02 December 2008

A Number of Things

The world is so full of a number of things
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings
(Robert Louis Stevenson, "Happy Thought", in A Child's Garden of Verses)

Climate Action Festival

I'm less than happy about the incoming New Zealand Government's views on climate change. It took a great deal of time and effort to get the previous Labour government to take action - weak, partial action, but action nevertheless - designed to reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. The recently-elected National-led government seems not only willing but eager to sacrifice these modest gains on the altar of its coalition agreement with hard-right climate change denial party ACT.

An early chance for Wellington people to get a message to the Government about the need to take meaningful action on climate change is the Climate Action Festival on at Waitangi Park this coming Saturday, 6 December, from 11am-4pm. I'm going to spend a couple of hours on the Climate Defence Network stall. The organisers have some interesting things planned - it should be a good day!

Congratulations to Joanna Preston

The big New Zealand poetry news of the last week or so is that Joanna Preston has won the inaugural Kathleen Grattan Prize for an unpublished poetry collection. Her collection "The Summer King" will be published in 2009, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2009

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are New Zealand's equivalent of the Hugo Awards. They recognise excellence in a number of fields related to science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Nominations for the Vogels are now open and close on 28 February 2009. You can find details of the categories and how to nominate on the SFFANZ site, and also lists of works that could be nominated (these depend on self-reporting, so may not be comprehensive, but look for those with a 2008 date). Before Christmas, I plan to put up a post looking at possible contenders in more detail, but in the meantime I suggest "for your consideration" (as they say in Hollywood) Transported and some of the individual stories in it, JAAM 26 and some of the individual speculative fiction stories in it, and Helen Lowe's Thornspell.

broadsheet 2

Mark Pirie has produced the second issue of his poetry journal broadsheet. This issue is a tribute to Wellington poet Louis Johnson on the 20th anniversary of his death, and features poetry by many of his contemporaries, as well as newer writers: the full lineup is Peter Bland, Richard Berengarten, Marilyn Duckworth, Kevin Ireland, Louis Johnson, Miranda Johnson, Harvey McQueen, Vincent O'Sullivan, Alistair Paterson, Helen Rickerby, Harry Ricketts, Martyn Sanderson, Peter Shadbolt, Nelson Wattie, and F W N Wright.

That lineup alone tells you that the issue will be well worth reading; for some more reasons why you should get hold of broadsheet 2, see Harvey Molloy's review.

Missing the Point?

Jennifer van Beynen has reviewed Transported in the Lumiere Review. She wasn't very keen on the collection as a whole, although she did have some good things to say about individual stories.

Reviewers are fully entitled to their opinions, whether good or bad, but it's helpful when a reviewer is familiar with the genre(s) of a work and the nature of the stories under review. A couple of Jennifer's comments suggest to me that this wasn't the case. She says "I found Transported at times to be baffling and frustrating. This may be because of the heavy science fiction content (I’m not a fan), but that’s just my personal preference" and also, in reviewing "Cold Storage", says:

Often there is scant detail or emotional reaction in these stories; things happen and the story carries on, with little emotional payoff. I found the fantasy stories particularly alienating. In ‘Cold Storage’, for example, the main character has little response to life-threatening and bizarre events other than an annoying arrogance, even when faced with certain death in Antarctica.

One view of short stories is that they are (or should be) all about character, and the revelation of character; that they should incorporate a still, small moment which shows how the protagonist has changed or grown - an "emotional payoff", in other words.

I agree that this is a very valid thing for a short story to do, and some of my favourite short story writers (such as Alice Munro) do exactly this in their stories, but I don't agree that it's the only thing a short story can do. There are stories in Transported that do hinge on the revelation of character; others in which the protagonist is no wiser at the end than the beginning; and others still in which character is secondary to other aspects of the story.

That's the sorts of stories Transported contains. It's very possible that the stories could have been better, but to write a review based on the desire that Transported should have contained other sorts of stories than it does contain seems to me to be missing the point.


Anonymous said...

Very positive review of 'Transported' in the latest NZ Books - more than making up for what was lacking in the lumiere one, I should think.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Anonymous! I am very pleased with the review in New Zealand Books, and plan to post something about it as soon as I have time. I regard New Zealand Books as the premier venue for book reviews in New Zealand, so to have a good review there is especially pleasing.