Climate fiction has been sneaking into the Australian mainstream. Recent books like Clade by James Bradley and last year’s Closing Down by Sally Abbott looked at a world riven by climate change. Jennifer Mills’ new novel Dyschronia is not as in-your-face. While there is a defining, almost apocalyptic event (the sea permanently retreating from the shoreline) Mills’ is not an apocalypse so much as a gradual descent into a new normal. Much in the way of other recent clifi books, this is less an exploration of how things might be and more a warning about what we might be losing.
The title and plot of Dyschronia do not invoke climate fiction but another branch of science fiction, referring as it does to a condition with a temporal element. Sam, the main character of the book has been able to see glimpses of the future since she was a young girl. A possibly invented malady connected to “pain and the perception of time” and one which causes Sam to experience nausea and have severe migraines but also to have visions. The townsfolk of the Australian coastal town of Clapstone start to act on her predictions. But it is hard to know throughout the story, which flicks from Sam’s childhood to a first person plural narrated present day, whether she is actually seeing the future or somehow, through sharing her visions, causing it to happen.
Dyschronia is a picture of a community that grew on the back of a polluting industry now in slow decline. And with it, the world. Mills creates a scenario where people know what is coming but it provides them with no protection as they seek to profit rather than adapt. Over and over again, characters are given opportunities to make decisions knowing the potential consequences but are undone by being unable to see beyond their own needs and desires. Making a Dyschronia a disturbing, realistic and in some ways frightening environmental allegory.
This review first appeared in Aurealis #109, Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, www.aurealis.com.au.