zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Huia Publishers are having a warehouse-clearing sale at the moment. Including a pile of NZ$1 books. (For comparison, the library's weeding sale of last weekend charges $3 for most books.) Postage is additional, but when I bought 7 books the domestic postage got calculated at $8.50.

So I got:
  • a YA fantasy by a Māori author I've been meaning to get hold of;
  • two scifi books by a Samoan/Celtic/Anglosaxon New Zealander someone recommended when I was hunting for Māori sf;
  • a kid's/YA fantasy by a Fijian/Tongan New Zealander that I hadn't heard of;
  • two books on indigenous sexuality/erotica;
  • one book as a gift.
From the library's weeding sale last week I also got four books, including the other YA fantasy by a Māori author I'd been meaning to get hold of.

I've been working on a bibliography. It's... quite small at the moment. I know of one other short story but can't find the title; an email to the publisher got no response so I'll have to track down the editor or the author or maybe by the time I fail at all those the library will have the anthology. I need to work my way through a pile of other anthologies and ultimately literary journals, though that will be dull and increasingly needle-in-a-haystack work.

I've been thinking of working it up to a proper paper for a proper journal. If I called it "Māori and Pacific Islanders in Speculative Fiction" then I could have a section on sf by Pākehā (maybe mention the ambiguous Lord and Lady Taiepa of Vogel's AD2000 and the "Uh uh, I'm totally not talking about New Zealand so this is totally not a Māori" native guide of Erewhon) and some of the Issues with Pākehā dominating sf about Māori etc(1), and moreover I could include Chris Baker and Tulia Thompson.

(1) It seems to me that there are also Issues with a Pākehā writing a bibliography of Māori sf. (For one, a bibliographer has to somehow draw a line between fantasy, magical realism, and non-fantasy with elements of spirituality.) But it also seems to me that it could be a useful thing to exist. So... as always, research and thought required.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Erewhon, or, Over the Range (1872) by Samuel Butler

Butler wrote part of the premise of Erewhon in 1863 as a letter to the editor of the Press, "Darwin Among the Machines".

Erewhon itself isn't much more plotful. It's the traditional storyline: "Man travels to Strange Lands; man infodumps for a couple of dozen chapters about Strange Lands, incidentally meeting a girl; man escapes with girl in hot air balloon."

As Anno Domini 2000 had three basic premises, so had Erewhon three topics for satire, except Butler was less helpful than Vogel so I've had to extrude them myself. Near as I can tell, they are:
  1. disease vs bad behaviour: in Erewhon disease is punishable by law and bad behaviour treated and cured -- and the system actually seems almost as workable as our own
  2. religion: Butler actually satirises this from a number of directions. One is treating it like a banking system which everyone claims to value while in practice only truly valuing the money from a supposedly inferior banking system. Another was describing their beliefs in pre-existence as a satire on the afterlife and (in its consequences) on baptism. Thirdly was setting up a pantheon of virtues (justice, hope, etc) and principles (two things can't be in the same place at once; thus the gods get angry if a stone and a head try to inhabit the same space at the same time, and may even strike dead the head in question) and then fourthly he added another religion, Ydgrunism, with a goddess who is what people really believe in, but to be honest at this point I totally lost track of what the hell he was on about.
  3. the possibility of machines developing consciousness (including paragraphs copied from his 1963 letter to the editor). I'm not sure if he had a point here other than being clever (not that I object to being clever), because he's written somewhere that he wasn't attempting to satirise Darwinism. But at the same time he doesn't seem to have any real fear of machines beyond the thought experiment. He also proposes, briefly, an alternative view that machines are an evolution of humanity - we're developing limbs that we can pick up and put down at will, so to speak - but then he moves on quickly to describe the Erewhonians' decision to make away with all machines entirely.
There's also some miscellaneous thoughts on vegetarianism (which he reducts ad absurdum) and education (including classical languages, which I'm getting the idea were unpopular among forward-thinking men of the late 19th century) and other bits and pieces; these are less well integrated into the story, such as it is.

It's probable that the narrator-protag's constant desire to convert the Erewhonians to C of E is a satire itself, especially as it culminates in the final pages; only the difference of 140 years makes me unsure of the precise rhetorical context he was operating in.

