Book Review: Tales For Canterbury

Book Review: Tales for Canterbury: Survival – Hope – Future

A Post For NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week.

(Disclaimer: Tales for Canterbury includes my story “Sign of the Tui”, which I have not attempted to review!)

Tales for Canterbury, as people who follow this blog may know, is an anthology of short stories (and a poem) which was pulled together very quickly by its editors, Cassie Hart and Anna Caro, in the wake of the 22 February earthquake which caused many deaths and much destruction in Christchurch. All the work appearing in the anthology, and the very considerable time and effort invested by the editors, was donated, and all proceeds from the book are being donated to the New Zealand Red Cross Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.

Well. I’ve gone on the record before saying what a good cause this is, and how richly it deserves your support. I’ve mentioned what a remarkable line-up of authors Anna and Cassie pulled together at very short notice – a mixture of international big names and New Zealand authors ranging . But what of the stories (and the poem) themselves? Do I recommend the anthology purely for the quality of the work included. Should you buy it for entirely selfish motives?

The answer is, most emphatically, yes. Tales for Canterbury is full of good stories, and what especially impressed me is that just as many of my favourite stories in the collection come from the lesser-known authors as come from the big names.

But (I hear you asking – but then, my hearing is not what it was) why is this a post for NZ Spec Fic Blogging Week? Well, this collection consists of about 2/3 speculative fiction (SF, fantasy and horror) stories to 1/3 literary fiction stories of various stripes, and quite a lot of that spec fic is written by New Zealand authors.

So. Here are a baker’s-dozen-minus-one* of the pieces that particularly moved, excited or impressed me in Tales for Canterbury. (I should say that I liked nearly all of the other stories, too!)

*Known in our Earth language as “a dozen”.

  • The opening story, “Broadwing” by Simon Petrie, is an SF story set on Titan that could easily be an extract from a Kim Stanley Robinson novel about the colonisation of the outer solar system. Coming from me, that’s high praise indeed.
  • Neil Gaiman’s contribution is a poem, “Inventing Aladdin”. I was, at first, slightly disappointed when I saw that Neil Gaiman had contributed a poem rather than a story. I needn’t have been. “Inventing Aladdin” is a fine poem, with a killer last line.
  • I have never quite decided what my favourite story is in Tales for Canterbury, but “My Dad, The Tuatara” by Amanda Fitzwater is right up there. This is a lovely piece of magic realism, happily at home right on the border of literary fiction and speculative fiction.
  • One of the things that most impresses me about Helen Lowe’s writing is her command of tone. “The Fountain” is a story of hope restored all the better for the control with which it is told.
  • “Daughter of the Khan”, by Mary Victoria, is a fine tale that takes place at the intersection of fantasy and modernity.
  • Janis Freegard’s writing, both poetry and fiction, specialises in pulling rabbits out of hats and rugs from under feet. Her “The Magician” is a little piece of literary magic.
  • Tina Makereti’s “Shapeshifter” gives Pania of the Reef her voice, and it’s a voice well worth listening to.
  • Somewhere in the mulch of a bottom drawer lies an early, unpublished story of mine called “Shore Leave”, about a man returning to his family after time-dilated service in space. From time to time, I have thought about digging it out and having another go at it. Now I know I don’t need to, because Matt Cowens has contributed a much better story called “Shore Leave” to this anthology.
  • “The Delightful Maiden”, by Debbie Cowens, is one of the relatively few stories in the book that is actually set in Christchurch. A Christchurch-set cyberpunk story? It sounds improbable, but this was another of my very favourite stories in the book.
  • “Desperately Seeking Darcy”, by R J Astruc, throws a Bill-and-Ted-styled “excellent adventure” together with Regency England. It’s a shameless recycling of used story parts. It’s also wonderfully entertaining.
  • Patty Jansen’s “Looking for Daddy” takes the material of what could be a bog-standard horror story and uses it for different, and much more affecting, ends. One of the strangest stories in the book, and one of the best.
  • There are writers whose work I like, writers whose work I don’t like, and writers whose work I admire from a distance: I can tell they are very good writers, but for one reason or another, I can’t connect with their work. Up until now, Gwyneth Jones has been one such author for me: but “The Voyage Out”, the penultimate story in the book, really worked for me.

I read much of the book on a return journey between Wellington and Invercargill, passing through Christchurch Airport both ways. The ground, during my short stopovers, stayed firm. For a visitor passing through, it was easy to forget anything strange, anything tragic, had happened here. The book – survival; hope; future – pressed into my palm, reminding me otherwise.

