Part of The Lifted Brow literary magazine, Melbourne-based Brow Books (@TheLiftedBrow, @browbooks) publishes a variety of genres, styles and formats. Their focus is on those on the margins, that is “people who live and write from demographic margins, and/or writers whose work sits in the literary margins”.
In 2016, Brow released an innovative novel titled The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle (@BriohnyDoyle)—a writer and academic also from Melbourne. The book is described as a “darkly funny vision of an anomalous postmodern world where virtual reality and environmental catastrophe collide”. It is a work of “cli-fi” (I wasn’t aware of the term) or climate fiction, a literary and cinematic genre that deals with climate change and global warming. Examples would be books by J. G. Ballard [The Wind from Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962) and The Burning World (1964)] and Margaret Atwood [Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013)].
The Island Will Sink is set in a not-too-distant future (post-climate change/germ bomb/economic collapse/energy crisis), where you can read news feeds on walls, record data by scrawling on the air. Your thoughts and feelings are stored as data within you, the archive could be logged in and even edited; what is not there, never happened. Your needs—lawn mowing, minor carpentry, even sex—are taken care of by expertly designed machines.
The line between reality and fantasy is blurred. Children study strange new subjects at school: ‘Corporate History’, ‘Evolution of Knowledge’, ‘Pre-emptive Mathematics’, ‘Ecological Economics’, ‘Timeline of Misconception’ (this last one is supposed to give an idea of how at any time what we think we know could be totally wrong). Disaster movies are in vogue—films with a disintegrated narrative that invite the viewer into an immersive haptic experience, a sweet annihilation that will reduce you to pure consciousness and mercifully make you realise that what you never did doesn’t matter.
In the middle of this all…Pitcairn Island is sinking into the Pacific (perhaps the island is an allegory for the whole of human history). There are concerns the tragedy will have an impact on the entire world—as everything in nature is interconnected. They’re calling it the ‘Praeteranthropocene’—an age wherein science has finally declared that “human beings are no longer capable of remedying the negative impact they’ve made on the planet”.
Caught between fact and fiction, filmmaker Max Galleon—father to Jonas and Lilly, husband to Ellie, something of a lover to (doctor) Gabrielle, brother to (an unconscious patient) Tom—dreams of? witnesses? dead birds falling from the sky and rogue winds carrying fireballs. He struggles with his memory, with the issue of embodiment, with the nature of love (is it just about somehow achieving a chemical and hormonal synthesis and nothing more?)
The sea levels continue to rise. There is talk of megafauna, geological ages. The action intensifies, both in Max’s personal and professional life. Finally, a billions shards of glass, and screens of water—unstoppable, undeniable—enter and consume the film script itself. To me, this terrifying yet elegant end looked like a reminder of man’s ultimate cosmic insignificance. Though the beauty of this book is that its events may mean different things to different readers.
Overall, I suppose the author could’ve worked a little more on mise-en-scène, made conversations shorter, and the human interactions emotionally deeper. Still, for its sheer imagination, ambition and inventiveness this was quite a thrilling read!
Here are four excerpts with engaging scenarios/observations:
These days you can get minute bacteria that can chew away wrinkle-causing fissures in the muscle. And people use nanocells derived from fish scales that brighten tissue from the inside.
Editing Suffering Away…
“Please don’t misunderstand me,” she [Gabrielle] says. “I’m not here to judge. I don’t necessarily think not remembering is bad or wrong. One day, when everyone carries their memory peripherally, we’ll all be able to edit out pain and suffering from the past. We’ll replace unpleasant experiences with joyful revelations. We’ll be less afraid of the consequences of our actions and the actions of people who hurt us. We’ll be immune to trauma. We’ll sleep like babies.”
A Coma to Save Resources…
“I don’t want to live forever,” she reassured them. “But I do think we could be much more. Environmentally speaking, a unified consciousness is stable. It’s a low drain on resources. All we’ll need is calories and a space to lie down. The coma developed as a way to conserve energy. Think of hibernating mammals.”
Max’s Own Timeline of Misconception…
I work on my own Timeline of Misconception, wallowing in the existential resignation of the task. First, I plot love in its incarnations throughout history. I note the platonic, idealised boy/man love of ancient Greece (renounced as paedophilia), and the pagan bisexuality of the Romans (declared heresy). I make a mark on the timeline to represent Saint Augustine and his confessional, guilt-ridden love (dangerously repressing the Id), the courtley, bittersweet love of the Renaissance (idealising and objectifying women), the chaste, hard-working love of the puritans (blind to the dictates of progress), the nuclear love of the atomic decades (bang!), the free love of flower power (drug-fuelled promiscuity), the driven, ambitious love of the end of last century (perfume and watches), and the doomed love of the next (‘until the end, my love’ – finally a shortfall in commitment.)
Another book from Briohny Doyle: Adult Fantasy (non-fiction).
Other books by Australian writers on this blog: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose, A Million Windows by Gerald Murnane and Great Convict Stories by Graham Seal.