Welcome, all, to the belated but very important final phase of the CoNZealand Fringe project: panel transcripts! Every day for the next 2 weeks, we are going to be uploading transcripts of each of the 15 panels which made up CoNZealand fringe, ensuring that panel content is accessible to those who are unable to watch the videos, and offering an alternative format for all.
During CoNZealand, a group of fans put together a set of panels, which took place outside convention hours, which would be available for free via Youtube and offer a taster of the Worldcon experience to those unable to participate in CoNZealand's programming hours, or hadn't bought a membership but were interested in the kind of content provided. The result was a set of 15 panels over 6 days, archived and available for all at www.conzealandfringe.com.
As a fringe event in the tradition of Edinburgh Fringe and other international collateral events, CoNZealand Fringe was conducted entirely outside core programming hours and spaces, and panels were not official CoNZealand programming. CoNZealand Fringe is not endorsed by CoNZealand.
Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is pleased to host the transcripts of CoNZealand Fringe panels for fans who are unable to watch the videos or prefer a written format. This is the transcript for What is Modern Aotearoa New Zealand Speculative Fiction, which ran on Tuesday 28 July at 8pm NZST/9am BST/4am EDT/1am PDT and is available here. Other panel transcripts will be available via our transcript hub as they are posted.
We hope you enjoy the panel!
What is Modern Aotearoa New Zealand Speculative Fiction?
Panel Description: Surrounded by oceans and living cultures, Aotearoa New Zealand speculative fiction authors are in a position to create a unique aesthetic. Who are the authors and what are the themes at play in current NZ speculative fiction, and how does genre fit within the NZ literature scene?
Host: Claire Rousseau (she/her)
Moderator: Cassie Hart (J. C. Hart/Nova Blake, she/her)
Panelists: AJ Fitzwater (they/them), Andi C. Buchanan (they/them), Sascha Stronach (any)
Claire: All right everybody, it looks like we are live! Welcome, welcome to the channel, I'm Claire, welcome to CoNZealand Fringe. We... I mean, I say we're live, but I can't see "Currently live" on YouTube yet because there's always a little delay, so I shall waffle for a minute, until we know that it all works. Uh...
AJ: Doing the livestream dance!
Claire: Uhh... Do I have —
Andi: It's showing.
Claire: It's showing, but do you guys have sound?
Andi: I thought I muted it.
Claire: [laughs] Very professional, I am – I'm very sorry. Let's see. Okay, we've got confirmation in the chat that we are live and we have sound.
AJ: [thumbs up]
Cassie: Oh there are people!
Claire: Thank you, that's much appreciated! Okay! So, I'm – I am the host here. As you can probably hear, I am not from New Zealand, I don't know anything about this topic, so I will be handing over very shortly to our amazing panel and drinking coffee because where I am it's quite early for me, so. If you have any questions or any queries or anything please put them in chat, we can put them up, and then our panel can address them. We will have links to everything that you might need in the description box below, I will be adding them while we are going. So, that's – that's basically it? I'm going to hand over to Cassie now!
Cassie: Thank you! You even said my name right, which is really impressive. Thank you for that. We are here to talk about what modern New Zealand speculative fiction is. And hopefully you read the description but I'll just go over that again in case you missed it. "Surrounded by oceans and living cultures, Aotearoa New Zealand speculative fiction authors are in a position to create a unique aesthetic. Who are the authors and what are the themes at play in current New Zealand speculative fiction, and how does the genre fit within the New Zealand literature skein? Bleh. Scene. Yeah. That's me. [laughs] I'm gonna let everyone introduce themselves, because they will all do it much better than I will. Let's start with you AJ.
AJ: Thank you! Hi! I'm AJ Fitzwater, pronouns they/them. I am an author of queer and feminist speculative fiction. I have two books out this year. One of them is No Man's Land from Paper Road Press, a fantasy set in World War II about landgirls of New Zealand, and the other is The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, which is about a lesbian capybara pirate. And you have to excuse me, I have a cold at the moment, so I will mute myself if I need to use a tissue. Thank you!
Cassie: Andi? Do you wanna go next?
Andi: Sure. Hello, I'm Andi C. Buchanan, they/them, I'm – I'm also a writer as well as a reader, I brought a nice stack of books I like prepared for this panel [holds up a stack of books]. My most recent release was From a Shadow Grave by Paper Road Press. It's part ghost story, part urban fantasy, part time travel, part historical fiction; it's set in Wellington, and inspired by a real life historical murder.
Sascha: Hi! Yeah, g'day, Tēnā koutou everyone, I'm Sascha Stronach, I've got one novel out right now, which is up for best novel at the SJV Awards, that is The Dawnhounds which I swear to god I started writing four years ago, because it's about police brutality during a pandemic.