Sales info

Tales for Canterbury is only available online, and you can buy it as a paperback or ebook from the Random Static website.

Five Questions With Anna Caro, Co-Editor Of “Tales For Canterbury”


Since the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, editors Cassie Hart and Anna Caro have done an amazing job of pulling together Tales For Canterbury, a fundraising anthology to benefit the victims of the earthquake, with all proceeds going to the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. All the stories have been donated by their authors, and so far, just over half the fundraising target of $5000 has been raised – something you can help with by buying the book as an ebook or paperback.

I asked Anna Caro five questions about Tales for Canterbury, and here are her answers:

1. How soon after the February 22 earthquake did you have the idea for the anthology?

My original answer for this was “pretty quickly – within a few days”. Then I went back and checked my emails and found that Cassie emailed me with the idea only a few hours after the quake. Before I’d left work for the day the idea was already taking shape and we were contacting friends and people we’d worked with on other projects.

2. The list of contributors is impressive to say the least – a great range of New Zealand authors, and also such overseas luminaries as Neil Gaiman, Gwyneth Jones, Jay Lake, and someone whose story I’m especially keen to read, Jeff Vandermeer. How did you manage to get so many prominent speculative fiction authors involved in the project?

One of the things putting together Tales for Canterbury made me realise was how far our networks reached. Over the past few years both of us have been building up contacts through editing, events including conventions, involvement in SpecFicNZ and membership of critique groups, and we had a lot of people to call on when we needed them.

Our individual networks didn’t quite reach the name’s you’ve mentioned – but we knew people who knew them and were happy to get in touch with them for us. The exception is Neil Gaiman who Cassie (with a bit of encouragement) emailed directly after seeing he made a blog post mentioning the earthquake – his wife was in Christchurch at the time.

3. Tales for Canterbury isn’t all speculative fiction, though. Can you tell me about some of the literary and general fiction authors who have work included in this anthology?

Around two thirds of Tales for Canterbury is speculative fiction of some description, but we have some excellent examples of literary or general fiction. Amongst the authors are Kate Mahony, who I first met in an undergraduate class at the IIML, Janis Freegard who lives in Wellington and I knew primarily as a poet and of course yourself (Tim Jones), and subjects range from being a New Zealander overseas, through misfit and eccentric characters to an imagining of life after the earthquake.

I think the fact we imposed only quite broad restrictions on what we were looking for encouraged writers to submit work outside of their usual genre, and several – including Mary Victoria, Philippa Ballantine, and my co-editor, Cassie Hart – who are primarily known for speculative fiction contributed more realistic pieces of work, though the influence of the genre is often apparent. The technology in Mary Victoria’s ‘Daughter of the Khan’, though historically accurate, is perhaps even more frightening and magical to the characters as an alien ship might be to us – and she makes us believe it.

Also worth mentioning here is A.J. Fitzwater’s ‘My Father, the Tuatara’, which I would describe as magical realism, a genre frequently claimed as both speculative and literary fiction. Throughout the story, you’re never quite sure whether this is an elaborate metaphor, or a fantastical event, which handled with less skill could be jarring, but here is poignant and thoughtful.

We also have a couple of stories from other genres; I hope there is something everyone will appreciate included.

4. The anthology is divided into three sections – “Survival”, “Hope” and “Future”. Did you have that division in mind from the start, or did the stories you received naturally fall under those headings?

It came quite early on. We wanted to give the anthology some form of structure, but nothing that excessively limited the stories we included. We played with a few ideas and ended up with this one which mirrored, if in a simplistic way, the stages of a recovery. There were a number of stories that fitted quite naturally under more than one of the headings, and a couple we had to think about a bit before placing them anywhere but I hope the categorisation we ended up with adds something to how readers think about the stories.

5. I know from my own experience how much work goes into co-editing an anthology, let alone publishing it. You’ve taken an anthology from nothing to completed and published in three months. How on earth did you manage it; have you been able to keep your own writing going during the process; and what lessons have you learned from the experience?

To put it succinctly: with lot of help. I admit we struggled at times but we had so many people helping out behind the scenes, be they our team of volunteer proofreaders, who got through a section each on a very short timeframe, or those who brought us caffeine when we’d been up far too late. There were some circumstances in our favour; in particular, the fact a number of the stories were reprints meant many needed close editing. We also decided early on that the anthology needed to be invitation only; in the past I loved reading work by authors new to me, but in this instance we just weren’t able to handle a large slush pile.

