Each month the NSW Writers’ Centre staff share what we’ve been reading. This month, we’ve been delving into dystopian futures with Jane Abbott and Larissa Lai, as well as Briohny Doyle’s modern guide for millennials Adult Fantasy and Simon Longstaff’s book on moral decision making, Everyday Ethics.
I’ve just read Jane Abbott’s dystopian novel, Watershed, set against a background of catastrophic climate change. In the country where the book is set – probably, though not explicitly, Australia – it no longer rains over land and water has become the only currency. An authoritarian regime rules the citadel, while lawlessness prevails in much of the wastelands beyond. This is a powerful, confronting book. The descriptions of sexual violence, in particular, are not for the faint-hearted.
I’ve been reading Briohny Doyle’s Adult Fantasy, and am in good company doing so. Doyle is Toni Jordan’s recommended emerging writer (and I always take Jordan’s advice). Unlike Jordan, I’m part of Doyle’s millennial cohort; we’re a mere month apart in age. Reading Adult Fantasy has been like having a conversation with any of my friends, tracing the same worries and frustrations of forging an adult life in today’s Australia. Doyle’s blend of memoir and journalism is perfectly suited to this exploration. She traces the thinking and circumstances that led herself and others around her into marriages, careers, mortgages and parenthood — or, not. Doyle provides heartfelt and reasoned insight to these important conversations.
Is it ever OK to lie to someone? To perform DNA tests on embryos? To go on holiday in an impoverished country?
What about raising children: is it OK to smack your child (or someone else’s)? Under what circumstances is violence justifiable?
These are just some of the questions posed by by Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of Sydney Ethics Centre, in his new book Everyday Ethics. Beginning with a brief introduction to ethics, this book is compilation of the common questions Longstaff has been asked by ordinary people throughout his career. From freedom of speech to splitting the bill, this isn’t a book of answers, but questions: dilemmas are presented to the reader along with ways to approach and consider each topic. Some dilemmas are simple, such as how to react to unwanted gifts, while others address common laziness, like the proper disposal of batteries and ethical shopping. Regardless of the issue, Everyday Ethics demonstrates the importance of the small choices we make in our lives and how we might navigate them.
This month, I’ve been (re)reading Salt Fish Girl by Chinese-Canadian author Larissa Lai. Blending science-fiction, fantasy and mythology, the novel weaves two parallel narratives set between a dystopic Pacific Northwest and ancient/19th century China. In this book, time does not travel in a linear fashion. Rather, the past continually feeds into a cyclical vision of the future. The main protagonist, Nu-Wa, an ancient Chinese snake goddess, is reborn thousands of years later in human form as a girl named Miranda. Miranda’s lover, Evie, is a liberated cyborg worker with a past life as a salt fish merchant. Lai draws out themes such as corporate biotechnological control over the body, queer desire, reproductive futures, and olfactory memory. Highly recommended.