Novella Review: “A Sky of Wretched Shells,” by Mark Blackham

Cover image of "A Sky of Wretched Shells", a novella by Mark Blackham


Mark Blackham’s A Sky of Wretched Shells is the third book in The Cuba Press’ novella series, following my novella Where We Land and Zirk van den Berg’s I Wish, I Wish. Both Where We Land and A Sky of Wretched Shells are climate fiction novellas, but they’re very different: Where We Land is about our near-future response to climate change, while A Sky of Wretched Shells is set further in the future, when most of the world has fallen victim to ecological disaster and only one island offers hope for survival.

On the island of Woleai, 15-year-old Mala and his people live in relative peace and safety as the rest of the world falls apart. The arrival of two Western outsiders brings an end to this fragile equilibrium.

I won’t say more about the plot, because a lot happens in this novella that it would be a shame to spoil. I will say that there’s some really beautiful descriptive writing and imagery in A Sky of Wretched Shells: I got a strong sense of place from Mark Blackham’s novella.

Nevertheless, I struggled with some of the choices the central character, Mala, made – from my point of view, he persistently makes choices that puts his island and his people at greater risk. (Though my decision-making at age 15 may not have been the greatest, either, and the end of the novel suggests that he has made better choices than it first appears.)

The ending took the story in directions I didn’t expect, reactivating the sense of wonder I used to get as a teenager from reading science fiction, even as my adult eye was casting a more sceptical gaze over proceedings. So I ended the novella with mixed feelings: but given the quality of his descriptive writing and the scope of his imagination, I’m keen to see what stories Mark Blackham writes next.

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy, Volume III

Cover of Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume III

I’m really pleased that my climate fiction story “The Double-Cab Club”, first published in Stuff’s Forever Project in January 2020, was selected for inclusion in this excellent annual anthology from Paper Road Press, edited by Marie Hodgkinson. Check out the Table of Contents – lots of fine writers and stories included! – and get your print or ebook copy.

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume 3, edited by Marie Hodgkinson

The third volume in our annual anthology series celebrating the strength and diversity of local SFF writing.

Cover by Rebekah Tisch.

Buy the paperback here, or the ebook at all major ebook retailers.

Table of Contents:

New Zealand Gothic, by Jack Remiel Cottrell
Synaesthete, by Melanie Harding-Shaw
Kōhuia, by T Te Tau
Death confetti, by Zoë Meager
For Want of Human Parts, by Casey Lucas
How To Get A Girlfriend (When You’re A Terrifying Monster), by Marie Cardno
Salt White, Rose Red, by Emily Brill-Holland
Florentina, by Paul Veart
Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead, by Octavia Cade
The Waterfall, by Renee Liang
The Double-Cab Club, by Tim Jones
Wild Horses, by Anthony Lapwood
You and Me at the End of the World, by Dave Agnew
The Secrets She Eats, by Nikky Lee
How To Build A Unicorn, by AJ Fitzwater
Even the Clearest Water, by Andi C. Buchanan
You Can’t Beat Wellington on a Good Day, by Anna Kirtlan
The Moamancer (A Musomancer short story), by Bing Turkby
They probably play the viola, by Jack Remiel Cottrell
Crater Island, by P.K. Torrens
A Love Note, by Melanie Harding-Shaw
The Turbine at the End of the World, by James Rowland

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume 3
Edited by Marie Hodgkinson
ISBN 978-1-99-115030-1

Climate Fiction, Climate Fact: My Writers in Schools visit to Nelson-Tasman

Tim Jones running a Writers in Schools workshop at Motueka High School

In early August, shortly before large parts of the country went into COVID lockdown, I visited 5 schools in Nelson-Tasman on a visit organised by the Read NZ Te Pou Muramura Writers in Schools scheme and sponsored by the Rātā Foundation.

Writers in School is a very worthwhile scheme that connects schools who want writers to visit, with writers who are keen to visit! I’ve done some individual school visits under the scheme before – the most recent, a very enjoyable visit to Wellington East Girls’ School to do a Q&A with a class who’d been reading my climate fiction novella Where We Land – but never a tour.

The trip was initiated by Motueka High School, who asked whether I could come to the school for a series of talks and workshops with their students on writing climate fiction and non-fiction. I said I’d like to do that if the trip could be combined with visits to other schools in the region, and thanks to excellent cooperation between Nelson-Tasman schools and ReadNZ, I ended up visiting five schools in three days:

Nelson College
Tapawera Area School
Motueka High School
Waimea College
Waimea Intermediate

I ran workshops and gave talks on writing climate fiction, writing fiction in general, and writing opinion pieces (“columns”), with students ranging from Year 5 to Year 13.

What did I take away? First of all, much as I enjoyed the visit, I was shattered after three days – I have no idea how teachers do it for week after week! Both the students, and the teachers and librarians, I met inspired me.

