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 – http://www.amazon.com/Shaman-Kim-Stanley-Robinson/dp/0316098078/
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.
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!
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.
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.