My Most Recent “Book Watch” Column for the New Zealand Herald

I occasionally contribute to the “Book Watch” column in the New Zealand Herald.Here is my most recent column.

Shaman, by Kim Stanley Robinson – print and ebook –

Loon is a teenager who is being trained as a shaman, mostly against his wishes, for his Ice Age tribe. The key events in the story are two journeys Loon undertakes – the first provides a strong opening to the story, and the second triggers off an exciting conclusion. Kim Stanley Robinson’s great strength as a writer can also be his chief weakness: he knows and loves his material so well that he sometimes clogs up the story with it. But the in-depth imagining of Loon’s world, and the strong conclusion to the book, make this a recommended read.

Cinema, by Helen Rickerby – print –
Wellington poet Helen Rickerby just keeps getting better. Her best work is moving, funny, and thought-provoking without being “difficult” – and Cinema is full of her best work. This collection is all directly or indirectly about the silver screen.

It includes poems about the art-form itself, poems about the effect cinema has had on the poet’s life, and a series of poems about the lives of Helen’s friends as if directed by various famous directors. (I’m still hoping for one about my life as directed by a tag-team of Sofia Coppola and David Lean.) Great stuff!

My Life, by Li Na – print and ebook –
Li Na, winner of the 2011 French Open and the 2014 Australian Open, is my favourite tennis player. Her stubborn individualism has frequently led to conflict with the all-encompassing Chinese state sports system in which she grew up – conflicts unblinkingly documented here. But the core of the book is her relationship with her husband Jiang Shan, a former top Chinese player who gave that up to be the tennis equivalent of Li Na’s caddy – and also, for a time, her coach, something that wasn’t great for her marriage and which they wisely brought to an end. Fascinating even if you’re not a tennis fan.
Interstellar Overdrive: The Shindig! Guide to Spacerock, ed Austin Matthews – print –
Spacerock is hard to define: think Pink Floyd before they settled down and got respectable, or Hawkwind’s mix of hard-rock riffing and spacey synthesisers. It’s progressive rock without the sonata structures; it’s heavy metal on helium. As a Seventies teenager, I have a taste for this sort of thing, and this book thoroughly covers beginnings (Telstar; the Dr Who theme), main practitioners and byways. It’s especially good on European bands: any book that can have me searching Slow Boat Records for old Amon Düül II albums has done its job.