The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn. UQP. 2013
‘You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.’
This is the story of seventeen-year-old Fin and his twelve-year-old brother Max, a nuclear ‘accident’ and the events that follow. Written by an Australian author, set in an Australian landscape – The Blue Mountains – this is a dystopian survival story that piqued my interest from the start.
Zorn is quick to establish her characters ‘normal’ world – school, friends, crushes, and home life – before dropping them into a survival situation. Nuclear winter. These boys must quickly learn to fend for themselves without the aid of adults. Their parents are absent and it is soon apparent that the adults remaining cannot be relied on to behave in the usual way. Even the police can’t be trusted.
Tragedy and disaster have a way of bringing out the best and the worst in people. There are two ways people commonly react, they can become selfish, fearing only for themselves and their own situation, or they can become selfless, banding together to help those in need.
‘The true measure of a man is how he behaves when no one is watching.’
Take Starvos, the local shop owner, for instance. At first he is only concerned with how much money he can make. He makes a show of caring about everyone in the community by limiting the number of items people can buy at any time, yet he immediately doubles his prices. Later, with no idea how long the current situation will continue and concerned only for himself, he closes his shop, hides the food out of sight and is prepared to kill to protect it.
The tension builds steadily as the food runs out and people become desperate, but after reading more than 100 pages I began to wish something new would happen. There wasn’t enough action and the same goals and obstacles were repeating themselves. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the story shifted. Along with Lucy, Fin’s crush, and a boy from their school, Fin and Max finally leave the mountains and head for Sydney in search of their mother, who incidentally works for the government.
Survival of the fittest.
Dog eat dog.
Every man for himself.
Us and them.
These are the clichés and themes that filled my mind while reading The Sky So Heavy. The idea that some people are more deserving of life than others, more worthy of being saved and protected, is the refugee situation at its core. I’d be blind not to see the parallels between this fictional story and the plight of those seeking Asylum on our own shores. Zorn shines a light on Australia’s Asylum Seeker situation and the way fear and greed and misinformation can be used to support the ‘us and them’ mentality. Inhumanity.
This is our Country.
These are our resources.
You don’t deserve them.
You are not one of us.
Segregation is not a new concept in society, but the divide between the haves and the have-nots has never been more obvious. The outsider, the old, the sick, the young, the disabled, the injured – who is useful, and therefore worth saving, worth spending money (resources) on, and who is not, is reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
Zorn undertakes an unflinching dissection of human behavior under extreme conditions. People either keep their humanity in the face of incredible challenges, or they lose it, and in doing so lose themselves. It’s these near-future potentially possible scenarios that frighten us most I believe, simply because they are believable. The likelihood of them happening within our lifetimes is real. And that is terrifying.
In a world, fictional or otherwise, where money no longer has power, it is those who control the giving or withholding of our basic human needs, such as food, water, shelter and safety, who hold the balance of power. How willingly they reject those in need reveals all.
It’s a harsh world, cruel at times.
It’s been said that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, but it’s also been said that ‘fiction shines a light on the truth’. Zorn has positioned her spotlight well.