I think at times our own writing did suffer for both of us, but within a week of Tales for Canterbury being sent to the printers, both Cassie and myself independently sat down and just wrote, so the damage was definitely temporary – and in any case, I think editing, closely reading other people’s work, really does help in the long run.

Lessons? After the previous anthology I edited I had all these bright ideas for improving things, and then when Tales for Canterbury came up I implemented some, but many just got lost in the tight timeframes. So I guess the fact that every project is different would be a lesson. On a personal level, though, I think the biggest lesson I learned was about sharing responsibility. I’m hopeless at delegating, but working with Cassie, who is superbly committed and reliable, and the effects of both having otherwise busy schedules, helped to change that. We passed things back and forth, one picking up when the other was busy, and swapping tasks when things just weren’t happening, and having that very positive experience has, I’m sure, taught me a lot about taking a step back and trusting other people to get it right.

Tales For Canterbury: Why You Should Buy A Copy


In just three months since the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, editors Cassie Hart and Anna Caro have done an amazing job of pulling together Tales For Canterbury, a fundraising anthology to benefit the victims of the earthquake, with all proceeds going to the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. All the stories have been donated by their authors.

Tales For Canterbury is now published as an ebook (in pdf, mobi, and epub format) and as a paperback.

You can find out lots more info on the Tales For Canterbury Blog, but if you are wondering whether to buy or pre-order one, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want to support Christchurch residents in the wake of the February earthquake?
  • Do I like reading work by any of these writers? (I won’t reproduce the full list here, but it includes names such as Neil Gaiman, Janis Freegard, Gwyneth Jones, Jay Lake, Helen Lowe, Tina Makereti, Juliet Marillier, Jeff Vandermeer, Mary Victoria, and Sean Williams, and there are 34 stories in all. One is by me.)
  • Can I afford NZ $12 for the ebook edition or NZ $24.95 for the paperback edition?

If the answer to the third question, and at least one of the first two questions, is “yes”, then I think you are building a strong case for buying a copy!

And if you’re fired up with enthusiasm, Anna and Cassie also have some ideas for how you can help promote Tales For Canterbury.

Here ends the sales pitch. If it hasn’t convinced you, go ahead and buy the book anyway. The quality of the fiction is the ultimate argument.

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!

Blogging Au Contraire: Day Three, Part 2: So Many Panels So Close To Home

Normally I’d be posting a Tuesday Poem around this time – but I’ve decided to get my Au Contraire blogging finished instead. Normal poetic service will be resumed next Tuesday.

I put up a rather bleary-eyed post in the early hours of Monday morning expressing my happiness at Voyagers winning a Sir Julius Vogel Award – but a whole lot of other good stuff happened on the Sunday of Au Contraire. Here are some personal highlights from the day:

Jay Lake Kaffeeklatsch

Though I moderated two panels and ran a live Q&A on the day, my personal highlight was a kaffeeklatsch with Jay Lake, a prolific (and very talented) author of short fiction and novels. The half-a-dozen of us who spent an hour with Jay in the Con Suite were treated both to his engaging conversation, and to an impromptu tutorial on the state of SF short fiction markets in the US, and what sort of story to submit where – priceless information from one who really knows the score.

(You can read one of Jay’s stories at – I enjoyed it, but as the comments show, the political fissures that run through the US run through its SF readership as well.)

Panels: Joss Whedon and SF Poetry

To those panels: the first was “Joss Whedon Is My Master Now”m with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, myself, and Alistair -aargh, surname recall fail – as the three panelists. This was a fun panel with lots of good discussion, much Whedon-love and some cogent criticisms as well. As a Buffy fan first and foremost, I was impressed how many others shared my preference – though a small band of Firefly diehards made a bold stand on the edge of Alliance space, swearing colourfully in Mandarin as they did so.

Next was the SF poetry panel with my fellow panelists Janis Freegard and Harvey Molloy. Though it was not so well attended as the Joss Whedon panel, the discussion was good, with both considerable optimism and some pessimism on the future of speculative poetry in particular and poetry in general – is flash fiction the new poetry? I particularly loved the way in which, moments after Harvey read a poem which he said he wasn’t going to submit anywhere, one of the audience put up his hand and asked if he could publish it!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden Q&A

My third commitment was to run a live Q&A session with Tor Books Senior Editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Having already been to Patrick’s kaffeeklatsch and sat besuide him on the Whedon panel, I’d stopped feeling nervous, and it wasn’t a hard job to let the questions flow and hear a great deal of accumulated publishing wisdom – and a surprisingly optimistic take on the future of publishing – at close quarters.

