While I was away on vacation, I brought five books with me. Don’t judge! I always take way too many books with me on my trips. But this time, I was not to be defeated! I finished four out of my five, and I am already well on my way into that fifth book*. Dyschronia was actually one that I was in the middle of and needed to finish before I began reading any of my other books. I managed to finish it on the plane, which was annoying, because now I had to lug this heavy book around for a week. Ugh.
The other downside is that I finished it so long ago that I can hardly remember much of what I read. To me, that isn’t a good sign. Good books are memorable, they make an impression on the reader, something that sticks**.
Dyschronia is described as “apocalyptic fiction” by Google and “the best (and perhaps most terrifying) kind of dystopian fiction” by Lifted Brow. Now, that’s not to say that they’re wrong, I’m only saying that I disagree with these sentiments.
There isn’t enough concrete description to warrant a feeling of terror. Yes, scary things happen, but that does not inherently make them scary. For instance, the ocean completely recedes to the horizon, leaving hundreds of stranded, dead bodies on the sands and beaches. But why does this happen? We don’t know; we’re never told. I’ll concede to saying that hundreds of dead bodies on a beach is scary, but I want to know why it’s scary. There isn’t anything compelling behind the ocean disappearing if no one is going to explain what happened and what impact it is having.
In PanMacmillan’s (the publisher) description, Dyschronia “osscilates between the future and the past.” I would like to disagree with this statement as well, because I could hardly ever tell what tense the story was taking place in. Was it one of Sam’s visions? Or was it a recollection of the past told from the future? Or was it simply the present? It’s often very difficult to tell and made me motion sick through more than one chapter.
While I disagree with the descriptor of “apocalyptic,” I find more solid relation to “horror” and even “dystopia.” Certainly it’s not in the realm of Lifted Brow’s assessment of “best and most terrifying,” but it comes a close shave to dystopia. Things are not as they seem, strange events occur—dystopia and horror work for me.
To speak of the story itself: it’s not quite memorable. There are several instances where you hope that something interesting will happen that will finally explain everything, but no such thing happens. And perhaps that is what some readers truly enjoy: unexplained horror is, by definition, unexplainable. That may be the thing that makes this story “tick,” where tragedies occur, animals die, and there is no reason or explanation for these events. Perhaps that is what makes them scary.
This phenomenon didn’t quite work for me, however. Rather than being scared by these events, I was confused and found myself sighing and hoping for a resolution. Of course, neither explanation nor resolution came, and I ultimately found myself a bit disappointed.
And my qualms and issues with this story may just be the certain expectations that I have when someone says “dystopia” and “apocalypse.” Dyschronia definitely doesn’t match my expectations (read: no everlasting night, no blood and guns, no destruction of society and civilization) and that may be its greatest strength. To challenge expectations and craft a story that is against the genre norm. It may very well be what put Dyschronia up for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2019 and an Aurealis Awards finalist in 2018.
If you’re looking for alternative fiction, either for horror or dystopia or just plain strange and weird, then Jennifer Mills has written the story for you.
*For anyone wondering, it’s Donna Zuckerberg’s Not All Dead White Men.
**To those of you astute enough to notice, yes, this does imply that I think Dyschronia wasn’t a good book.