27 May 2009

Tim Jones Goes Viral

I'm going viral, not the blog - I've got a cold (I'm confident it's a cold rather than anything more porcine and sinister, because my partner caught it a few days before me, and she's getting over it). So instead of another pocket epic, this post is a very quick list of links to interesting things I think you should know about. (I'm infectious, so I'm allowed to be bossy.)

The Quiet World Project: Johanna Knox's fascinating blog on the future of books, publishing and reading in a changing world.

The Kathleen Grattan Award: This lucrative award for an original collection of poems, or long poem, by a New Zealand poet was won in its inaugural year by Christchurch poet Joanna Preston. The deadline for entries, 31 July, is rolling round. If you've got a collection ready to go, I strongly advise you to check this out. (I'm thinking of applying in 2010.)

Anomalous Appetites: Shortly after the release of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand was announced, New Zealand poet and editor John Irvine got in touch to say that he had recently published an illustrated anthology of science fiction poetry, Anomalous Appetites. You can find out all about it, and how to buy it, on John's website.

broadsheet 3 and Tom: The indefatigable Mark Pirie hasn't rested on his laurels as co-editor with me of Voyagers. He has just produced Issue 3 of the literary magazine he edits, broadsheet. The centrepiece of this issue is an interview with Robert Creeley, and I'm pleased to say that my poem "Down George Street in the Rain" is also included. The HeadworX website has more information on broadsheet, including how to subscribe. I also have a copy of Mark's recently-published verse novel Tom, and will be reviewing it here in the not-too-distant future.

Fascinating (?) fact: We recently sold our first copy of Voyagers for the Kindle, Amazon's e-book reader, so far available only in the USA. At the time of writing, according to the Amazon listing for the Kindle edition of Voyagers, that sale makes Voyagers the 45th most popular poetry anthology available for the Kindle!.

Right, enough of these viral ravings. Goodnight, and good luck!

24 May 2009

Voyagers: The Contents

Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand has just been published. You can buy Voyagers from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book, or from Fishpond in New Zealand. You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

Here are the contents of Voyagers. Although we weren't able to include every poem and every poet that we would have liked, I hope you'll agree that the anthology contains an impressive selection of poets.

The general themes of the sections are: "Back to the Future" - time travel. "Apocalypse Now" - apocalypses, nuclear and otherwise. "Altered States" - robots and other non-human, or transformed, life forms. "ET" - aliens. "When Worlds Collide" - astronomy, and the beginning stages of space exploration. "The Final Frontier" - life and exploration in deep space.


Back to the Future

Anna Rugis, the poetry of the future
Louis Johnson, To a Science-Fiction Writer
A.R.D. Fairburn, 2000 A.D.
Janet Charman, in your dreams
Bill Sewell, Utopia
Alistair Paterson, Time traveller
David Gregory, Einstein’s Theory Simply Explained
Jenny Powell with John Dolan, Note to the Aliens
Raewyn Alexander, in the future when we grow new brains
Alan Brunton, F/S
Harvey Molloy, Nanosphere
Meliors Simms, Two Kinds of Time
Jack Perkins, Out of Time
Jacqueline Crompton Ottaway, Black Hole
Tim Jones, Good Solid Work

Apocalypse Now

John Dolan, The Siege of Dunedin
David Eggleton, Overseasia
Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Looking at Kapiti
Bill Sewell, The World Catastrophe
Rachel McAlpine, Satellites
David Eggleton, 60-Second Warning
Meg Campbell, The End of the World
Vivienne Plumb, The Last Day of the World
Louis Johnson, Four Poems from the Strontium Age
Michael O’Leary, Nuclear Family – A Fragment
Ruth Gilbert, Still Centre
Fleur Adcock, Last Song
Rob Jackaman, from Lee: A Science Fiction Poem
Marilyn Duckworth, Thin Air
Fiona Kidman, An aftermath
Kevin Ireland, Instructions About Global Warming

