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!

9 thoughts on “Recent New Zealand Speculative Fiction: “A Foreign Country”

  1. A Foreign Country is one of the few anthologies I've read cover-to-cover without dipping into anything else between stories. There are some great stories in the collection – in fact my favourites are not dissimilar to yours :-)I'm not overly familiar with the names of the smaller islands that are part of NZ, but I thought your story made it fairly clear that the Auckland islands were separate from the North Island (though from memory I may have scratched my head a little when the location was first mentioned). I thoroughly enjoyed your (somewhat bleak) vision of a drowned future. No Kevin Costner or pirates on jet-skis, but still great!

  2. Waitaminit. Drowned? Your story had plenty of ocean and boats, but I forget whether the seas had risen. Where's my at-home copy of A Foreign Country…

  3. Thanks, Matt! That whole Kevin Costner, pirates on jet-skis things – well, you should have seen my first draft, when the story was known as \”Dances With Waterworld\”! But Costner's lawyers were relentless.And yeah, there is a reference to the rising seas in there, so you weren't dreaming!

  4. I've definitely heard of the Auckland Islands. And the Snares, Antipodes and the rest of the sub-Antarctic Islands. Miramar is now Possum Free sounds intriguing. I might ahve to seek out this book

  5. Thanks, Catherine. Maybe I have been overly influenced by one reviewer who clearly thought I was talking about Auckland City.As I said to Meliors above, I think the book is worth your while.

  6. I read the book over the festive season and was very pleased with it. Lots of new writers and new ideas; some bleak, some upbeat.A book I am very pleased to own.

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