May appeal to those who thought Gulliver's Travels had too much adventure and not enough infodumping.

(HTML and ePub versions available at NZETC.)
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Anno Domini 2000; or, Women's Destiny (1889) by Sir Julius Vogel

Vogel bases this utopia on three principles, which he helpfully lays out in the epilogue:
  1. there's no reason women can't do everything men can [except for a telling blind spot he has regarding participation in and leading of the armed forces];
  2. there's no reason the various British colonies shouldn't form a British empire;
  3. there's no reason we shouldn't eliminate poverty [on the grounds that a) it's easy enough to give everyone basic sustenance and lodging, and b) this won't eliminate ambition but rather stoke it because ambition increases the higher up the foodchain you get, and the poorest people are actually too poor to have energy for ambition].
Having fixed all these things, the various colonies force Britain to give Ireland the same self-determination they have, people stop learning Latin and Greek and with the time no longer thus wasted advance the sciences instead, and the House of Lords becomes ashamed of holding their position due only to their birth so dissolves itself.

The plot hinges on the remaining inequality of sexes - that is, the fact that the emperor's heir defaults to his male before his female progeny. Two reasons oppose any change to this: a) it would mean changing the Constitution, and this seems a dangerous precedent; and b) the heir has to be ready to lead the armed forces so obviously it can't be a woman. [You see what I mean about this being a blind spot. It never once occurs to Vogel that a woman could actually lead the armed forces.]

Our Heroine has purple eyes, is beautiful and intelligent and an up-and-coming 23-year-old politician, and everybody loves her. Unfortunately "everybody" includes "Nice Guy" Reginald who's sure she'll eventually love him back if he stalks, slanders, commits treason, and kidnaps her enough. Spoilers: (skip) She thwarts the treason, inherits a stunningly successful gold-mining operation, becomes universally adored, and (after being made a countess and then the Duchess of New Zealand) marries into the position of Empress. Because she's just that awesome.

Oh, and there's artificial magnetism, self-acting elevators, silent telegraphs, sustainable energy, and a potted history of the development of the aircruiser. When Vogel writes, "Strange to say, the inventor or discoverer [of the final stage of the aircruiser] was a young Jewish woman not yet thirty years of age", the "strange" part is almost certainly her youth; most of the awesome scientists mentioned in the book are female, and the awesomest guy is Jewish.

While pro-Irish and pro-Jewish (ah! just found he was Jewish himself), he's pretty silent on non-white folk. The Jewish guy was possibly partly "Asiatic" or possibly that was just a synonym for Jewish; the description was confusing. A Lord and Lady Taieri are mentioned, but I'm not sure whether they're Māori or just named for the gorge (cf a "Lady Cairo") as they get no description at all. And the inhabitants of Antarctica are, alas, described as "docile, peaceful, intelligent" and "unsophisticated" "Antarctic Esquimaux", related to the Māori and assimilated to the climate with "a thick growth of short curly hair" covering both faces and bodies.

But we must not forget Antarctica itself! "A large island, easily accessible, which received the name of Antarctica, was discovered within ten degrees of the Pole, stretching towards it, so that its southern point was not more than ten miles from the southern apex of the world. From causes satisfactorily explained by scientists, the temperature within a hundred-mile circle of the Pole was comparatively mild. There was no wind; and although the cold was severe, it was bearable, and in comparison with the near northern latitudes it was pleasant." Also, they dig up bountiful supplies of ivory there.

Read more on Sir Julius (contains spoilers, not all of which are accurate) and the novel itself. (ETA: Wrong link; try this one instead - on the right nav bar it lists various formats.)

Update the dialogue (keep the Victorian costumes) and I reckon this would make an awesome movie.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Song For Night by Chris Abani
About a boy soldier (trained to defuse mines) separated from his platoon after an explosion. A short and easy read (in style if not in content matter. Trigger warnings re the content: skip) the book includes graphic descriptions of violence and of the protagonist being forced to rape a woman.) told in a beautiful prose style. It explores the sign language his platoon uses, his memories of the war, boot camp, the outbreak of violence between Igbo and Fulani, and his childhood.

