26 September 2013

My September Book Watch Column from the Herald on Sunday

From time to time I contribute to the Herald on Sunday's Book Watch column, and my latest column is below. I write brief notes on four books I've written recently - the Herald usually chooses three of these to include in the column, and this time, they decided to leave out the review of Jane Kelsey's latest book about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. But here are all four mini-reviews!

Hidden Agendas: What We Need To Know About The TPPA, by Jane Kelsey - ebook - http://www.bwb.co.nz/books/hidden-agendas

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is currently under negotiation between the US and 9 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including New Zealand. It has relatively little to do with trade but a great deal to do with taking various aspects of the law of these countries - covering such issues as investment policy, environment policy, and intellectual property and copyright policy - outside the control of their citizens and placing them under corporate control. I don't like that idea, and NZ academic Jane Kelsey doesn’t either. This concise and readable study is a good introduction to why we should all be concerned about the TPPA.

The Apex Book of World SF 2, ed. Lavie Tidhar - print and ebook - http://www.amazon.com/The-Apex-Book-World-SF/dp/193700905X/

Disclaimer: I have a story in this volume. I have not considered it for the purposes of this review.

I enjoyed reading The Apex Book of World SF 2 a lot. Rather than going for the usual Anglo-American suspects, editor Lavie Tidhar has assembled an anthology of science fiction stories from authors around the world, with South America, Europe and Asia especially well represented. Like any anthology, there are some stories that didn't grab me, but also a number I liked very much: my favourite was "The Sound of Breaking Glass" by Joyce Chng of Singapore, a delicate and moving story.

Wolf at the Door, by J. Damask - print and ebook - http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-At-the-Door-ebook/dp/B004V51E0K/

Having enjoyed Joyce Chng’s story in The Apex Book of World SF 2, I bought her novel Wolf at the Door, written as J. Damask. This novel is about werewolves of Chinese descent living in Singapore – and I enjoyed this one too. Its great strength is the way the author interleaves the social dynamics of wolf pack and human family, as both family members and outsiders threaten to disrupt the lives of the protagonist and those near and dear to her. There are some flashbacks that didn’t work as well for me, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the main story, which is well characterised and well told.

A Man Runs Into A Woman, by Sarah Jane Barnett - print - http://hueandcry.org.nz/man_woman.html

Sarah Jane Barnett’s collection, which was shortlisted for the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards, is notable both for its technical excellence and for the breadth of the poems’ subject matter – from death row inmates to pipeline workers. While I didn’t always connect with the subject matter of these poems, the best poems here both moved and impressed me – such as “Mountains”, selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2012, which I encourage you to read. Any lover of poetry should seek out this book.

19 September 2013

New Story In Fresh Fear Anthology

When horror writer and editor William Cook approached me a while back to ask if I'd be interested in submitting a horror story to his new anthology Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror, I was unsure, because I hadn't written a horror story for a very long time - there are two in my first collection, Extreme Weather Events, but I hadn't written any since.

But I gave it a go, and I'm pleased to say that my story "Protein" was accepted for the anthology. You can check out the cover above and the enticing Table of Contents on William's blog. There are a number of writers there whose work I'm really looking forwards to reading!

10 September 2013

Tuesday Poem: Summoning

Behind coded invitations,

long night journeys,
country house gatherings
of like-minded men -

behind the fear of women,
banishment of servants,
locked doors, shuttered windows,
guards to ward off spies -

behind cloaks, hoods,
symbols scrawled on vellum,
books of lore and learning,
circles of protection -

behind scrying-glass,
crystal, speculum,
the lighting of a candle
and the speaking of a name -

you never know.
That is the truth of every incantation.
You never know
what will come to the flame

Credit note: Published in Strange Horizons, February 13, 2006, and included in my second collection, All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens.

Tim says:  When I wrote this poem, I had recently read John Crowley's novel The Solitudes (also published as Aegypt, but in fact the first volume of the Aegypt tetralogy), and it was inspired by the book's depiction of the 16th-century magicians and alchemists John Dee and Edward Kelley working, under conditions of great secrecy, to contact the angels and learn their secrets: explorers, but explorers of a particularly furtive kind. I went into excessive detail about the composition of this poem in a previous post.