Altered States

Iain Sharp, Karen Carpenter Calls Interplanetary Craft
Gordon Challis, The Thermostatic Man
Trevor Reeves, they’re keeping tabs
Mary Cresswell, Metastasis
Simon Williamson, Japan 2030
Tony Beyer, Kron
Louis Johnson, Love Among the Daleks
Seán McMahon, planet one
Janis Freegard, Beside the Laughing Kitchen
Thomas Mitchell, Rituals
Alan Brunton, Vis Imaginitiva
Harvey McQueen, After the Disaster
Jenny Argante, Space Age Lover
Chris Else, Hypnogogia
James Norcliffe, the ascent
Fleur Adcock, from "Gas"


Vivienne Plumb, Signs of Activity
Michael Morrissey, UFOs in Autumn
Andrew Fagan, A Spaceship Has Landed Near Nuhaka
Dana Bryce, Dreams of Alien Love
Tracie McBride, Contact
Cliff Fell, In Truth or Consequences
Nelson Wattie, The Art of Translation
Phil Kawana, This machine kills aliens
Michael Morrissey, Are the Andromedans Like Us
Mark Pirie, Dan and His Amazing Cat
James Dignan, Great Minds
Cath Randle, The Purple fantastic, feels like elastic, spangled and plastic ray gun
Jane Matheson, An Alien’s Notes on first seeing a prunus-plum tree
Harvey McQueen, Return
Owen Marshall, Awakening
Peter Bland, An Old Man and Science Fiction

When Worlds Collide

Katherine Liddy, Crab Nebula
Anna Jackson, Death Star
Stephen Oliver, Manned Mission to the Green Planet
Hilaire Kirkland, Three Poems
Michael O’Leary, Hey man, Wow! [Jimi Hendrix]
Robin Fry, Lift-off
Tim Jones, Touchdown
Tim Jones, The First Artist on Mars
Puri Alvarez, Saturn’s Rings
Robert Sullivan, from Star Waka
Chris Pigott, 'We’re thinking of going into space'
Mark Pirie, Liam Going
Iain Britton, Departing Takaparawha
Bill Sewell, The Imaginary Voyage
Rachel Bush, Voyagers
Stephen Oliver, Letter to an Astronomer

The Final Frontier

Helen Rickerby, Tabloid Headlines
Sue Wootton, the verdigris critic
Richard von Sturmer, from "Mill Pond Poems"
Brian Turner, Earth Star
Gary Forrester, The Thirst That Can Never Be Slaked
David Kārena-Holmes, Your Being
John Dolan, In Which I Materialize, Horribly Maimed, in the Transporter Room of the Enterprise
Mark Pirie, The Rescue Mission
Tze Ming Mok, Lament of the imperfect copy of Ensign Harry Kim
Nic Hill, Somewhere Else
Tim Jones, The stars, Natasha
Mike Webber, My Personal Universe
Bill Sewell, Space & Time

20 May 2009

An Interview with Julie Czerneda

Former biologist and science writer, Canadian Julie E. Czerneda has turned her passion for living things and love of science fiction into a career as an awarding winning author and editor. Today, with thirteen novels in print from DAW Books, and six more under contract, she also keeps busy editing anthologies, when not doing workshops for educators and the public on scientific literacy and SF. Her latest anthology is Ages of Wonder from DAW Books, with co-editor Rob St.Martin, featuring stories with fantasy settings based in lesser used points of human history.

As for her novels, this summer sees the release of Rift in the Sky, the concluding volume of her latest trilogy, the Stratification Cycle of the Clan Chronicles. Which oddly enough, started with her very first novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger, the book that made Julie a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the last Australian Worldcon. Her Nebula-nominated Species Imperative trilogy was set in part in New Zealand and In the Company of Others was inspired by the introduction of non-native fauna to that country. And now she’s here at last, proving the world is truly a circular place.


New Zealanders are famous for asking visitors "What do you think of New Zealand?" as soon as they are through customs, to which the standard answer is "I liked the inside of the customs shed". So, Julie: What brings you to New Zealand, and how did you like the inside of the customs shed?

Actually, I loved the inside of your customs "shed." Especially the Biodiversity Beagle. Brilliant. And Auckland's Airport is gorgeous. By the way, nice touch having passengers walk out through the duty-free shop.

