Geoff has similarities to Winston Smith. But, Dusk Upon Elysium is no hackneyed pastiche of Orwell or, indeed, reimagined Milton. Instead, it resonates uncomfortably with sharp, twentieth-first century relevance and innovation.
Through the medium of Paradiso, the reader is drawn into Geoff’s previous life as he reminisces while engrossed in the VR. His time with deceased partner Tim in Paradiso is poignantly conveyed as they reconnect and remember.
Wino ensures the reader feels as immersed as Geoff in this wonderfully and believably imagined world, yet is careful to guarantee that the contrived perfection is unsettling and provokes immense curiosity as to where the story is heading. The level of imaginative inventiveness that Wino has brought to bear in Dusk Upon Elysium is staggering and wildly inventive but always considered.
As the reader is carried away with Geoff by the lush escapism, strange inconsistencies and recurring motifs begin to appear in the program. At first, these are fairly minor aberrations but the reader questions not only the reliability of the VR but also of Geoff.
Indeed, Wino begins to play around with the characters’ authenticities and motives. What appears as an understandable, straightforward narrative starts to gently unravel, providing subtly puzzling anomalies and insights. There is a creeping sense of unknown terror that swells uncomfortably, yet makes for compulsive reading.
As Paradiso begins to reveal these hidden levels and worlds, other users start to experience their own disturbing, twisted fantasies. Dawn, another pandemic survivor, takes the story in a slightly different direction, as she encounters truly unpleasant manifestations that give the story a distinct horror aspect.
Other characters that had been fairly static, albeit intriguing, Rob and Tobias, for example, expose secret facets almost mirroring the development of Paradiso. Nothing or no one is as they seem and the story begins to surprise with its unpredictable directions.
Occasionally, the dialogue could use a little more clarity and it could be leveled the conclusion appears a touch rushed, but aside from that, the novel is well-paced, brisk, and engaging throughout.
Dusk Upon Elysium takes the reader on a visionary yet nightmarish dystopian journey. Cleverly imagined and brilliantly executed, this little gem of a novel opens with a chilling prescience before becoming a gripping descent into the heart of a terrifyingly credible future.
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