31 January 2011

Tuesday Poem: 1917

A hard day's plotting gives a man a thirst.
For Lenin, it's something dark and strong,
a Black Mac for his blackest moods.
Trotsky can't decide: maybe an Export
maybe something brewed with ice.

"V. I. -"
"Wait on, Leon, just the dregs to go." A pause,
the glug and swish of beer. "Aaah. That's better.
You were saying?"

Trotsky looks up, face serious
above a thin moustache of foam. "V. I.,
why don't we just take over?
The Tsar could never stop us. He's
still chugging Lion Red from cans."

It's settled. Trotsky will inspire the workers.
Lenin will fuel the revolution
with crates of Lowenbrau
smuggled in from Zurich by sealed train.

Drink deep, Leon. Bottoms up, Vladimir Illyich.
Life will never look this simple or this clear again.

Tim says: This poem from my first collection, Boat People, seemed like either a good, or a completely inappropriate, choice after a week of revolt and revolution in Tunisia and Egypt.

Check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

27 January 2011

Recent New Zealand Speculative Fiction: "A Foreign Country"

Over the summer holidays, I finished reading New Zealand speculative fiction short story anthology A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction, edited by Anna Caro and Juliet Buchanan.

I have a story in "A Foreign Country", so it would feel weird to review it. Instead, I'm going to mention some stories that I particularly liked, one story I loved, and one story that has a problem: mine!

Anthologies of New Zealand speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy and horror) aren't published very often, so it is always a treat to see a new one. The even better news is that there are many strong stories in this volume, and none that I thought didn't deserve a place.

Among my favourite stories are the opening story, "The Future of the Sky" by Ripley Patton; "No Hidden Costs", by Matt Cowens; "Miramar Is Possum Free", by Richard Barnes; "Tourists", by Anna Caro; "Dreams of a Salamander Nation", by Susan Kornfeld; and "Pastoral", by Philip Armstrong. They are all strong stories, well-told, that engrossed me. In some, the New Zealand aspects weren't particularly important; others had an essential New Zealand-ness that really shone through.

My very favourite story in the book is the final one, "Back and Beyond" by Juliet Marillier. It's meta-fiction - fiction about making fiction - but, lest this sound forbidding, it is very much grounded in personal experience and personal emotion. A woman who is, perhaps, not too dissimilar to the author seeks a way back to a land and a time in which she was young, free and powerful.

The story has added resonance for me because it takes place at the site of the old Dunedin Children's Library, which was next door to one of the places I used to live in Dunedin. The Dunedin Children's Library was where the Dunedin branch of the National Association for Science Fiction used to meet, and thus, the place where I was introduced to science fiction fandom and science fiction fans. The story's protagonist gazes on a view I've also gazed upon.

But even if I'd never been within cooee of Dunedin, this story is moving, vividly told, beautifully characterised, and good speculative fiction as well. It's the perfect conclusion to a very good collection of fiction. You (and your local library) deserve a copy of A Foreign Country.

Oh, and that story with a problem? My story "The Last Good Place" takes place in a much-altered future in which the mainland of New Zealand has become uninhabitable, and civilisation - of a sort - clings on to New Zealand's subantarctic islands, centred on the largest such group, the Auckland Islands.

But what I should have realised is that many readers have never heard of the Auckland Islands, and think the story is taking place in a future, drowned Auckland City! It's a perfectly understandable confusion, and I should have thought of it - but I didn't. Sorry, folks!

25 January 2011

Tuesday Poem: Riverine Elements, by Robin Fry

Riverine elements
(water, wind, earth, fire)

Led deeper inland
by the sinuous body of the river
civilisation followed the contours of this valley
named for a man no one remembers –

a river that gathers its waters from the depths
of the green land and from the sky.
In flood it swells over its stone floor
pushing great logs down to its delta
where storms return them
for children to ride like beached
whales along the sands of Petone.

The walls of hills are giant handrails
defining the valley, guarding its settlements
from the ferocious appetite of the ocean
earth’s rocks folded and faulted
through slow millenia
tamed and carpeted now to foothills
“where sheep may safely graze.”

Rail and roads followed the river
opened the folds of the hills
where houses perch like eagles’ nests
their windows gazing south to
an eternity of snow and water.

It is winter now
and Tararua’s icy breath
fogs the river flats
wreaths the goblin trees of Rivendell
the bush-clad terraces of Kaitoke.

Bare willows march their torches of flame
along the river banks
and soon, this clear, cold evening
the day will die around us in the colours of fire.

Credit note: This poem is from Robin Fry's 2010 collection Time Traveller, published by Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop and available from the publisher.

Tim says: Time Traveller contains a number of Robin's best-known poems, such as the superb Hurry, which won the open division of the New Zealand Poetry Society's International Poetry Competition in 2008, but when I read this collection I was especially drawn to this lovely poem about the Hutt Valley.