Talking of teachers, I very much appreciated the lovely hospitality I was offered, which kept me fed and watered throughout my tight schedule. My lunch wth the English teachers at Motueka High School was a particular highlight.

My final session finished the tour on a high note. I had only an hour with this self-selected groups of keen readers and writers in Years 7 and 8 at Waimea College, and my energy was down by the time I got there, but the group’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for writing was remarkable. When we did a brainstorm on “what makes stories work well”, one young student replied “foreshadowing and foretelling”, and when I asked her what those were, she gave a much better explanation than I could have done, with relevant examples!

I loved seeing the enthusiasm of the students, yet I couldn’t help asking myself: what sort of future are these young people facing? More and worse storms. More fires. More floods – all of which have hit the Nelson-Tasman region in the last couple of years. And the sea creeping ever upwards, ever inwards. It isn’t their fault. It isn’t even our fault, unless you happen to be, for example, a senior oil company executive or a coal mine owner. But it’s up to all of us to demand and take action to cut emissions sharply now, because if we don’t, an already dangerous future is bound to become much worse.

Herald of Poseidon: Here’s how I appeared to one student at Motueka High School. (For the record, I am flattered by this portrait!)


Handwriting and hand-drawn image of Tim Jones by a Motueka High School student

Photos and image credits from my day at Motueka High School: https://www.facebook.com/motuekahslibrary




My CoNZealand Climate Change Panels

Panel replays currently available for ConZealand members include these panels I took part in:

Climate Change and Conventions (first panel on this list)

Climate Fiction/Climate Fact (fifth panel on this list)

Check out all the great panels, readings etc that are available on replay!

What’s this all about?

CoNZealand, the 78th World Science Fiction Convention is over! The first to be based in Aotearoa, and the first to be held virtually.

There is so much to say about the convention – for now, I’m just going to congratulate the organisers for all the effort they put in to change a planned in-person convention to a virtual convention at a few months’ notice. There were a whole bunch of teething problems that affected many participants – one of my events vanished into a time-zone ether – but the impressive thing is that some many things worked, or were made to work after people spoke up to get them fixed.

For a few more days, many of the panels, readings and other events are available on replay. My personal highlight of the Con was the Climate Fiction/Climate Fact Panel, but right at the start of the Con, I also took part in the Climate Change and Conventions panel – here’s the presentation I prepared for that panel.

Climate Fiction in New Zealand’s Mainstream Media: Stuff’s “Forever Project”

The Double-Cab Club, by Tim Jones (Forever Project, March 2020)

Resilience, by Octavia Cade (Forever Project, June 2020)

In March, New Zealand’s largest news outlet, Stuff, launched its Forever Project, which editor Eloise Gibson describes as “our way of saying we’re committed to clear-eyed, insistent coverage of the epoch-defining challenges of climate change and sustainability.”

The Forever Project represents a major change in the way Stuff has decided to cover climate change. Until a couple of years ago, Stuff was giving plenty of space to climate deniers and climate trolls: now, they’ve stopped doing that, and are writing many more in-depth stories on climate change and the promise and pitfalls of various approaches to addressing it. Their coverage isn’t perfect, but it’s a huge improvement.

The Forever Project has a print as well as an online component. Two copies of the Forever Project magazine have been distributed to Stuff subscribers so far, and each has included a climate fiction story – which is also available online.

I was delighted to be asked to write the story that appeared in the March 2020 edition of the Forever Project – a story set in 2030, as Aotearoa struggles to deal with both the causes and the effects of climate change – and also that Dr Octavia Cade was commissioned to write the story that appeared in the second issue.

Here’s how you can subscribe to the Forever Project newsletter.

As a bonus, the illustration for my story was created by the wonderful illustrator Ruby Jones – it was a pleasure to work with her.








Good Reviews on Goodreads For “Where We Land”

My climate fiction (cli-fi) novella Where We Land has been getting good reviews on Goodreads. Here are some excerpts from those reviews:

On Goodreads:

“This novella set in the near future deals with the human impact of the worsening climate crisis…. Amid societal brutality and xenophobia, there are still a few glimmers of compassion.

“This is a beautifully written novella in the cli-fi genre…. The characters are compelling and the story gripping. Highly recommend it!!”

(Read the full reviews here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46028957-where-we-land)


From Tabatha Wood’s review for SpecFicNZ:

“Jones talks in depth about human resilience and the determination to survive. The ability to keep going even when all seems lost. He examines our humanity; how we respond to threats and challenges, but ultimately how we, as a global species, behave to one another. The tension is high, the characters relatable, and Jones deftly manoeuvres you into bearing witness to the unfolding plot. He places you squarely in both Nasimul and Donna’s shoes. What would you do if…? he asks.”

Read the full review: https://specfic.nz/2019/08/12/book-review-where-we-land-by-tim-jones/

You can read more of Tabatha’s reviews and her writing on her blog.

“Where We Land” is a print novella – but you can also buy an earlier version of this story as “Landfall”, an ebook from Amazon.