31 December 2007

Bernard Gadd

Bernard Gadd died earlier in December. I'm late posting this news, and there are excellent memorials to Bernard on Harvey Molloy's blog and on Helen Rickerby's blog.

I never met Bernard, but read and enjoyed a number of his poems, was impressed by his steadfast commitment to a multicultural Aotearoa/New Zealand, and owe him a debt of gratitude for selecting stories of mine for two anthologies he edited: "Statesman" in a Longman Paul anthology for schools, I Have Seen the Future, and subsequently "My Friend the Volcano", in the first volume of the Other Voicesseries produced by his publishing house, Hallard Press. These were the first two stories I had published professionally.

He and Trevor Reeves were among the first New Zealand publishers and anthologists to see that speculative fiction - science fiction, fantasy and horror - was part of the New Zealand literary scene, rather than being separate from it, and to include it in literary journals and anthologies.

Thank you, Bernard.

18 December 2007

Anarya's Secret Published

My fantasy novel Anarya's Secret: An Earthdawn Novel was published yesterday. I'll put up more information about it soon, but in the meantime, you can see more details about the book on the Earthdawn site. It's available in e-book, paperback, and hardback formats.

You can now read the novel's Prologue online.

In late 2005, shortly after New Zealand company RedBrick took over the Earthdawn licence from its American originators, they approached me to write a novel set in the Earthdawn universe. And that's what I set out to do. My hope is that Anarya's Secret will work equally well as a novel for those who play the game, and for those who've never heard of it before. You don't need to have played Earthdawn to enjoy this book.

13 December 2007

On Identity - 2

The essay below first appeared in the programme for Super Vision, a show in the 2006 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts in Wellington. What with the recent police anti-terrorism raids in New Zealand, which swept up a wide range of political activists, it has become more relevant in the interim.

If you live in a city, you cross the path of hundreds of people every day. Some, you know - or think you know. Others are strangers. Who are they, really? What do they want? Where does their loyalty lie? What's in that backpack? Who are they staring at, anyway?

Help in answering these questions may be on its way. In the United States, research is said to be well advanced in a technique known as "brainwave fingerprinting". Its proponents claim that the method, which involves monitoring the responses of the subject's brain to a series of pictures flashed on a screen, can show if the subject recognises an image - whether it's of a phone number, an individual, or a specific location. Wondering whether someone has attended a particular terrorist training camp? Just flash up the image, and the subject's own brainwaves will give them away.

From the perspective of the modern security state, this technique does have disadvantages. It requires a specific individual to be singled out of the herd, have a headband - a patented headband, no less - attached to their head, and be compelled to look at the images. What's really needed is a scanner that can check brainwave fingerprints at a distance, without needing any images to be shown. That way, a whole crowd's thoughts could be scanned at once, with suspicious individuals then picked out for further processing.

Now wouldn't that be kind of cool?

During the course of the twentieth century, nation states, and other powerful actors such as large corporations, took advantage of advances in technology to increase the amount of information they held about individuals. The widespread use of computers merely accelerated a trend that was already underway. In New Zealand, a range of government departments are permitted to match the data they hold on us, to detect crimes ranging from social welfare fraud to tax evasion.

Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, many countries enacted security laws which greatly increased the state's power to gather, hold, and refuse to release information about its citizens, and about foreign nationals. New Zealand's Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 and subsequent amendments are not as draconian as the USA Patriot Act or the recently-introduced Australian legislation, but there have been suggestions that New Zealand laws may be "brought into line" with those of our major trading partners.

In the US, the FBI can seize the library borrowing records of suspected individuals. In Australia, it is proposed that a person who reveals that another individual has been the subject of an anti-terrorism investigation can be imprisoned or fined. Are such measures on the cards here?

Almost as long as governments have been accumulating such bodies of knowledge about their citizens, writers and artists have been warning of the consequences. Perhaps the first great novel about state power and the loss of individual identity was Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, written in 1919-20, in which humans are known by numbers, not names, and all aspects of life are regulated by a mathematics imposed by the State.

In 1946, George Orwell - himself the bearer of a duel identity, for he was born Eric Arthur Blair - reviewed We for the Tribune. In his review, Orwell notes that We must have influenced Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In turn, many critics have noted the influence of We on Orwell's 1984, which was published in 1949. All three novels deal with the breakdown of the individual, and the notion of individuality, in the face of an omnipresent State which exercises complete control over the lives, loves and thoughts of its minions.

In the 1980s, the cyberpunks took a different tack. The "consensus universe" of cyberpunk fiction was one in which governments were absent or irrelevant. Megacorporations ruled, and in their interstices, hackers made their living by "jacking in" to the omnipresent Net (which cyberpunk poster boy William Gibson named the Matrix, long before the Wachowski brothers adopted the term for their movie franchise). Humans interfaced with computers directly, and sent their minds roaming down virtual corridors guarded by shadowy AIs and lethal "black ice", as Raymond Chandler met Hugo Gernsback uptown.

