Apocalyptic Climate Fiction in the Third Media Revolution: Briohny Doyle’s The Island Will Sink


This essay explores Briohny Doyle’s dystopian climate fiction novel The Island Will Sink (2016), which dramatises the failure of responding ethically to climate change, as protagonists create a sensationalist aesthetic spectacle out of environmental disaster. The ubiquitous narrative of awaiting the ‘final apocalypse’ takes centre stage, as the Pacific island of Pitcairn is in the process of sinking with sea-level rise, an event that is anxiously anticipated in various media. Although awaiting the apocalypse has become a magnetic trope of the climate fiction genre, and is often satirised, this novel merits critical attention because it highlights an important dimension of climate change: the fact that it is always mediated. Because climate change can only be experienced partially, we rely on mediation for understanding the phenomenon as a whole. The Island Will Sink, however, depicts the aesthetic exploitation of climate catastrophe in various media; through the ‘emotional overwhelm’ of immersive cinema, the producers aim to capitalise on apocalyptic experience and premediate trauma. The essay argues that The Island Will Sink exposes the dangers of individual and collective memory that is divorced from the environment, as it favours simulacra over an engagement with lived experience in a particular ecosystem – in this case Pitcairn. In this way, the novel stages the perils of an over-abundance of dystopian affects and narratives: while they may hold the potential to warn and shock, they can also paralyse individuals’ responses to climate change. Though the novel presents what I call a ‘negative cosmology’ with no way out, this essay draws attention to the recent ecocritical turn towards formerly neglected affects and genres, such as pleasure, humour and survival.

Briohny Doyle has emerged as a strong new voice of Australian climate fiction. While her second novel, Echolalia (2021), explores the everyday effects of climate change and its interrelations with motherhood and family life, this essay analyses Doyle’s debut The Island Will Sink (2016), an arguably underrated novel (in fact, it was shortlisted for the Small Press Network’s Most Underrated Book Award 2017) about the power of (pre)mediated trauma through new media-technologies such as video games, immersive film and digitised everyday life. This essay proposes that the novel merits critical attention because it engages the reader in crucial contemplations about the role of the arts and media in relation to climate change, conveying the fact that climate change is necessarily mediated because it can only be partially experienced. As climate fiction theorists Axel Goodbody and Adeline Johns-Putra have noted, climate ‘exists as an aggregate of scientific facts, garnered through a…

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Published 30 September 2022 in Volume 37 No. 2. Subjects: Australian fiction, Utopian & dystopian fiction, Speculative fiction, ecomedia, climate fiction.

Cite as: Bartha-Mitchell, Kathrin. ‘Apocalyptic Climate Fiction in the Third Media Revolution: Briohny Doyle’s The Island Will Sink.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 37, no. 2, 2022, doi: 10.20314/als.a2b3190b0f.