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!