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Berit Ellingsen

Berit Ellingsen’s novel Not Dark Yet will be published by Two Dollar Radio in November 2015. She is the author of the short story collection Beneath the Liquid Skin (firthFORTH Books) and the novel Une Ville Vide (PublieMonde). Her work has appeared in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Litro, and other places, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the British Science Fiction Award. Berit divides her time between Norway and Svalbard in the Arctic.

Blurbs

"[Ellingsen] is just starting what promises to be a major career, but already giving readers a unique and fascinating perspective."

– Jeff VanderMeer

"I cannot remember the last time a writer impressed me so quickly."

– InDigest Magazine

"Fascinating, surreal, gorgeously written, and like nothing you’ve ever read before, Not Dark Yet is the book we all need to read right now. It is art about science, climate change, and activism, and it vitally explores how we as people deal with a world that is transforming in terrifying ways."

– BuzzFeed

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Not Dark Yet

Not Dark Yet is the story of how global crisis becomes personal.

01/25/16

Somewhere in a northern land, a man decides to leave his life and love in the city and sequester himself in a mountain cabin. The time is probably the not-so-distant future; but, as with so many aspects of Berit Ellingsen’s sci-fi novel Not Dark Yet, we’re asked to make up our own minds about that. The story is both a personal as well as a global one. In fact, Not Dark Yet is the story of how global crisis becomes personal.

The central character in this meticulously detailed narrative is Brandon Minamoto, a man in crisis—of identity, belonging, and loyalty. Although we know so much about him—his sexual orientation (gay), his job (photographer), and his ethnic heritage (Japanese if his name is an accurate indication of this); we also know he’s an athlete, an altruist and a dreamer—Ellingsen goes to great lengths to make this story about none of these things specifically.

There is one aspect of the character’s life that is central and telling: he has epilepsy. And while he has only a couple of seizures in the novel, they do give the reader an indication of what’s really going on in this character’s head. Not Dark Yet is about humanity’s quest for enlightenment. Of course it’s also about one man’s quest for enlightenment, but Ellingsen’s narrative technique of defamiliarizing the concepts of gender, language and place has the effect of universalizing this quest. But before I get to that, let’s talk about epilepsy and self-mummification.

There’s a brilliantly direct relationship between the Buddhist tradition of self-mummification and the central character’s decision to leave society for the mountain cabin. His epileptic seizures are described as euphoric glimpses of enlightenment—a brightness—more so than a malady. The Buddhist monk appears in a flashback, a scene with the central character’s brother. It’s one brief chapter, but it’s also a sort of key to the book. The description of the monk’s last stages of self-mummification are remarkably similar to the description of the main character’s seizures:

The monk:

“Yet, in the spring he dis­covered a brightness, a glow inside himself, that was beautiful and terrible at the same time. He had no words for it and did not try to explain it, but remained inside it when he could, and simply watched it when he couldn’t.”

Brandon Minamoto:

“During the previous spring the brightness became impossible to ignore, but he had gradually grown used to it. After the initial blast it usually faded to a glow behind his thoughts, but now, in the solitude of the cabin with nothing to distract him, the brightness over­took him.”

One can hardly ignore this consonance. And of course these are not the only similarities: the monk and the main character also share a strict diet, strenuous physical exercise, and the compulsion to leave this earth. This is, we shouldn’t forget, science fiction.

Being a hermit in the mountains isn’t enough for the central character. He’s also applied to the space program for a chance to fulfill his boyhood dream of going to Mars. And this is sadly all I can say about this part of the novel without giving away the end.

One important choice in Ellingsen’s narrative is how she defamiliarizes gender, language, and place. Other than somewhere in a northern country, we are not offered any place names. The city—as is often the case in Ellingsen’s shorter fiction—is described simply as, well, the city. The author has also reduced the continents to the points on a compass. She does something similar with the languages in the story. Instead of, say, Japanese, she uses the term “the language of their birthplace”. Though the story is transcribed in English, the reader occasionally has the feeling that the characters could be speaking any language. When the central character goes to a coastal town to get his medical exam for the space program, he has the following exchange in a shop:

‘He nodded at the man behind the counter, who addressed him in an eastern language he didn’t understand.

“Sorry,” he said in the language of the coastal country they were in. “Are you still serving lunch?”

“Lunch, dinner, whatever you need,” the man said, in their common language.’

In removing the names of the languages—and the names of the continents and cities—Ellingsen universalizes the themes in the story. This book is about enlightenment: global enlightenment during a time when humanity is just starting to feel the devastating effects of global warming, when global warming is starting to ruin personal dreams and impede individual quests for enlightenment. The title of the book may be a warning, or it may be a message of hope. It’s not dark yet.

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