The Tuesday Poem: Investigates the jar to see whether there is whisky in it.

06 September 2013

Roundup, Not By Monsanto

What y'all been doin', Tim?

I've been saving the Basin (working hard on it, anyway).

I've been reviewing Michael Morrissey's new science fiction novel Tropic of Skorpeo for Landfall Review Online.

I've put up a guest post by James Cone called Social Democracy and the Next Settlement.

P. S. Cottier and I have been continuing to make progress on the anthology we're co-editing, The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry. Penelope has had the signal honour of being chosen as Australian Poetry's inaugural (online) Poet in Residence: http://www.australianpoetry.org/2013/09/04/introducing-p-s-cottier/

I've interviewed New Zealand fantasy writer Helen Lowe, whose book The Gathering of the Lost has been shortlisted for the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel. I'll link that interview from this post as soon as it's online.

I've even, after a long largely dry period since I finished writing the poems in Men Briefly Explained, starting writing some new poems.

I've been busy!

02 September 2013

Guest Post: Social Democracy and the Next Settlement, by James Cone

Intro by Tim

I attended a public meeting organised by Generation Zero about New Zealand's lamentable record on greenhouse gas emissions, and the current Government's obsession with building motorways at the expense of all other transport option - which reminds me to say: please write a submission against the Government's proposed Basin Reserve flyover! (Submissions close Friday.)

At this event, James Cone asked a question which I thought was very interesting, but which it was hard for him to get across briefly. Talking to James afterwards, I suggested that the issue he raised might go better as a blog post - and here it is! See what you think.

Social Democracy and the Next Settlement 

Social democracy, the way the English-speaking countries were governed 
after World War II,  until the first peak oil in the 1970s, was a deal.
 Government authorised unions to bargain and strike, so workers got paid well, so they made things for manufacturers to sell, so manufacturers made a profit, so they could pay workers well.

To understand how deals like that work, it's probably worth-while to 
take a short side-trip into what 'because' means.  Aristotle 
recognised four kinds of cause.  A final cause is what something is 
for.  A formal cause is what plan it follows.  Efficient causes are 
the ones that we take for granted now, where the ankle-bone moves,
 because the hip bone is moving, and they are connected via the knee
bone.  Material cause took me a long time to understand; it is where 
an object, such as a table, is there because its outline is full of
 stuff, such as the wood that it's made of.

Social settlements have to satisfy needs for final causes (often
 expressed as people thinking they're fair), formal causes (the rules 
can be written) and efficient causes (the manufacturer, worker and 
customer in my example are all well-enough off).

That deal makes two assumptions: that having more stuff is good for 
people, and that there is no constraint on the raw materials and
 energy that go into making it.  The second is now definitely false,
and the first is being re-examined.

In the new conditions, I do not know what the next social settlement
 is, yet.  I think that I'll recognise it when I see it.  I'm looking
 for a plan where the children of beneficiaries and minimum-wage
 workers eat a diet with enough first-class protein and no unavoidable
 conspicuously harmful features, as a natural consequence of the way 
the rest of the political-economic world is organised.

Bio: James Cone

James is a 'lost', a magpie, and a cognitive barbarian.  So far, he 
has studied four years of Computer Science, had one career in
 computing, completed two thirds of a sociology degree, and now walks
 someone else's dogs (names removed to protect the guilty) on a 
voluntary basis.  He has been collecting small, shiny ideas since
 almost before he could talk.  Given a situation that resembles a
 Gordian Knot, he thinks that the right response is often to imagine a 
novel slice through it.  If you ask, he may talk to you about 
non-violence theory and wicked problems, but this will not make your
life simpler.

EDIT: My thanks to Colin James for drawing my attention to the role of economic theory; see for example page two of: http://www.colinjames.co.nz/speeches_briefings/Treasury_conference_comments_12Dec11.pdf