31 March 2008

Blogs in Their Summer Clothes - 1

I link to a number of writers' and artists' blogs. You can find those links nestled down in the left-hand column of this page, under the Blog Archive, but I thought it was time I gave some of them a bit more prominence. So here's five presented, as they say in Hollywood, "For Your Consideration".

In a subsequent post, I'll look at some more blogs, and at a discontinued New Zealand literary site that still speaks, from time to time, from a little to the east and somewhere beyond the veil.

When I started work on "Books in the Trees", there were two existing blogs I turned to as role models: Harvey Molloy's Notebook and Helen Rickerby's Winged Ink.

Harvey and I have a number of things in common: we're both poets, we both hail from the north of England, and we both write science fiction poetry. Not surprisingly, we're friends! Harvey's blog, with its mixture of news, writing and reviews, continues to be an inspiration.

Helen Rickerby, also a friend, is a poet, publisher, and encyclopedist. One of the things she publishes is JAAM, the Wellington literary magazine of which I'm editing Issue 26. Helen also runs Seraph Press, which publishes a (so far) small range of exceptionally handsome books.

Helen also plays a valuable role in encouraging her associate, the mysterious Giant Sparrow, to grace the blogosphere more frequently. Giant Sparrow is a deep thinker and fine writer with an enduring faith in the existence of places where anything is possible, such as the theatre.

Finally in this instalment, two bloggers whose blogging forte is a synthesis of words and images. I have known Meliors Simms for a long time, even though we go for many years without seeing each other. She combines visual art and poetry in her arresting and beautiful handmade books, and her Bibliophilia blog showcases the combination.

On the other hand, I don't believe I've ever met Kay McKenzie Cooke, but we both have strong connections with Southland, Dunedin, and their wildlife and landscapes. She's a fine poet, photographer and excellent blogger with an an output — and range of blogs - that puts mine to shame. Her as it happens blog is a good place to start.

So there's a few blogs I like. But there's more! Check them out at the left of this page, or look out for my next post about the blogs I link to. They may be wearing autumn clothes by then.

27 March 2008

Sir Julius Vogel Award goes to "Path of Revenge"

My novel Anarya's Secret didn't win the Best Adult Novel category in the 2008 Sir Julius Vogel Awards. In a strong field, the winner was Russell Kirkpatrick's Path of Revenge.

It would have been nice to win, but I was most impressed by the quality of the field, not just in the Best Adult Novel category but throughout the categories. It's a very good sign that New Zealand speculative fiction writers are being so widely published.

The Awards were presented at Conjunction, the 2008 New Zealand National Science Fiction Convention, which was held at Easter in Wellington. I attended the Saturday of Conjunction as well as the awards ceremony on the Sunday evening. It was my first New Zealand SF convention for a while, and I was impressed with what I saw: attendance seemed to be good, and on the Saturday, I attended a particularly interesting panel on science fiction and fantasy appropriate for different age groups - or, in other words, what books are suitable at what ages to introduce children to science fiction and fantasy. "What can they read after Harry Potter" was one of the topics discussed.

I've now been nominated for a Sir Julius Vogel Award three times: I've been a runner-up twice, and on the other occasion, my book (in that case, my first short story collection, Extreme Weather Events) was the only book nominated in its category, and thus ineligible for an award. I guess I'll just have to keep writing science fiction and fantasy until I win one - which might, of course, set me up for a very long career.

24 March 2008

Reviews Roundup

I posted a while back on the first two reviews of my poetry collection All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens. Several more reviews have now come in, and my fantasy novel Anarya's Secret has received its first review, which you can read in the Earthdawn Live Journal.

All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens reviews

In the New Zealand Herald's Canvas magazine on 8 March, Graham Brazier gave favourable reviews to both All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens and Johanna Aitchison's A Long Girl Ago. Despite insisting on describing me as a young poet (well, I look young, but I have this really dodgy portrait hanging in the attic), Graham said some very nice things about the book, describing it as a standout among the recent flood of local poetry publications, and saying "each poem stands on its own merit, a polar opposite of its predecessor". Given that Graham is the lead singer of New Zealand band Hello Sailor, it's perhaps not surprising that he draws particular attention to "New Live Dates", my poem about an aging rock star strutting his stuff one more time.