20 January 2011

18 January 2011

Tuesday Poem: The Balcony, by Iain Britton


Painted lines

criss-cross this universal playboy
of the Polynesian world.

A strange masochism is at work
threading hot wires through veins

connecting me to him
                           to this epiphany in progress.

He compartmentalizes the morning

inhabits a caption          written for him

for a picture

of his maidservant       her dog       her cat.

He explores by touch
strips of sunlight              draped over a balcony.

He’s neither soldier

                        sailor                   butcher

but carries a helmet for his journey.

From the balcony

blunted-blue agapanthus
choke in numbers.

Credit note: "The Balcony" is the opening poem in Iain Britton's new collection Punctured Experimental, published by Kilmog Press and available from Parsons Bookshop in Auckland.

Tim says: I interviewed Iain Britton in 2009, shortly before his collection Liquefaction was published by IP. Iain subsequently got in touch to let me know about Punctured Experimental and to let me know that his work was moving in a more experimental direction - as reflected in the title of his new book, which continues the impressive publication schedule of Dunedin's Kilmog Press.

09 January 2011

What I Listened To In 2010

Rock (and funk, and disco, and metal, and punk, and blues)

I started listening to rock music in the early 1970s, and the sorts of music I like mostly date from that era: progressive rock, heavy metal, punk and new wave, funk, disco. For a long time I was like a dinosaur trapped in amber (actually, make that a mosquito trapped in amber which has sucked the DNA of a dinosaur trapped in the La Brea tar pits), listening to old and new albums by the same groups I used to listen to in the 1970s.

Then along came YouTube, letting me get a little taste of new bands that sound intriguing. Now I roam across the landscape of new music like a dinosaur that avoided the La Brea tar pits and passed through a temporal rift into 2010 - oh, all right, 1974 then. But at least I listen to some new music sometimes.

Here's a selection of current favourites:

Warpaint, Bees (2010). Some say "shoegaze", but I hear echoes of later King Crimson and of Public Image Ltd in their sound. Their late-2010 album The Fool is well worth listening to.

Arcade Fire, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) (2010). For me, the best song on The Suburbs.

Ana Popovic, Blues for M (2010). A live performance of the final track from her 2009 album Blind for Love. There's 50 secs of Ana talking to the crowd before the song starts, but if you like blues guitar, it's worth waiting for.

Joan Jett, A.C.D.C. (2006). Her cover of the old Sweet song.

Opeth, The Drapery Falls (2001). Gorgeous progressive metal - and cookie monster vocals never sounded so good.

Metallica, Fade To Black (1985). I never get tired of this. The sound is not brilliant on that 1985 version (with iconic bass player Cliff Burton), so here's a 1989 version with better sound.

A Taste of Honey, Boogie Oogie Oogie (1978). Forget the silly song title and, as the song itself suggests, listen to the bass now.

Boston, Don't Look Back (1978). You can make a whole career out of songs that sound a lot like "More Than A Feeling" so long as they are all as good as this.

David Bowie, Stay. A 2000 performance of Bowie's funky excursion from 1976's Station to Station - and the same song from the Dinah Shore Show in 1976. Check out Bowie's crazy legs in the 1976 version, and Earl Slick on guitar.

The Isley Brothers, Summer Breeze (1973). Their version of the Seals & Croft song, with Ernie Isley outstanding on guitar - as recommended by Chris Bell.


I got a CD of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 and Symphony No. 1 for Christmas (thanks, Dad!). I was especially pleased to get Symphony No. 1, Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony, on CD: a charming 14-minute Haydnesque pastiche. Here is the lovely 4th movement.

Beethoven's Triple Concerto has been one of my favourite pieces of classical music from the time I first heard it. I have a version with David Oistrakh on violin, Mstislav Rostropovich on cello and Sviatoslav Richter on piano, and the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan: heavy hitters indeed! Here are the same three soloists playing the opening of the first movement in Moscow in 1970.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra recorded all three of Douglas Lilburn's symphonies, and I have them on one CD. Here is the NZSO playing Lilburn's single-movement Symphony No. 3.

02 January 2011

What I Read In 2010

I read 57 books in 2011, five more than the 52 I managed in 2009. Just like last year, I hit a point in the final months of the year at which I could no longer summon up the concentration to read anything more complex than a web page or a newspaper article. Once I had met my final deadline for the year, my concentration returned, and I have happily got back into reading over the holidays.

Below is the list of what I read. Links are to reviews that appeared on my blog or in Belletrista, or to author interviews. Beneath that, I've selected my favourite reads of the year.