You can still see characters jacking in to the digital world in such children's afternoon TV programmes as Digimon and Megaman, but the relationship between humans and technology seems to be evolving in the opposite direction: rather than jacking in to computers and thereby incorporating them within our consciousness, we are giving an increasing part of our identity over to machines. The PDA, the 3G cellphone, the wi-fi network: they've all got a part of us, a part that can easily be tracked or hacked.

But I suspect Terry Gilliam's 1985 film Brazil hits closest to the mark. Gilliam's film has the totalitarianism, the cruelty, the omnipresent State; but the workings of that State are also fantastically inefficient. The inefficient and arbitrary workings of totalitarianism depicted in the film have a strong resonance in our world, in which people can be arbitrarily disappeared because they have the same name as someone who appears on a terrorist watch list - who in any case may have got on the list because an informant was out for revenge - or arbitrarily killed because they happen to be on the wrong subway train at the wrong time. The collectors of information, the dispensers of death, have acquired power without accountability. It's the perfect combination.

In a world where identities multiply and fragment, where each of us is surrounded by a penumbra of data over which we have less and less control, let's not kid ourselves that we're immune from such concerns. Satellites pass overhead. Powerful computers monitor signals that pass to and from our shores. In windowless offices, analysts look for words of concern. Big Brother is certainly watching. Perhaps he thinks we've got something to hide.

02 December 2007

In Praise of Editors

Someone once said that a novel is a continuous prose narrative with mistakes. Or at least, I think they did; I can't find an attribution of the quote anywhere. It's the editor's job to find and fix as many of those mistakes as is humanly possible, for it's never possible to find them all.

In the case of my Earthdawn novel, Anarya's Secret (see the cover), the novel was written by me in New Zealand for a New Zealand company, edited by a team lead by a German, Carsten Damm (a.k.a. Dammi), and will be physically produced in the USA. After I'd submitted it, a team of six or so readers went through it initially, then Dammi drew all the comments together into one big editing list.

A confession: Dammi's English is better than mine. Which is a bit of a worry, but hey, he's the editor, not me!

I worked my way through the 95,000 word manuscript, dealing with all the changes the team had suggested, and then embarked on the even more challenging task of converting the whole thing from NZ English to US English, as that's the standard for Earthdawn books. It was a chore, but the professionalism and eye for detail of Dammi and his team made the whole process a lot smoother than it would otherwise have been.

The final edits on Anarya's Secrets have been made, and it's disappeared off into the production process. That's good timing, because I've recently received the edits to my short story collection Transported - a discontinuous prose narrative with mistakes.

Again, I've been most fortunate in my editor, Claire Gummer, who has done a great job of finding errors and making suggestions for improvement. I was a bit trepidatious - is that a word, editors? - about what I'd get back from Transported's editor, but now I'm looking forward to the next stage of the editing process, when I respond to the changes Claire has proposed. Long live editors, I say!

27 November 2007

On Identity - 1

Tim Jones isn't a name that leaps out at you - like, say, Zaphod Beeblebrox or Mark Z. Danielewski. That has its advantages and disadvantages, but it does lead to confusion. No less an authority than the Bodleian Library was called upon to determine that my official designation for bibliographic purposes is henceforth to be Jones, Tim, 1959 June 15-, because there's so many other Tim Joneses out there writing, and composing, and playing music, and developing software, and ...

So if you're looking for a different Tim Jones, try the Other Tim Joneses page maintained by a helpful Tim Jones in the USA. Or try Google: there are a lot of us!

20 November 2007

What to Call Your Book

Since it contains no kitchens, no All Blacks, and only occasional gardens, why did I call my second poetry collection All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens?

When I submitted the manuscript, my second poetry collection after Boat People, to publisher HeadworX I gave it the rather boring title Taking Sides. When it didn't get a grant from Creative New Zealand, I thought to myself "I have to do better than this!" and decided to name it after one of my poems, "What to Call Your Book":

All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens
or With Scott to Shackleton
or Man Management with Mitch

or Blokes in Traction
or Make Mine a Mansfield
or Best Friends Go Bungy Mad

or Something Snappy
or Txt Me a Title
or Naming Rights Sponsor Required.

Some of these titles won't make much sense to non-NZers, and as for "Man Management with Mitch", readers should be reminded that I wrote the poem just after the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Confused? Check out some of the sample poems from ABKG to the left, and then you'll be either less confused or more confused.

10 November 2007


At last I've got this blog underway. I've got a web site which has basic information about my writing and interests, but I've wanted to put up something a bit more dynamic for a while. I'll focus on the three books - All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens, Anarya's Secret and Transported - to start with, but I'm sure I'll wander off topic from time to time.

I'm also very involved in sustainable energy and climate change issues - I'll add links about these in due course, but for the flavour of what I'm involved in, see my blog on BeTheChange.

Next post: more on All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens.