Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Smell of Oranges

Jill Chan’s first book of poems The Smell of Oranges is available for the reasonable price of $14 (including postage). I now have my own copy. Jill, there really is a cheque in the post. You can read some of Jill’s poems here and find out more about her and her book at Jill’s blog.

I'm pleased to hear that my poems 'Moonshot' and 'Pluto' have been accepted for Jaam 24. Luckily Helen Rickerby, the editor, didn't get too frustrated by my fiddling with 'Moonshot' after it had been submitted. I thought I'd finished with it but it hadn't finished with me. Fiddling, (sigh).

I read the last poem in David Beach's Abandoned Novel, 'Pet Food.' This is a good contender to be selected for 'The Year's Best poems 2006.' It's a killer.

Image from The Earl of Seacliffe.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Next to Gods. Don Franks

I just finished another enjoyable short book, Don Franks' Next to God’s: A Cleaner’s Tale. This is one a lovely, though expensive, series of essays published by Four Winds Press. Don was a cleaner for many years and his essay really gives you some good tips on cleaning and an insight into the madness of modern cleaning quotas. I cleaned my way through senior secondary school and through the last year of my degree—I was once even a rep. for the Cleaner’s Union and remember bumping into the then Prime Minister Bill Rowling whilst I was cleaning the Union Steamship company in town—so I especially smiled at Don’s sound advice that “The Buffer is a bastard.” Due to an oversight Don’s book’s not even promoted or offered for sale over at the Four Winds website.

One of Don’s political ditties ‘The Independence Rag’ can be read over at Scoop.

This was my first Four Winds essay and I intend to read more of them soon.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Red Tree

Just a few brief words about Shaun Tan’s wonderful picture book, The Red Tree. The book has been deservedly well-received with a few commentators reading the book as a parable about depression—true enough—but I read it, for what it’s worth, as being about the consolations of fantasy (perhaps the world, or at least our world, may seem grey, but given our own space we might imagine different, multi-coloured worlds or, at least, a version of our hostile world in which the consolation of colour allows us to carry on). A marvellous book, indeed.

Image from University of Mantoba

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Meet the Ws

My poem 'Meet the Ws' is to be published by Reed in an anthology of verse for kids that includes poems by Bernard Gadd, Denis Welch, Cilla McQueen, Cliff Fell, Hone Tuwhare, James Brown, James Norcliffe, Michael Harlow, Owen Bullock, Riemke Ensing, Sue Wootton, Tim Jones, Tim Upperton, Tony Beyer, Tony Chad and many others. Obviously I'm rapt to be included with such company!

The April 2006 edition of Locus includes a favourable review by Faren Miller of Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter. Is anyone writing about NZ SF/Fantasy? Now that's a interesting research area for a grad student to follow. . .

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


As well as painting the bedroom wall a cheerful sky blue, I spent the long weekend reading Alan Garner’s short novel Thursbitch. Like Garner’s Redshift, Thursbitch explores how various times can intersect with one another. Set in the Pennines in 1755, Thursbitch tells the story of John Turner, salt-trader (‘jagger’) and probably the last follower of the old ways of a Celtic bull-worshiping tradition. His story intersects with Ian and Sal—two characters strongly reminiscient of Tom and Jan in Redshift—who stumble upon the small valley of Thursbitch and begin to wonder about the odd arrangement of stones around a deserted farmhouse.

I lived in Saddleworth, Oldham, until I was 14, and I began to read Garner in the north. Garner’s writing is sharp, economical, and as haunting as an Anglo-Saxon poem. You must read this novel.

You can read M. John Harrison’s review ‘Rubbing salt in the wounds’ over at Guardian Unlimited.

And, on a more local note, the new edition of Sport is now on the stands.

Image from The Guardian.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Slow Lightning. Jack McDevitt

The Jack McDevitt novels I'd read previously to Slow Lightning had—like many Sf novels I read—started off as exciting rides but left me feeling somewhat deflated and disappointed by the end by overdoing the 'oh wow!, gee whiz!' as wormholes and alien artefacts are discovered which pose 'frightening consequences for Earth'. I'm delighted that I experience no such disappointment with this novel.

Slow Lightning—published in the US as Infinity Beach—is set in the far future on a world colonised over 600 years ago. Humanity has discovered hyperdrive and has started to terraform and populate nearby systems. There are now nine inhabited worlds. People live long, affluent lives. Wars are rare events and a long peace has fallen on humanity. Yet there's one terrible frustration: no signs of extraterrestial life have ever been discovered. Now humanity explores less and is beginning to turn its back on interstellar exploration. What is the point? The very last attempt at first contact is about to be initiated with the detonation, in sequence, of three stars in isolated regions of space. Suddenly the protagonist, Kim Brandywine, discovers evidence that a starship years before did have a first contact that has been mysteriously covered up. She struggles risking life and employment to uncover what happened on the voyage and why the ship's logs were doctored.

I won’t divulge too much of the plot here. Catherine Asaro—author of The Quantum Rose—has written a concise review over at Amazon and there’s also a review by Greg L. Johnson which points to one or two of the novel’s minor flaws. The novel struck a chord with me because McDevitt explores two ideas which have sometimes occupied my daydreaming hours: the problem of ‘the long silence’ and the detonation of stars as a means of communication.

Slow Lightning is the first SF novel I’ve read to consider the problem of being alone in cosmos. I do wonder if over the next thousand years or so this silence will begin to exert increasing cultural pressure. My pet theory is that the rise of Roswell conspiracy theories and abduction stories are all signs of a culture that yearns for a first contact that has yet to arrive. What happens when you don’t discover any other life? What does that do to your sense of the cosmos and your place within it? McDevitt shows that after a while you stop wanting to look.

The detonation or manipulation of stars has long struck me as a very powerful way of communicating across interstellar space. If we know anything about intelligent life in our immediate section of the universe, we know that half a million or so years ago there was no race of intelligent beings with the technological capacity to make stars flash in a prime number sequence.

Finally, this year’s Nebulas have been announced and I’m delighted that the winner was Joe Haldeman’s, skinny—how he fights against the current trend towards SF bloat! —excellent Camouflage: a riot of novel well-deserving of praise.