Novel

My debut novel, The Island Will Sink is a SF novel exploring disaster, memory, technology and cinema.

The Island Will Sink is due out in 2013.

FROM THE ISLAND WILL SINK

It is four o’clock on Sunday the 12th of October 2039, and as my wife travels through one timeless land, a screen in my office shows that another, Pitcairn Island, has dropped a further .000252 mm into the ocean.

My son Jonas already knows this. He knows because of the advanced predictive functions of the interactive game cycle Mutiny! in which he straddles centuries of the islands’ history, moving back and forth through time with ease and comfort.

I log into my Bay Heights home and watch Jonas navigate the domestic terrain as if engaged in combat. He ducks and weaves between priceless Eames lounge suits, throws himself over a turn of the century extinct Huon pine coffee table before retracting into fragile foetal collapse on the thermatile floor. In one nimble movement he is on his feet again, rigid and upright.

“Reset possibility,” he says. “Exchange salted pork store for native wife. Engage possible scenario outcome.”

His body reanimates. Arms jerk around torso, cutting through thick virtual scrub. Hands shield eyes from dangling serpents and the splash of poisonous sap. He stabs his home-carved oar into choppy waters. He uses a halved coconut shell to bail water from a leaking canoe. Thwarted by the fierce waves he plunges into the swell, one thin prepubescent arm wrapped around his newly acquired native wife, the other paddling furiously through the foaming brine. He is gasping. He tumbles in a wave and is dumped, left reeling under the coffee table.

His pauses, heaving.

His eyes are covered by a headset but the position of his jaw indicates a steadiness of concentration. Each strange tableau is a strategic move, conceived from discipline and insight.

“New decision. Bury my wife. Paddle the strait at low tide,” he says firmly, decisively, standing like a soldier before a drill sergeant.

“Perhaps he should come,” I say to Ellie as she speeds silently through the desert.

“Oh good. He will be pleased.”

“If the island sinks he can make a canoe from bark and palm fronds or show us how to take shelter underneath a banana tree. How do I get his attention in the game?”

“There is a public address system. You can request contact. Here, I’ll show you.”

My wife makes commands and then begins to call our son’s name.

On the opposite side of the screen Jonas is engaged in a wrestling bout with some kind of wild animal, a boar perhaps, tusks dangerously close to his throat. When the shock of the banal hits him his little body seizes up, frozen in anticipation of the interference’s end.

“Jonas!” Ellie calls.

“What?” he says, frustrated by his Mother’s intrusion, still gripping the animal’s tusks.

“You need to log off.”

“I’m busy. It’s not a good time.”

The boar twitches.

“Your father needs to speak to you.”

“Not interested.”

I feel a little stab.

“You should be. He has something important to ask you.”

Jonas drops the boar. He wriggles in his headset, wrenching it off, pulling sensor-pads from his arms and legs.

“Is he going to take me with him, for real?”

Ellie turns back to me, leaving my son’s hopeful plea hanging somewhere amidst her car on a crumbling highway, my twenty-eighth floor office in the Central District, our Bay Heights home and mutiny on the eighteenth century high seas.

“I’ll leave you two alone.” she says, as if it were possible.

“Thank you Ellie.”

“We wouldn’t want anything further contributing to your crisis,” she smiles.

Jonas stares incredulously into the abyss, waiting for me to show myself.

“Hi,” I say.

“Hi,” he repeats.

We silently regard each other for a moment, father to son, keeping our cards close.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to Pitcairn Island?” he says.

“I must have forgotten.”

“How could you forget?”

“When you are old and strange like I am, you might make travel plans and then get distracted and forget them.”

“That’s a cheap way to win an argument,” Jonas observes. “Who knows what anyone might do? We are talking about what you actually end up doing. For real.”

We maintain our sparring stance, Jonas’ shoulders softening only slightly where they meet the collar of his brightly coloured shirt.

“Do you want to come with me?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Will you be good?”

“What is good?”

“It’s a promise you make to your parents. It’s has to do with obedience and gratitude.”

“Fine. I promise.”

“Then you can come. I’ll tell Jean.”

“Good. I’ll tell my friend in Lutsk.”

“You have a friend in Lutsk?”

“Duh,” he says, impatiently. “That’s why I have to get up early sometimes.”

