Award winning Australian novelist Rohan Wilson takes on climate change and corporatisation in his latest novel Daughter of Bad Times. This is not a post-apocalyptic or dystopian take on the future. It is a more measured, considered view of where the world, and Australia in particular, might be heading as people are displaced by climate change and corporate influence on government grows.
The opening is quietly devastating. Yaaman is pulled off a production line in what seems to be some sort of labour camp or prison. He is brought in to a room where he finds Rin, who until recently had thought he was dead. Rin and Yaaman had some sort of passionate relationship that was broken and now Yaaman is in a labour camp and Rin wants to get him out. Not long after it is revealed that Rin is the adopted daughter of the CEO of the company that runs the camp. Excerpts between chapters foreshadow the shit well and truly hitting the fan when Rin tries to get Yaaman out.
Wilson’s world of 2074 is not too far removed from our own so it is easy to get a grasp on. Climate change has altered the landscape – many islands have disappeared, New York is protected by a giant sea wall, Japan is a fading power – but not so much that it is unrecognisable. The prison camp at Eaglehawk in Southern Tasmania is hotter in 2074 and close to the slowly drowning ruins of Port Arthur. Technology also is in the recognisable band, including self driving cars, police drones and web-enabled glasses. All of this gives Wilson’s world, a world in which people can now essentially be owned by a corporation, a believable day-after-tomorrow feel.
Most importantly, Wilson’s world is one in which the disparity between rich and poor continues to grow. Yamaan and his fellow displaced Maldivians are lured to work at the factory in Tasmania by the hope of receiving an Australian visa. While there they live in squalor, go further in debt to the company that has ‘sponsored’ them and make toy drone pets. Meanwhile Rin and her mother Alessandra jet around the world, making deals and screwing down prices to increase profits for the company. What Alessandra wants, she gets, including, sometime in the distant past, Rin herself.
Wilson unspools his story slowly, filling in backstory elements as they are needed but not afraid to drop hints about them before they are fully revealed. The excerpts between chapters, of a police interview and a Royal Commission, provide a dispassionate but off-kilter view of events that eventually explode with desperation and violence.
Daughter of Bad Times serves as a cautionary tale. It is not much of an extrapolation to get from our present to Wilson’s future. A future in which more people are displaced as a result of actions already in motion and in which those people become prey to others who see their plight as a way to turn a profit. But it is much more than this, the story is lifted by the humanity (or lack of it) and depth of Wilson’s characters, not only Rin and Yamaan but those around them. At times reflective, at others explosive, Daughter of Bad Times, confirms Wilson as one of Australia’s growing list of great emerging novelists.
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