Huia Short Stories 6
Huia Publishers put out an anthology each year of contemporary Māori fiction. I'm... ultimately not a fan of contemporary fiction, I think. Melanie Drewery's "Weight of the World" stood out for me among the rest, being more humorous in tone. In the author bios at the end, Eru J. Hart, said he "asks that other Māori writers think beyond stories of 'Nanny in the kūmara patch'" -- his own was really interesting stylistically/structurally but in content it wasn't so very distant from what I'm tempted to call 'Sister in the big city' which many stories in this volume shared (and which I recall studying in high school in the form of Witi Ihimaera's "Big Brother Little Sister" (1974)). This isn't a criticism really; it's just that it's not my kind of story so while reading one is fine, reading a dozen in a row is a bit much for me. :-) But if it's the kind of thing you like, then you'll like it.

(The other cool thing about this collection is it includes four stories written in Te Reo, one of which is written in the Kai Tahu dialect. Far beyond my current ability to read, alas, especially as I think I'd have liked to read "Ko Māui me ngā Kūmara a Wiwīwawā".)

Ruahine: mythic women by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku
This anthology, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. For each story, the author gives a brief summary of the original folktale/history, then tells her own interpretation of it. All the stories are about strong women; several include female/female relationships and one a male/male relationship. And of course the reason [livejournal.com profile] kitsuchi recommended it to me in the first place was because one of the stories was science fiction and full of awesomeness.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
I posted a couple of updates to my hair-tearing post, including "One step forward, two steps back" strikes again!

Which technically is unfair because after an aeon or two I am actually nearing the end of the book, more or less, touch wood and so forth.

However, at points which number in the hundreds it's been a near thing, and now for the first time do I realise the monstrosity I could have wrought had I slackened in my eternal vigilance: a book with a negative wordcount.

I... I don't know what such a book would be like. But I'm pretty sure it'd end up with the Doctor shouting "Run!" a lot.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
(Cross-posted to 50books_poc.)

Lucian of Samosata
- The True History
- Icaromenippus, An Aerial Expedition
Ibn al-Nafīs - Theologus Autodidacticus
Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain - Sultana's Dream
Naif Al-Mutawa - The 99: Origins

Sometimes when reading old things that have been called "early science-fiction" I think "Well, that's not really very science-y," but while I was reading these I thought more about what was known of science in the times they were written, and about how even some modern stuff doesn't fit my sometimes exacting preferences for storytelling, and decided that these all definitely count each in their ways. Lucian does the fantastic voyage; Ibn al-Nafīs the message story; Hussain the utopia. And of course the 99 doesn't need any explanations, it's just a modern superhero series.

Long post behind cut )

Also of interest: Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad's website Islam and Science Fiction.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
A friend of mine is one of triplets and another friend of his has a birthday on the same day so he and his wife threw an "Attack of the Clones" birthday party, sci-fi costume compulsory. (This was also inspired by him ordering a stormtrooper costume from the UK and wanting to show it off.) So I decided to go as a Vinvocci.

Makings of an alienUncoloured alien

Vinvocci

Also at the party (besides sf-themed food, sf theme tunes playing in one room, and a Star Trek movie playing in a control panel decorated with LED lights by a spot marked as the transporter - it took them a few weekends to decorate, apparently) were:
  • a model of a dalek and the front of the Tardis opening towards the bathroom (both made by another friend -- they're excellent models, it's his hobby), a tinfoil-on-cardboard cyberman, and the Fifth Doctor complete with celery;
  • the abovementioned stormtrooper, Princess Leia, a few Jedis, (at some point the Stormtrooper, struggling with his awkward costume, had recourse to say, "Help me, Obi-Won Kenobi, you're my only hope!") a Death Star t-shirt, and a two-year-old Ewok;
  • three Star Trek redshirts (one of whom had helpfully pinned a target to her back; another had the perfectest thigh-high boots though the heels were apparently quite painful), a Vulcan, and someone in a blue shirt;
  • and miscellaneous fandoms: Starbuck, Cordelia Naismith (who was very excited that I knew who she was), the Men in Black (with business cards and memory-wiping devices), a combat person from Stargate, my friend's mother wearing robes and a sign saying "Attack of the Crones", and - gah, I've forgotten her name and I wanted to look her up: apparently an evil female character, wearing the awesomest long black robe/coat thing ever, neck to toe and so sleek. Anyone know?