In Poetry New Zealand 36, Owen Bullock describes the book as "a second collection from this wry and insightful Wellington poet". He focuses on those poems in the book which incorporate some reference to the rich and famous, such as "Fitness" and "Oprah Relents", saying that "the results can produce a zen-like, frozen look at the ridiculous in life".

In Bravado 12, Michael Lee is kind enough to say that the last line of the opening poem in the book, "Elfland", makes his scalp tingle.He also notes the varied subject matter, and gives some extracts from his favourite poems in the book, concluding by saying that the book "gives us Tim Jones's lively, poet's mind".

In the March issue of a fine line, the New Zealand Poetry Society newsletter, Joanna Preston is less keen: she calls the collection "uneven", and particularly dislikes "Oprah Relents". On the other hand, she does like "First Light" and several other poems, so it's not all bad news.

So, three very good reviews and one less good one: that's not too bad a ratio.

I'll add links under "Sample Poems" on the left to those of the poems mentioned in this post that are available online. And here's "Oprah Relents" - see what you think.

Oprah Relents

Oprah relents
allowing us food and water.

Her guards look on
as we wash off the grime.

The symphony of severed heads
demands a new movement.

In fifteen minutes
we go live.

This poem was first published in the New Zealand Listener, 2 July 2005, p. 42, and republished in All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens.

19 March 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008

In the late 1960s, when I first became interested in science fiction, I came across frequent references to the "ABC of science fiction": Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. Of the three, I never had much time for Bradbury's brand of ornate nostalgia, but in my late teens and early twenties, I devoured many novels and short stories by both Asimov and Clarke.

These days, I find Asimov hard going, but I can still re-read Arthur C. Clarke's early fiction with great pleasure. Clarke is often thought of as a hard SF writer, and indeed that is a strong component of his work; but unlike Hal Clement, Clarke's work makes room for both the rational and the transcendent. My favourites among his books are the early novels Against the Fall of Night/The City and the Stars and Childhood's End, and his first short story collection, Expedition to Earth.

In these books, his writing is at its most flexible and affecting. These novels and stories are full of regret for worlds and people lost, and wonder at what is to come: if the best of Bradbury and Clement had been blended together and then filtered through a distinctively English sensibility - a sensibility no less attuned than J.G. Ballard's to the dying of the light of Empire - these books are what might have resulted.

For these books, for his later peaks - 2001 and Rendezvous with Rama - and for his continuing engagement with the world, I will miss Arthur C. Clarke.

(You can also read a eulogy for Arthur C. Clarke by The Ninth Hermit, which features a fine picture of the man himself.)

14 March 2008

The Future of Oil

Spurred on by the international oil price touching US $110 per barrel, the price of petrol in New Zealand set a new record today: it reached $1.77.9 a litre for unleaded 91. This strikes me as a good time to draw your attention to an article I first had published in the Dominion Post in November 2007, The Future of Oil.

The Future of Oil describes a problem which has kept on getting worse since the article was published. But what should we do about the problem?

The first requirement, as a nation, is to start taking oil depletion / Peak Oil seriously, and not delude ourselves any longer that rising oil prices will magically make new oil production come onstream to meet rising demand, or make alternative fuels for the internal combustion engine materialise in huge quantities. We're going to have to get used to living with less oil.

For ideas on what we need to do, especially in the field of transport, see the papers on the topic produced by the Sustainable Energy Forum at http://www.sef.org.nz/papers.html - for example, Peak Oil: A Major Issue for New Zealand (PDF, 60 KB). There's the beginnings of a wider discussion on what it will take to move New Zealand to a low-fossil-energy consumption future at the Transition Towns website, http://www.transitiontowns.org.nz/ (is your town a Transition Town?)

