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Elvissey (1993) is a Jack Womack science fiction novel, one of his Dryco series, set in a dystopian 2033 CE. The fictional universe is dominated by a Machiavellian multinational corporation and its plans for global domination of its world, and beset by runaway climate change, unstable weather patterns and rising sea levels, which threaten to eventually inundate old New York (although DryCo has constructed a "New" New York on higher ground). It won a Philip K. Dick Award in its year of publication.

Plot summary

In this novel, DryCo is facing problems from a mass religious movement centered on the premise that Elvis Presley was a semi divine figure, who performed miracles for believers in his sect. It decides to resolve this problem by retrieving a younger alternate history Elvis, and bringing him to present day New New York to discredit the posthumous reputation and mythology that now surrounds Elvis.

The retrieval team are a married couple, Iz and John. Iz is actually an African American, although cosmetic surgery has led to an uncomfortable masquerade as a "Caucasian" woman in the chosen alternate history. It turns out to be that of Terraplane, the previous novel in the DryCo quartet, where Abraham Lincoln was prematurely assassinated, the American Civil War never took place, and slavery was only abolished in 1907. Therefore, this world is backward when it comes to African-American civil rights, and racist segregation is still widespread there.

In Terraplane (1989), it was hinted that the assassination of Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the abduction of Joseph Stalin would lead to a Nazi victory in its World War II. However, DryCo's plans go awry. Leon Trotsky takes advantage of the power vacuum in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, returns there from exile in Mexicomarker, and assumes power in his stead. Therefore, there is still a Nazi-Sovietmarker Pact, and the effect of Operation Barbarossa is lessened because the USSR rearms to the same extent as Nazi Germany. Moreover, Trotsky declares war on Nazi Germany before it launches Barbarossa. In the Pacific, the United States defeats Japanmarker in 1946, but they do so through dropping fourteen atomic bombs on the Home Islands, reducing it to an irradiated wasteland. Meanwhile, Hitler is assassinated in 1944, and the new Chancellor Speer signs an armistice with Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, which leads to an unstable multi polar world due to the inconclusive result of World War II in this world.

In its 1954, the alternate Elvis turns out to be a sexual predator who has already murdered Gladys Presley when John and Iz encounter him for the first time. He then tries to rape Iz, much to John's anger, and displays symptoms of psychosis and latent schizophrenia. His poor mental health is not assisted by his strong religious beliefs and an unexpectedly early divergence point in this world's past, where Valentinian gnosticism survived and became the dominant belief system in this alternate Southern United Statesmarker instead of evangelical Christianity.

The dualist religious philosophy of this belief framework worsens Elvis' mental illness; as a Valentinian gnostic, his religious beliefs are not messianic as orthodox Christianity is, and he views the demands of DryCo that he become a virtual messiah for them as an insistence that he become an instrument of the demiurge, the evil and flawed creator of the material world in his gnostic world view.

However, Elvis is relatively psychologically healthy and morally sane compared to the intense anti-human pathology of DryCo's world; in the end he risks everything to escape it. DryCo's plan has failed miserably. John commits suicide in the bath, persuaded by Iz (frightened for her own life and that of the child she carries) that she intends to join him moments later; she does not. Awareness that she deceived him and intends to remain behind and continue living is his last cognizant moment; he communicates non-verbally that he understands, though whether he believes in the end the truth that the child she carries is not Elvis's is unclear.

Publication history

  • 1997, USA, Grove Press ISBN 0-802-13495-5, Pub date January 1997, Paperback

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