What brings me to your magnificent country? The kind invitation to be the International Guest of Honour at ConScription, the New Zealand National Convention for Science Fiction and Fantasy. I still pinch myself, even though I’m here.

With Nalini Singh, you are running a three-day writers' workshop before ConScription. What do you hope that the participating writers will get out of this workshop?

Excitement, enthusiasm, a new and/or renewed belief in what they want to accomplish, some practical advice and information. Being a writer – putting your dreams in front of strangers – is incredibly brave. Whatever we can do to help and encourage, we will.

You're a Canadian science fiction and fantasy author, and a four-time winner of a Prix Aurora Award, which is the well-established Canadian equivalent of New Zealand's Sir Julius Vogel Awards. Is the Canadian literary and publishing scene hospitable to science fiction and fantasy writers?

Yes and no. In young adult publishing, everything goes and speculative fiction across the board is sought by publishers in Canada because, in part, it has a readership they know how to reach. Recently there’s been a trend towards more SF and F from Canadian publishers. I think much of that is due to people who understand those genre and their readers becoming senior editors. In literary circles, though, as I’m sure is the case for other youngish countries trying to establish a national “voice,” we face an uphill struggle for recognition. Science fiction in particular is considered commercial or entertainment, rather than serious work, and you’ll see authors scrambling to distance themselves from that label even now. Which is silly. Hopefully we’ll grow up soon.

Do the Francophone and Anglophone SF communities in Canada work closely together?

Yes, in the sense of fan communities and connections between authors. Not directly, in the sense of publishing. Unfortunately work isn’t automatically translated into both official languages. Instead, there’s a bewildering array of options and government funding that usually puts Francophone work in French only and Anglophone work only in English. Then there’s the issue of publishing in France, which isn’t the same French or funding, so those titles tend to cost most of all. Where we do work closely together is in promoting science fiction, as you’ll find at Anticipation, the Worldcon in Montreal this summer, and in collaborations. I have many colleagues in Quebec, writers, artists, and editors.

When I think about other Canadian SF writers, the names Nalo Hopkinson, Robert Sawyer and Elisabeth Vonarburg come to mind – not to mention Margaret Atwood. Which other Canadian SF writers should we be looking out for?

Tanya Huff! She’s been around for over twenty years and writing marvelous SF and fantasy. Probably one of our best and yet most overlooked authors. Her contemporary fantasy is often set in Toronto, which makes them even more fun. James Alan Gardner, Douglas Smith are two to keep in mind for sure. Robert Wilson. Peter Watts. There are many more.

Do you have one novel, or one series, that is your favourite among all the novels you have written?

The one I’m writing now. ::laughs:: It’s always that way. I love them all, but the new face is the one that has all my heart.

Not all writers are willing to talk about their current writing projects, so feel free to disregard this question, but what are you working on at the moment?

My favourite! (I had to say that.) What I’m writing now is something I started 7 years ago. It’s a standalone fantasy novel called A Turn of Light. I’ve always enjoyed reading fantasy, but never quite dared write it. After all, I’m a biologist not a lyricist, and to me, great fantasy is about the words every bit as much as it is about the story. But an idea had niggled at me, so I took a fountain pen and a notebook and began writing a sentence here, a note there. When I realized I knew what the story would be, I mentioned it to my editor at DAW, Sheila Gilbert. I’m sure it was a surprise to have her hard sf author trot out a romantic story with dragons and spells and magic! She took it well. And took the book. Such trust. Now, of course, comes the part where I produce it. Wish me luck.

You are a science educator as well as a novelist. Do you find it easy to switch between the two types of writing involved?

I find it wrenchingly painful, like pulling off a bandage. Best done quickly, with grim determination. That would be when I have to put aside the fiction to write non-fiction. To go the other way is like going camping – you leave concepts like time behind and paddle into the wilderness, grinning like an idiot. When I was still writing a great deal of non-fiction, I had a separate office and computer, so I could focus. Now, I only do the occasional feature or special request, which makes it easier.

Not that doing both was all bad. Typically the research I’d do for a science article would also find its way into my SF.

