by Briohny Doyle
The Island Will Sink is an intriguing glimpse into a future that I would be entirely unsurprised to see happen. Neglected high-rise wastelands litter the poor areas outside of the city, conserving resources has turned into a competitive social media activity, and one can outsource memories and emotional intelligence to an app… built into your brain, of course.
The humble “moving picture” has evolved to become a full-on virtual reality experience. Max is a veteran of the movie industry, having directed a swag of blockbusters which have made him rich and famous. His specialty is the disaster film, where he milks the experience of surviving a disaster for its emotional high. His art has long ago become a formula; just change the type of disaster, rinse and repeat.
With the small island of Pitcairn on the verge of succumbing to rising sea levels, Max has his sights set on the greatest disaster movie of them all — the experience of being on an island as it sinks. The idea is huge, but Max is not what he once was — his position in the limelight faces competition from younger, fresher talent.
His career has taken its toll on Max’s personal life — he barely seems to be in a relationship with his wife, Ellie, and his children regard him with a mild contempt. His constant absence in their life is compounded by the unusual form of amnesia that he believes he suffers from and which he uses as a cop-out for taking personal responsibility over his existence. Max says he has no memory — he relies on the chip in his head logging everything that occurs in his life and often reviews and analyses this collected data. It seems like Max has outsourced being a real person to an A.I. system, as he relies on it to record not only the events that occur in his day-today, but his emotional response to them. Has he really no ability to remember, or has he just forgotten how, in the way a muscle will wither if not used?
There are so many interesting things going on in this book: where a total reliance on technology will lead us, the ethics of real life as entertainment, the role memory plays in forming our views of reality. There’s some interesting Memento moments in here — what do we allow ourselves to remember; how can we shape our reality by deliberately choosing to forget portions of it? Also, Max’s kids are great (and scary!) characters, a conflicting blend of innocence and lack of the same. The Island will Sink is a sci fi that most likely won’t be “fi” for much longer. I enjoyed Briohny Doyle’s take on our near-future and was pleased to read something in this genre by an Australian author. Some of this book was quite confusing and there were parts where I was in a bit of a head spin trying to work out what was real and what was imagined, but I feel like this was quite intentional — putting us into the headspace of no-memory Max, and I enjoy a book that has me puzzling over it at the end.
I’m amazed that this is a debut novel — not only for the author, but for the publisher. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what they each produce next.