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.