Finally, Helen Lowe suggested that I ask you about your views on the capability of science fiction to develop readers, literacy and creativity. As a keen science fiction reader in high school, that struck a chord with me. Please tell me more!

There’s something that happens to people who stop reading imaginative works at a young age. Their ability to ask questions as adults is blunted. Worse, they lose the flexibility of thought that could help them find answers. We live in an age of technological and scientific change right in our homes, let alone all around us. Everyone needs to be able to speculate about possibilities, to reason from what’s before them to what might happen, to ask questions and find answers. The literature that promotes speculation and reasoning is science fiction. Change is what SF is about. You couldn’t ask for a better question than “what if ...”

SF allows us to examine horrifying futures and the most dreadful consequences in utter safety. That’s important, especially when dealing with students. It allows us to leap past what we can do now, to imagine new applications or needs. That’s important for anyone, especially scientists. And science fiction rejuvenates the imagination in a way nothing else can do. That’s something we can’t afford to leave behind with childhood. Not and survive.

Plus being great fun. I did mention that part, I hope.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Julie is giving a talk at Manukau Libraries on Tuesday May 26th - thanks "Anonymous" for reminding me. Details are here, although I note registration closed yesterday.

17 May 2009

Voyagers: Here At Last

I was going to do a much longer and more complicated blog post tonight, but I'm too tired. So instead, this is just to say that I have a copy of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand sitting right here besides me, and that feels good!

Mark Pirie and I started on this project in 2004, when we called for submissions for our planned anthology of New Zealand science fiction poetry. While submissions were coming in, we went off and deepened our knowledge of New Zealand poetry by looking for previously-published SF poems. (Well, I deepened my knowledge - Mark's was pretty deep already.)

By mid-2005, we had the first version of the manuscript pretty much sorted out. As I've previously recounted, finding a publisher proved to be difficult, and we were very pleased when Interactive Publications of Brisbane took the project on in 2008. We couldn't include all the poems we wished, but those we have included look rather good to me. You can find sample poems from the book, by David Gregory, Meg Campbell and Mary Cresswell, at the Voyagers mini-site (bottom right of that page).

Mark and I will be sending out contributors' and review copies over the next couple of weeks. There will be a New Zealand launch for Voyagers in July, but if you'd like to get a copy while it's fresh off the presses, you can buy it from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book (search for "Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry"), or from Fishpond in New Zealand. You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

14 May 2009

Voyagers for Sale, Stand Up Poetry, Online Voting for the Vogels, and James Dignan's New Exhibition

Voyagers for Sale

Mark Pirie and I are still waiting for the contributors' and review copies of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand to make their way to the shores of Aotearoa, so we can start sending them out. But it is already possible to buy – or at least order – Voyagers online, as follows:

  • From Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book (search for "Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry")
  • From Fishpond in New Zealand.
  • From the publisher, via the Voyagers mini-site which also has information about and excerpts from the book.

And a poem from Voyagers has already gone cross-platform! (That sounds good - I hope it makes sense.) Meliors Simms has produced a video version of part of her poem "Two Kinds of Time", which appears in the anthology. You can see it and read about it on Meliors' blog, and also see it as part of Helen Rickerby's initiative, NZ Poets on Video. It's well worth watching.

Get Up, Stand Up

I will be the featured reader at Stand Up Poetry at Palmerston North City Library on Wednesday 3 June at 7pm. Helen Rickerby was the May reader, and it sounds like she had a great time; Harvey Molloy is reading in August; if someone can tell me who's reading in July, I'll mention them too. I'm looking forward to it - come along if you are in the Palmerston North area and hear my repertoire of anecdotes for the first time!

UPDATE: As Helen Lehndorf has reminded me, and I should have remembered, Glenn Colquhoun is the June reader. Helen Heath will be reading in September.

Online Voting for the Vogels

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards, New Zealand's equivalent of the Hugo Awards, will be awarded at ConScription, this year's National Science Fiction Convention, being held in Auckland at Queen's Birthday Weekend. There's a very strong field of finalists, and yours truly has two finalists (Transported and JAAM 26) in the field for Best Collected Work.

