The Island Will Sink
Science fiction writing has regrettably little prominence in Australia. A snapshot of fiction here betrays a depressing 20th-century nostalgia focusing on the broken family unit and rural inertia. It is as if tech-assimilated contemporary industry does not exist. Even common household technology such as video games never seem to raise a mention in Australian novels.
Briohny Doyle’s first novel is a welcome change. Set in a near future period called the Praeteranthropocene, citizens are entertained by fully immersive disaster movie experiences (a delicious takedown of big-budget Hollywood CGI destruction spectacles) while trundling along in full knowledge that climate change has progressed past the point of no return. The end of the world is nigh, and it seems that the collapse of Pitcairn Island below the waves will precipitate a mega-tsunami and accompanying storm that will wipe the slate clean.
Filmmaker Max Galleon wants to record the event as his last movie, to turn disaster into thrilling entertainment. Below his aloof demeanour lies the soul of a man desperate for physical connection in a virtual world. His son Jonas is obsessed with an immersive historical game set on Pitcairn called Mutiny, while his daughter Lilly is part of a generation of youth environmental police, scolding every wasteful act. Unable to cope with the recording of every sensation and emotional reaction into “the archive”, Max regularly has his memories deleted.
Doyle is concerned with legacy here, both familial and generational. Despite the bewildering array of everyday technology on show, the life of the Galleon family feels eerily familiar, and it is to the author’s great credit that she is willing to postulate what life might be like a few years from now, rather than wax lyrical on what it used to be like, akin to the populist political movement that has swept the world in recent times.
Science fiction fans will spot echoes of J. G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick in the narrative and quirky incidental moments (Max’s socks have an inbuilt compass and his house changes its settings when he enters). The Island Will Sink is groundbreaking enough to hope it might lead to greater interest in publishing Australian science fiction. Kudos to literary magazine The Lifted Brow for such a bold statement of intent with their first venture into book publishing. May the floodgates open. JD
The Lifted Brow, 316pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 6, 2016 as "Briohny Doyle, The Island Will Sink ". Subscribe here.