Plus (novel)

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Joseph McElroy, Plus, cover.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorJoseph McElroy
Cover artistFred Marcellino
GenrePost-modern science fiction
Published1977 (Knopf)
Media typePrint (Hardback)

Plus is Joseph McElroy's fifth novel. Set in some unspecified future, it tells the story of Imp Plus, a disembodied brain controlling IMP, the Interplanetary Monitoring Platform, in earth orbit. The novel consists of Imp Plus's thoughts as he tries to comprehend his limited existence, while struggling with language, limited memories, and communicating with Ground Control. The plot is driven by Imp Plus's recall of fragments of his past and of language, his improving comprehension of his present, all while his medical condition gradually deteriorates.

McElroy denies that the novel is science fiction, unless "science" is used in its etymological sense of "knowing".[1]

The novel was reprinted as an e-book by Dzanc Books in 2014, with an introductory 2012 poem "A Green of its Own Breathing" by Sarah Grindley, dedicated to "Joe McElroy & Imp Plus".


McElroy acknowledges three technical sources:

  • Lehninger, Albert L. (1973). Bioenergetics (2nd ed.). Benjamin.
  • Noback, Charles R. (1967). The Human Nervous System. McGraw-Hill.
  • Weiss, Paul (1969). Principles of Development. Hafner.


The gradual derangement of Imp Plus ... is observed with the lurid precision of brilliant microphotography. McElroy's slow, demanding traceries of awareness do not always escape tedium; it is the price of the strange and valuable task he has set himself. An exhausting, disorienting work of discovery.

— –, Kirkus Reviews[2]

Remarkable...brilliant...very moving...McElroy's achievement...may help us home from the apocalypse: Humanity is not what we've lost, it is what we grimly hang onto, even when we're not persuaded that it's still there.

— Michael Wood, The New York Times Book Review[3]


The accompanying author photograph is the only such author photograph of McElroy sporting a beard.


  1. ^ LeClair, Tom; McCaffery, Larry, eds. (1983). "Joseph McElroy". Anything Can Happen. University of Illinois Press.
  2. ^ Kirkus Reviews 1976.
  3. ^ Wood 1977.

Further reading[edit]

Book reviews[edit]

  • "Plus". Kirkus Reviews. 1976.
  • Frank, Sheldon (February 26, 1977). "The Eerie Saga of Imp Plus". The National Observer: 21.
  • Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (December 27, 1976). "Books of the Times". The New York Times. p. 61.
  • Malin, Irving (Fall–Winter 1976–77). "Ultimate patterns". The Ontario Review (5): 101–03. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Wood, Michael (March 20, 1977). "Putting a brain into space". The New York Times Book Review. p. 6.

Literary analysis[edit]

  • Bould, Mark; Vint, Sherryl (Winter 2007). "Of Neural Nets and Brains in Vats: Model Subjects in Galatea 2.2 and Plus". Biography. 30 (1): 84–104. JSTOR 23540600.
  • Pulizzi, James J. (July 2014). "Language After Humans: On the Disembodied Language of Joseph McElroy's Plus". Science Fiction Studies. 41 (2): 392–409. JSTOR 10.5621/sciefictstud.41.2.0392.

The following articles appeared in the Joseph McElroy issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction. X. 1990:

  • Hadas, Pamela White. "Green Thoughts on Being in Charge: Discovering Joseph McElroy's Plus": 140–55.
  • Richardson, Joan. "Metaphor Master": 156–72.
  • Miller, Alicia M. "Power and Perception in Plus": 172–80.

In addition, see these general works on McElroy's fiction.