Members of ConScription and of SFFANZ, the administering body, are eligible to vote - and if you join SFFANZ (it costs $10 per annum) you can vote online until 27 May 2009. I encourage you to do so.

James Dignan's New Exhibition

Dunedin artist and reviewer James Dignan has his fifth solo exhibition, "The Unguarded Moment", at the Temple Gallery, 29 Moray Place, Dunedin from May 15-28, with the opening this Friday (the 15th) from 5.30-7.30pm. I recommend it! You can find out more about the exhibition, James's art, music and writing, and his past exhibitions on his website.

10 May 2009

An Interview with Iain Britton

Iain Britton had his first collection of poems, Hauled Head First into a Leviathan, which was a Forward Poetry Prize nomination, published by Cinnamon Press (UK) in February 2008. Interactive Press (Australia) is about to publish his second collection, Liquefaction.

Iain, let's start with Liquefaction, your new collection. What would you like readers of this blog to know about it?

Liquefaction is a collection of 35 poems following no specific theme, although I would like to think my work does have connecting lines of thought that can be identified when one reads through it. Each poem should be approached as a portal for the eyes to ‘walk’ into, for the reader to pass through and hopefully experience something different and then elicit pictures, images, word associations that they will find interesting.

The collection will be released on 15 May and is available through www.amazon.com or it can be ordered directly through Interactive Publications - www.ipoz.biz/Store/poetry.htm.

At the moment, my understanding is that the collection will be launched in New Zealand in July 2009, when Interactive Press will also be promoting two other NZ publications – Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, editors Mark Pirie and Tim Jones, plus The World Cup Baby by Euan McCabe. I presume the three books will then be available in bookshops in New Zealand.

You have been extensively published overseas, and your previous collection, Hauled Head First into a Leviathan, was published by Cinnamon Press in the UK and nominated for the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. Have you published primarily overseas by choice, or is that just how things worked out?

As a poet, I enjoy the challenge of publishing offshore and watching how my poems are accepted or rejected and also observing how NZ poetry is generally received overseas. We have many fine poets pushing their poems around the world and it’s great to see we are prepared to promote this aspect of our culture internationally. It’s a huge and essential learning curve to try and stand beside the best poets in the UK and US and elsewhere. I see everything ‘right’ in that.

How long have you been writing poetry, and what motivated you to start?

I have been writing poetry seriously since my first NZ publication in 2000. Prior to that I had a long haul through years of writing – completing 5 very unpublishable novels, all now consigned to some bin. I also had a number of years spent writing plays in the UK. I really enjoyed writing plays and even had the audacity to try to get major repertory theatres to accept them … of course, they didn’t! However, poetry has always been a real life force within me, so it was only a matter of time till mind, body and soul coalesced and began pushing the pen with a degree of success.

Can you identify poets, or poetic movements, that have influenced your own poetry, and if so, who or what are these?

Learning to be a good poet requires total commitment and an inner sense of belief in oneself, that this is what you want to do, combined with a feeling of allowing yourself to be driven by it. I have had the privilege of seeing/hearing such great poets as Thom Gunn, WH Auden, Robert Lowell, Octavio Paz, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Robert Graves and many others during years spent in London. It is also where I first heard Fleur Adcock read her poetry. Once I had decided that poetry was what I wanted to do, I was hooked.

My reading has been wide and varied and I have involved myself in most movements of one sort or another. The Americans of the middle and latter part of the 20th Century impressed me with their willingness to experiment and push literary boundaries. Many poets have influenced my writing over the years and each one has contributed to my ability as a poet eg T S Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Rae Armantrout, Robert Creeley, Seamus Heaney, John Ashbery, August Kleinzahler, Charles Bernstein, Jorie Graham, the NZ poets Allen Curnow, James Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Bill Manhire and so on. Even the great Romantics have a place in my learning. Perhaps, my small knowledge of Te Reo and Tikanga Maori and all they entail has been vital to the sounds and rhythms of my writing also.

Consequently, you can see the field of influence is huge and those groups of individuals associated with poetic movements are part and parcel of this learning process too.

