Sue Parritt’s Pia and the Skyman is the second in her Climate Fiction trilogy, following on from Sannah and the Pilgrim, which I reviewed last year.
From the very first sentence, Pia and the Skyman engages the reader in the action, Parritt quickly and skilfully establishing the backstory carried over from Sannah and the Pilgrim. Sannah’s daughter, Pia, and her former lover, Kaire, are thrown together to help maintain ‘the women’s line,’ a resistance movement in a climate changed future, set up to help free prisoners doomed to a lifetime in underground desert prisons in what has become an ‘Apartheid Australia.’
Then there’s the matter of Kaire the Skyman and his cohort of clones languishing on a space station that was launched many centuries before with the aim of seeking another planet for humanity. Kaire is not without criticism. “How arrogant to imagine they could wreck one planet then move on to another without a backward glance.”
Lies, deceit, betrayal and tragedy along with a healthy dose of passion carry the narrative along in what turns out to be a remarkably engaging read.
Pia and the Skyman is a thoughtful, carefully considered work. Parritt’s writing is assured, confident and commanding, a steady pace maintained, the use of passive voice creating an emotional detachment befitting the stark conditions of a climate changed dystopia. “Desert desert go away…let us live another day,” the children in the playground chant.
Parritt is adept at creating an edge-of-survival atmosphere without recourse to over dramatisation. Her setting is vividly real, painted with a simple palette, and fine craftsmanship and attention to detail. Her characters are deftly portrayed and immediately recognisable.
The scenario Parritt depicts is not far removed from our own current reality, the story a metaphor for our times, and a logical extrapolations of successive Australian governments’ commitment to off-shore detention of asylum seekers in gulags. Environmental refugees are among us now. How many more will there be if we don’t amend our ludicrous dependence on fossil fuels?
There’s a deeply pacifist moral undertone that runs right through the story, carrying forward values of peace and right human relations, values elevated partly through Kaire, who in a fashion represents the higher moral ground. “Down there [in Aotearoa] his fellow settlers were doing their utmost to live a sustainable life, yet still found time to help those at risk in Australia. He wanted to shout out his admiration, tell them never to give up the struggle.”
Pia conveys values of compassion and goodwill. She acts, decisively and sometimes impulsively, exemplifying the determination and resilience of all the women who sacrifice their own safety for the sake of others in the Women’s Line – a powerful symbol of cooperation, collaboration and resistance founded on principles of solidarity and trust found amongst women in all situations of oppression and hardship the world over.
Through Pia and the Skyman Sue Parritt makes an important statement about the myopia that seems to have befallen our political leaders, especially in Australia. Humanity will be faced with harsh choices if environmental conditions become as brutal as they are in Parritt’s reality. As well they might. And I very much doubt humanity would have the capacity to respond all that differently to that of Parritt’s Apartheid Australia. On the whole we seem incapable of transcending our own selfish, divisive and hate fuelled beliefs. We’ll need a lot of goodwill and far-sightedness to avoid the scenario contained in this trilogy. Sue Parritt might as well be a soothsayer.