In other circumstances, I would have attended Juliet Marillier’s panel on reviewing SF, but that was my only chance to catch up with US fans Pat and Roger Sims, whom Kay and I met in 1994. It was lovely to see them again, and catch up across the years and the oceans.

Than it was dinner (a yummy dinner, at Balti, organsied most ably by Martyn Buyck), and back to the con hotel for the awards ceremonies – not just the Vogels, but all the Convention awards.

Final thoughts on Au Contraire

Final thoughts? Overwhelmingly positive: this was a stunningly well-run Con, and the women behind the convention deserve an enormous amount of credit. I was especially impressed that two key players in the convention committee could pull off publishing and launching a collection of original fiction at the same time as being convention organisers.

There’s lots of great photos from the Con, plus reports that cover a lot of what I missed, at Joffre Horlor’s blog. Check it out, and see you (I hope) next year in Auckland.

Blogging Au Contraire: Day One: “A Foreign Country” Book Launch

I’m pushing it a bit when I say that I’m blogging Day 1 of Au Contraire, since all I attended today was the launch of new short fiction anthology A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction. I’ll be much more thoroughly present at the Con tomorrow and on Sunday.

But here are some quick observations:

* The book launch was short but sweet. Anna Caro introduced the book, Claire Brunette read her story from the collection, “Beneath The Trees”, and then much signing and photographing was done.
* The production quality of A Foreign Country is excellent. Publishers Random Static have done a great job of design and production.
*A Foreign Country has 22 stories in its 266 pages, costs $24.95, and is available from independent bookshops – such as Unity and Parsons in Auckland and the University Bookshop in Dunedin (I didn’t catch the whole list). You can also order it from the Random Static website.
* If you want to order it from a bookshop that doesn’t stock it, the ISBN is 978-0-473-16916-9
* The Con looks like a great place to catch up with old friends as well as make new ones. In the short time I was there, I met several people I hadn’t seen for a long time, and a quick perusal of the guest list shows plenty more old friends to catch up with.
* Holding the Con a week before the World Science Fiction Convention, Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne, has meant that overseas attendees actually outnumber the New Zealanders. There are 150 overseas fans attending out of about 240 total.
* The Convention Committee are doing a fine job & holding up well so far. Running a science fiction convention is one of the most tiring jobs I know – I wish them all the best for the rest of the weekend.

So let’s leave you with the A Foreign Country cover and press release.

The Future Is A Foreign Country

Imagine worlds where strange creatures roam the hills of Miramar, desperate survivors cling to the remains of a submerged country, and the residents of Gisborne reluctantly serve alien masters.

Those are just some of the visions painted in a new volume of speculative fiction by Kiwi writers. Published by Wellington-based small press Random Static, A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction features work by best-selling author Juliet Marillier; poet, musician, and writer Bill Direen; and several Sir Julius Vogel Award winners, prominent writers, and talented newcomers.

Popular and award-winning Australian author Sean Williams, who will be in Wellington at the time of the launch, was impressed by his sneak preview, describing the anthology as “richly populated with the frightening and the fabulous, the thrilling and the thoughtful, the inspiring and the inspired.”

Co-editor Anna Caro hopes the works in the collection will both provide points of familiarity to readers, and take their imagination to new places. “Many of the stories are set in New Zealand, present or future, and portray worlds which are both instantly recognisable and nothing like the country we currently live in. This anthology showcases some of the remarkable range of New Zealand’s world-class speculative fiction writers.”

Fantastic Voyages: Credits, Thanks and Podcast

Fantastic Voyages: Writing Speculative Fiction went very well last night, in this reporter’s opinion – and also in the opinion of my fellow panelists. Under the expert chairpersonship of Lynn Freeman, Helen Lowe and I each read from our work, and fielded questions from Lynn and from an audience which included many writers and readers of speculative fiction. Some people told me afterwards they felt inspired by the event, which makes me very happy!

Anna Caro, initiator of New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week, very kindly recorded the event after our original recordist wasn’t able to attend. You can find the podcast, and a brief report of the event, on Anna’s blog.

I’d like to thank everyone for their support and help: Random House New Zealand; Unity Books and in particular Anna and Cameron; Toi Poneke/Wellington Arts Centre and in particular Will; chairperson (and spec fic enthusiast) Lynn Freeman; my fellow panelist Helen; all those who came along on the night and the many others who couldn’t be there but sent their best wishes. Thank you!

UPDATE: Jenni Talula has written a report of Fantastic Voyages on her blog that made me feel very happy. And Sally McLennan has added a lovely report, with photos.