Your poem "Departing Takaparawha" is included in the forthcoming anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand. Do you write much poetry that falls within the "speculative poetry" genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror), or were your submissions to that anthology fairly much a one-off?

This is an interesting question for me to answer as my poetry probably does at times verge on the fantastic. For many poets the metaphor is an integral literary device and this can lead to highly imaginative pieces of work. My poetry could be said to tend towards the surreal sometimes. It is open to many interpretations but I don’t write with any exclusive kind of poetical form in mind.

Do you regard yourself as an "Auckland poet", or is it simply the case that you are a poet who lives in Auckland? Is there such a thing as a distinctively Auckland poet, and if so, what makes an Auckland poet distinctive?

My sister-in-law, who is based in the UK, once asked me a similar type of question after a poetry reading I had given at the London School of Economics a few years ago – whether I considered myself a poet (for everyone) or a NZ poet. My answer was ‘a poet first and foremost’. This applies also to the idea of being an Auckland poet or not. I don’t think of boundaries when it comes to poetry. Although I am aware of these city differences, I don’t particularly espouse to any of them. Good poetry should cross borders and touch hearts regardless.

Do you enjoy performing your poetry, and are you planning launches, readings and so forth to mark the publication of Liquefaction?

Yes, I enjoy the challenge of reading my work, rather than performing it. Reading is never easy. The inner voices are an interesting mob to deal with when you stand and deliver. They determine the sound, rhythm and nuances and I feel I must do justice to the poem that has been channeled through me. It is a big responsibility to get it right. But that is what being a poet is all about for me.

I hope to promote my poetry collection with readings at the launches, which are to be in July. The timing will be important to enable this to happen. As yet, I have no dates, but I know Interactive Publications are well into the planning stages.

On a final note relating to Liquefaction, I wish to express my gratitude and thanks to Gretchen Albrecht, for providing the incredible cover image from Chorus 2008.

03 May 2009

J G Ballard, 1930-2009: A Man's Man?

The British writer J G (James Graham) Ballard died on 19 April. Many excellent obituaries of J G Ballard have been written, and I don't intend to try to emulate them here. Instead, I suggest you check out the obituaries by Harvey Molloy and Jack Ross, and also the entire special section devoted to Ballard from the Guardian.

My experience of reading J G Ballard has been remarkably similar to Jack Ross's experience. Like Jack, I was already an SF fan, though in my case it was the YA SF novels of John Christopher that I was reading when I first encountered Ballard; like Jack, the first Ballard I read was the novella "The Voices of Time"; as he did Jack, so Ballard gave me a completely different view of what science fiction could do. I read all the early Ballard I could get my hands on - the short story collections The Terminal Beach and The Atrocity Exhibition, and the four catastrophe novels that map to the four classical elements, my favourites among them being The Drowned World and The Crystal World (the others are The Wind from Nowhere and The Burning World aka The Drought).

These novels were superficially similar to the post-war English "cosy catastrophe" novels I had read previously, such as John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids - novels in which upper lips remain stiff even as civilisation collapses around their owners. But in Ballard's world, both the external world and the narrator's mental state were in transition from one state to another. As a young man, these descriptions of unavoidable external and internal transformation resonated with me, and influenced my own writing. Though I have rarely read Ballard in recent years, it only takes a couple of paragraphs of his unique prose - both cool and feverish — to remind me why I once read little else.

I say "as a young man" deliberately, because it seems to me that JG Ballard is a writer who speaks to and appeals to men much more than women. Part of the reason for this may be the sheer quantity of sex and violence, and sexualised violence, in some of his books. Another, at least in his early work, is that his protagonists are alienated males, frequently known only by their surnames (Travis, Travers, Traven, Talbot; Vaughan; Ransome), adrift in this world and searching for psychological fulfilment in a world remade closer to their desires. Their relationships are superficial, their loyalties to the imagined world inside their minds rather than to family or friends. It's existentialism run rampant, and existentialism has always struck me as a particularly masculine philosophy.

I have no doubt that J G Ballard is a great writer - and there's no obligation on writers, even great writers, to appeal to all readers equally. But am I right in thinking that his work appeals more to men than to women?