What there hasn't yet been is any systematic official consideration of the ways in which New Zealand will be affected - not just in transport, but in trade, tourism, food production, and all other aspects of economic and social life - by the end of the era of cheap and readily available oil, nor of what New Zealand as a country should do to face up to this issue. The Green Party and the Maori Party have both issued calls for a Commission or similar body to investigate this and recommend action. So far, those calls have fallen on deaf ears. With the 2008 general election campaign approaching, it's time for the major parties to start paying attention.

You can read The Future of Oil, and the discussion that followed it, on the Be The Change web site.

07 March 2008

How It Came to Pass: Anarya's Secret

Anarya’s Secret began with an email message in late 2005. It was from Richard Vowles of RedBrick Limited. He explained that RedBrick had recently taken over the rights to the “classic” version of fantasy roleplaying game Earthdawn from its American parent company, and were looking for someone to write a novel set in that universe. They had found my website, and thought I might be their man. Would I be interested?

At first I wasn’t sure. It had been many years since I had done any gaming. (I was very fond of Runequest – the first edition, set in Glorantha – and had played a little D&D as well.) I had never played Earthdawn, and was worried that this would lead to me inadvertently breaking the rules of the world. What’s more, novels set in gaming universes didn’t have a universally high reputation.

On the other hand, I’d greatly enjoyed many of the Shadowrun novels produced by FASA, especially those written by Nigel D. Findley, and my interest was piqued when I found out that Earthdawn is set in the same universe as Shadowrun, except that Shadowrun takes place in the future and Earthdawn in the remote past.

And just as I wasn’t yet sure that this was a project I wanted to take on, so RedBrick had to be sure that I could do a good job of an Earthdawn novel. So we agreed that I’d write and send in the first few chapters, and we’d see how both parties felt after that.

By the time I’d written the Prologue and Chapters 1 and 2, I was hooked. I had a protagonist, a naive but well-meaning young man called Kendik Dezelek. I had got him in over his head with some dubious new associates, the Turgut brothers. I had taken them to the mouth of an ancient, long-abandoned stronghold. And someone had emerged from the stronghold to meet them – someone with a secret.

Earthdawn is set in a world in which, though magic, the human race has split into many branches – some familiar from mythology (orks, trolls, dwarves), others not. Perhaps the most alien are the lizard-like t’skrang, and I decided that they would play a crucial role in the story. With that decision, the general outline of the rest of the novel fell into place.

So I sent in my few chapters and waited to see what RedBrick would say. They said yes, and I was away. Kendik Dezelek, Anarya Chezarin – the woman with a secret – and the Turgut brothers left the mouth of the ancient stronghold, Kaer Volost, and went on their way. Adventure, as they say, lay in wait. So did guards, wizards, petty tyrants, and t’skrang with a whole slew of hidden agendas. And if you play Earthdawn, you’ll have some idea what I mean when I say that the Scourge has never quite ended.

I broke the odd rule in my early drafts, but Carsten Damm, my excellent editor, was there to point out my transgressions and suggest creative solutions. With his help, I had a lot of fun writing Anarya’s Secret. I hope you’ll find it a lot of fun (and a lot of shock, surprise and excitement) to read.

Anarya’s Secret is available in hardback, paperback, and e-book formats.

02 March 2008

A Reading and a Deadline

The news today consists of two items:

First item: I'll be the guest reader at the next monthly reading session of the New Zealand Poetry Society. That's taking place on Monday 17 March, from 7.00pm [not 7.30pm as listed earlier - sorry!], in the Paramount Theatre Lounge in Courtenay Place, Wellington. There's a cafe and a bar to hand, and (judging by February's session) a nice, relaxed atmosphere. Entry is by koha, which often entails a gold coin donation.

The format is that we start with an open reading session, where you can bring along your own work to read if you wish, then there's a short break, then I read for a while, then there's a Q&A session if anyone has any Qs they'd like me to to A. I'll be reading a mixture of poems from All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens and newer work. We'll finish round about 8.30pm. Hope to see you there!

Second item: there's just under a month to go until the submission deadline for Issue 26 of JAAM Magazine, which I'm editing. You can find all the details at http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2008/01/im-editing-jaam-26.html. Submissions have been coming in, but there's room for plenty more.