The other fun part was beforehand - getting there on the bus. I decided I'd just wear the whole costume all the way (I needed my sister's help to get the helmet on with all my hair inside, and since I was wearing that I felt more comfortable being completely anonymous) so I left the house and went out to the main road. *Everyone* stared, which made me a) giggle and b) hope I wouldn't cause any car accidents. Some guys yelled out a car window, "Have a great evening!" which was nice; some other guys catcalled, which was meh - I get catcalls wearing my normal clothes, thanks, try something more original maybe?

The bus driver asked if it was a fancy dress party, which I affirmed. More stares and smiles from passengers trying not to laugh. In the bus exchange in town I was waiting for my connection and a young woman came and sat down by me:

Woman: Why are you wearing that?
Green alien: ...It's for a fancy dress party.
Woman: Oh. Did you make it yourself?
Green alien: <explains the virtues of papier mache and paint>
Woman: Cool. ...You know, it's kinda scary.
Green alien: It's okay, I'm a friendly alien.

Then the bus came and I got in line, and the driver didn't see me until I was right up paying, at which point -- this was my favourite reaction of all -- he bit his lip to keep from laughing, and tried really really hard to be completely casual, like green aliens take a ride on his bus every day.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (NZ)
I'm planning to read all the science fiction ever published by Māori authors. So far I've read half of it(*)! Herein follows a review of quarter of it.

Peter Tashkoff is Ngāti Porou; his novel Arapeta (on Amazon - and it's print-on-demand so it's *always* going to be 'only one left' - or for the Kindle) takes us a couple thousand years into the future, when humanity is scattered among the stars and Earth is half myth. Arapeta is the second son of the chief of the backwater planet Aotea, where the people live according to traditional ways of farming, fishing, fighting, and living. Only problem is that his family has a secret vein of pounamu (NZ-English: greenstone; overseas-English: jade) which is this universe's dilithium crystals, needed to power pretty much everything - and the secret leaks out to the broader universe. Colonialism ensues.

I found the book hard to get into to start with because of the prose. Particularly noticeable was the way every time a Māori word or phrase was introduced, it was immediately followed by the English translation, without regard to how clunky this ended up being. I'm more used to "incluing" techniques where you carefully place the unfamiliar word in a context that lets the reader figure it out for themself. I can see though why the author used this technique: there's a lot of vocabulary to introduce, and us Pākehā aren't famous for working hard at learning the Māori language....

But after I picked the book up again, I really got into it. It's set mostly in a completely Māori-centric world, plus space travel, nanites for medical care and body modification, genetic engineered soldiers, forcefields, hovercraft, and planet-destroying bombs. Through the main characters we get to care about this world, and through other characters we get a sense of the wider universe.

Spoilery discussion of something cool about the structure/unfolding of the plot; and then more spoilery discussion which I sum up as: Not very feminist, absolutely heteronormative. )

A couple random sentences I liked:
  • When you looked past the surprise attack and porridgey accent, this guy was quite a hoot.
  • Seven and a half minutes away, if you were a sunbeam, and happened to be lost at an awkward tangent off the horizontal plane of the planetary system [...]
Summary: The prose wasn't great and the book could have done with a copy-edit. The plot was mostly battles, preparation for battles, diplomacy to delay battles, and retreat from battles, with some romance as light relief and ultimate reward. But I really appreciated the way the plot unfolded, adding complications to the situation; it was a fun read, which I think just got better as it went along.


(*) Sample includes novels only, and only those turned up by the combined research of me and another librarian. The other titles are:
  • Skydancer by Witi Ihimaera (read; I'll try to read it again and review it as time allows)
  • Inna Furey by Isabel Waiti-Mulholland
  • Ripples on the Lake by Dawn Rotarangi
If anyone knows of more, I'd be over the moon!

The nice librarian also pointed me to:

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