“You get up early?”

“I have to. Because of the time difference between here and Lutsk.”

“You’d have thought they’d have done something about time difference by now.”

“It’s something to look into.”

“Why do you need a friend in Lutsk? Where is Lutsk again?”

“Eastern Europe.”

“It seems strange that there still is an Eastern Europe. I don’t think of Eastern Europe as a real location. It’s too literary. The whole place is a museum or a sad poem.”

Jonas sighs.

“So do you and your friend in Lutsk have a handle on the point? What do you chat about?”

“I dunno. Stuff. The future. We met through online petitioning and started playing games together. He’s really into monitoring Pitcairn’s drop. He has a lot of theories.”

“What does he think?”

“He’s torn between the fatalist view that the submergence of the island will mark the beginning of the absolute reorganisation of the earth’s climate, and the view that it won’t make any difference at all, that it’s another doomsday conspiracy. Still, we won’t know who’s right for another fifty years or so, that’s what he thinks, that’s when we can get the measurements, trends, patterns, blah.”

“What do you think?”

“I think it’s silly to be talking about what will happen. The predictions are everywhere. Either the islands will sink and lead to the end of the world or they won’t. It’s dumb. Like thinking about it that way does anyone any good. It’s like me saying, either I’ll accidentally eat nuts today and die from allergies or I’ll survive a jam sandwich. Who knows? At the end of the day either you will put me on a respirator or you won’t. If you use this kind of thinking you’ll always come out the same. Who cares?”

“Either I have made films that will ensure my immortality or I haven’t.”

“Exactly. Who cares?”

“I do.”

Jonas sighs again. I frustrate him most of all.

“It’s the thinking that is the problem. All we do is put on stupid bets and then invent big story outcomes that may or may not mean anything anyway. I mean, what about complexity?”

“Indeed.”

“And some people say that all this is just a by-product of successful evolution and that the worst possible thing we can do is to try to slow the process because it’s inevitable and anything else is against evolution and the next species to evolve will have the resources to face challenges human beings never could. Anyway, I think they have a point too, don’t you?”

“Certainly. In some ways.”

“And some people still believe in God, which is so weird.”

“It’s important for people to have faith,” I parrot the pre-prepared slogans from the ‘Building Tolerant Offspring’ guide.

“What the hell is faith?” counters Jonas.

“Don’t say hell Jonas. Faith is a good feeling people have when they believe in God.”

“Is that an answer?”

“Yes.”

“When I grow up I’m going to live on a satellite like that idiot rich guy.”

“I give him a year.”

“A year for us or a year for him? He’s floating in space. Time is completely different when you aren’t orbiting the sun.”

“Is that true? Maybe I should buy the rights to his personal surveillance cameras.”

“Dad, he’s waaaaaay richer than you are.”

“But he will die eventually.”

“He’ll die after you do because if you don’t orbit the sun you don’t age.”

‘Confusion, 9:30 pm’ notes the archive.

“Don’t think about it too much,” says Jonas. “My friend in Lutsk says your films are part of the problem.”

“He watches my films in Lutsk?”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

“I just never thought about it.”

“Exactly. If you think about it, what’s the difference between Lutsk and here? How many things do you think about that might not happen and might not even matter anyway and meanwhile people are watching your films in Lutsk and you don’t even bother considering it.”

“That’s true,” I say.

I begin to feel uncomfortable. Often, when I converse with my son I have the shameful feeling of not having kept up with my reading.

“Jonas, do you remember if Jean mentioned the date of the trip?”

“Three weeks.  But it was tentative.”

“Okay.”

“You really don’t know what you’re doing most of the time, huh?”

“Is this the moment when I stop appearing as a hero to you and deflate to resemble another unimpressive drone?”

“You were never my hero. Heroes are stupid. It’s statistically improbable that you would choose the right one. And even if you did you couldn’t rely on them to be consistent. Unimpressive drone is over the top too. I have the third most famous Dad out of anyone I know.”

“Well that’s something.”

“You better get going. You have a lot of things to plan.”

“Like what?”

“Like logistics for the trip,” he says, as though talking to a four-year-old with a brain defect. “I’ll make you a list.”

“Thanks,” I say, grateful for my son’s superior, virtual experience.