The List

1. The Temple Down The Road by Brian Matthews - nonfiction/history
2. Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson - novel/science fiction + historical
3. Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer - collection of linked stories/science fiction
4. Smiley's People by John Le Carre - novel/thriller
5. Speak Softly, She Can Hear by Pam Lewis - novel/thriller
6. Sappho: A Garland, translated by Jim Powell - poetry collection with translator's notes
7. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov - novella
8. Etymology by Bryan Walpert - poetry collection
9. Spinners by Anthony McCarten - novel
10. This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin - nonfiction - science/music
11. Ithaca Island Bay Leaves by Vana Manasiadis - poetry collection
12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 6: Retreat by Jane Espenson and others (graphic novel)
13. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute - novel
14. Selected Prose and Prose-Poems by Gabriela Mistral
15. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - novel/thriller
16. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson - novel/thriller
17. Cornelius & Co by John O'Connor - poetry collection (review below)
18. Alternate Means of Transport by Cynthia Macdonald - poetry collection
19. The Ice Museum : In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavenna - nonfiction/travel
20. The Chanur Saga by C J Cherryh - novel/science fiction-space opera (This comprises books 1-3 of a 5-book series. the other 2 books are listed separately below.)
21. Leaving the Tableland by Kerry Popplewell - poetry collection
22. The Norse Atlantic Saga by Gwyn Jones - nonfiction/history+ geography
23. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson - novel/thriller
24. Chanur's Homecoming by C J Cherryh - novel/science fiction-space opera
25. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks - novel/science fiction-space opera
26 Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin - novel/historical with fantasy elements
27. Magnetic South by Sue Wootton - poetry collection
28. Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford - novel/Austenia
29. Ephraim's Eyes by Bryan Walpert - short story collection
30. Spark by Emma Neale - poetry collection
31. Chanur's Legacy by C. J. Cherryh - novel/science fiction-space opera
32. Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge - novel/historical fiction-political fiction
33. The Loneliness of The Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe - fiction/short stories
34. The Word Book by Kanai Mieko - fiction/short stories
35. Digging for Spain by Penelope Todd - nonfiction/memoir
36. Whoops! by John Lanchester - nonfiction/economics
37. Bartering Lines by Michael Steven - poetry collection
38. Daybook Fragments by Michael Steven - poetry collection
39. Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson - nonfiction/economics
40. 'A Tingling Catch': A Century of New Zealand Cricket Poems, edited by Mark Pirie - poetry/sport/anthology
41. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - fiction/novel
42. Lonely Planet: Greenland & The Arctic - nonfiction/travel
43. Heading North by Helen Rickerby - poetry/chapbook
44. There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - fiction/short stories
45. You And Me And Cancer Makes Three by John Irvine - poetry/chapbook
46. Out Of It by Michael O'Leary - fiction/novella
47. Capitol Offense by Mike Doogan - fiction/thriller
48. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 7: Twilight - graphic novel/horror
49. McGrotty and Ludmilla by Alasdair Gray - novella/satire
50. This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich - nonfiction/travel
51. Barefoot by Jennifer Compton - poetry/collection
52. After Dark by Haruki Murakami - fiction/novel
53. Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller by Kathleen Jones - nonfiction/biography
54. Elementals by A. S. Byatt - fiction/short stories
55. A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson - nonfiction/memoir/travel
56. The Game by Lee Pletzers - fiction/thriller
57. Time Traveller by Robin Fry - poetry/collection

My Favourite Reads of 2010

The list above comes from my account on the social cataloguing site LibraryThing, where I keep track of what I read each year.


I gave just two of the 57 books above 5 stars out of 5: historical novel Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, and short story collection There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, which I reviewed for Belletrista.

Just behind those was Kalpa Imperial by Argentine author Angelica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula Le Guin. It's a collection of closely-linked stories which hovers between sf and fantasy, and it's excellent. Other notable fiction reads of the year included Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (a.k.a. the Lisbeth Salander books), which gripped me even as I wondered how books with so many structural issues could be so gripping, and C. J. Cherryh's 5-volume Chanur Saga, which I re-read with as much pleasure as I'd had reading it for the first time twenty or so years ago. It's space opera done right.


I read a lot of good nonfiction this year. Two of the books I enjoyed most were about Greenland, a place which fascinates me but which I am never likely to visit. I read The Lonely Planet Guide To Greenland with rapt attention alongside This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, by Gretel Ehrlich. I also very much enjoyed This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitan, Kathleen Jones' excellent new biography Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller, and Penelope Todd's writer's memoir Digging for Spain.


The two books of poetry by individual authors I most enjoyed in 2010 were Jennifer Compton's collection Barefoot and Sappho: A Garland, translated and introduced by Jim Powell. Other favourite poetry collections for the year included Magnetic South by Sue Wootton, Spark by Emma Neale, and Ithaca Island Bay Leaves by Vana Manasiadis.

As for anthologies, cricket poetry anthology A Tingling Catch, edited by Mark Pirie, was a highlight of the year.

And now, onwards to 2011's reading!