Australians don’t do science fiction. Perhaps it’s part of the cultural cringe phenomenon: modern Australian authors are all desperately trying to prove how serious and worthy they are, how literary, that they gravitate towards stories of broken marriages, rural poverty and suburban malaise, and don’t dare risk the stigma of genre.
So it’s refreshing to read a prominent Aussie novel – from a debut author no less – that is unapologetically sci-fi. Or, as some have dubbed it, cli-fi.
The world has been ravaged by climate disaster but society has not crumbled. In a quasi-Dystopian near-future Melbourne, filmmaker Max produces virtual reality disaster films, hugely successful haptic experiences that feed people’s need for catastrophe. His next project is to capture and commodify the real-life sinking of Pitcairn Island.
Implanted devices have changed the way people communicate, perceive the world and remember – a concept that’s less and less sci-fi nowadays. In that sense, Doyle’s novel is more Black Mirror than 1984 – this is a recognisable world, just a few steps removed from our own, rather than a hellish nightmare. As such, it has quite a lot to say about our modern lives, much of it discomfitingly incisive.
Doyle is a good writer, although she doesn’t quite dodge the expositionary pitfalls of sci-fi world-building. There are also some confusing sections where it’s hard to keep track of who’s doing what to whom and whether they’re doing it in the real world or the virtual.
But it’s a good start for the Australian genre renaissance (genrenaissance) that I’m sure is just around the corner.
Next: the double-feature I promised last time.