AJ: [holds up a hardcopy of The Dawnhounds]
Sascha: [laughs] Yeah, it's about a cop realising that all cops are bastards while a city falls to pieces, and trying to stop that from happening. So yeah.
Cassie: Cool. And I'm Cassie. I write under both J. C. Hart and Nova Blake. I write a whole bunch of different things, I've got a few novels out and some novellas, and short stories published in anthologies, and I've got my first novel coming out from my publisher next year which is called Butcherbird, which is rural fantasy, I've never really found a satisfactory name for what I like to write, basically small towns or farms and creepiness. There's birds and other fun things in it. Swamps? [laughs] Yeah, so, yeah, I write a bit of everything though and that's – it's us! So we're gonna kick things off by talking a little about what we consider to be modern. Just personal opinions, not an academic approach. Anyone?
AJ: Well I'll start off. One of the things that's getting a big kick at the moment is climate fiction, in New Zealand, this seems to be a thing going on between Australia and New Zealand, a good conversation about climate fiction. [holds up hardcopy of The Stone Wētā] One of the books that is by Octavia Cade, The Stone Wētā, that just came out recently from Paper Road Press and that is a climate fiction thriller about a world that is having information about climate change obscured by governments and it's about how they're trying to preserve their information. And Stuff, a New Zealand media company, has been running an online climate discussion, which includes climate fiction as well recently, which has been very interesting.
Sascha: I feel like New Zealand fiction generally, in the past, has been incredibly bleak and incredibly dark, and I think there is a new wave that is less like that. Gideon the Ninth is aesthetically a very dark book, but it's really funny.
Andi: [holds up a hardcopy of Gideon the Ninth]
Sascha: And I really like how it's – it's pushing back against – there are a lot of classic pieces of New Zealand literature about drowning. It just seems to come up again and again and again. People dying in water.
Cassie: We have so much water!
Sascha: But I think in modern fiction there's a bit of a pushback against that, and there's a lot of irreverence? Often taking these kind of, y'know, big hallowed structures and just taking the piss a little bit. I think there is that kind of larrikin aspect to New Zealand culture we just like to pop people whose balloons are a bit overinflated, and in fiction we can use that for good.
Cassie: We can. I hadn't actually thought of it myself, but you're right, we do. In all sorts of fiction in New Zealand nowadays there is a lot more of that comedy, has been coming through as of the last couple of decades, but more so in the last ten years or so.
AJ: Another one that was huge, around the Cold War, there was a lot of dystopian, end of the world, we're left all alone here, in New Zealand. One was The Quiet Earth, which was made into a fantastic movie, but there just seemed to be like Sascha was saying, this really bleak outlook around Cold War aesthetic where we were very alone, and that was also informed by our stance against nuclear weapons in the eighties as well.
Cassie: Yeah, that's true.
Andi: The other thing I'd add to what – what's modern I guess, is looking at the different media and types of storytelling available to us. M. Darusha Wehm was nominated for a Nebula award, with The Martian Job, which is interactive fiction, which is sort of on the boundary line between novel and game. Laya Rose did this wonderful – it's a comic, I think —
Cassie: Oh it's gorgeous.
Andi: — It's a comic called “Overgrown”, I'll post a link for people, it's called “Overgrown”, and it's the sort of comic that can only work on the web, you couldn't put that into a book, or you couldn't easily at least. It's gorgeous and there's some very clever stuff happening with it.
Cassie: It's so, so good, I made my daughter read it. Like "Go, go read it!"
AJ: There's a lot of really interesting things, not just speculative fiction and literature. There's a lot of people, like Andi was saying, doing interesting things with comics and also interesting things with aesthetics like in the ballroom scene. There's a collective, an art collective called FAF SWAG, out of Auckland, and they run the ball scene, and their costumes, and their dance, and their videos, and their artwork in the gallery and all that sort of thing has a very forward-looking Pasifika aesthetic which is really interesting to watch.
Cassie: Ooh, I haven't seen those before, those are really cool. What do you guys think are some of the things that are influencing the way modern speculative fiction is developing at the moment in New Zealand? Like, within our country, or also from the – at the moment there are some big things that are influencing everybody's work, I think, so what are some things that are specific to New Zealand?
Andi: I mean this is something that Octavia Cade raised quite recently, is our experience of this pandemic and quarantine was, for those that don't know, we got our first case of covid quite late, we locked down early and we locked down quite harshly, and now there's a few cases coming into the country being caught in quarantine, but otherwise we're pretty much back to our normal lives. At least most of us. We're going to the pub, we're going to parties, all of the usual fun things. Not meaning to make you jealous, just giving you an overview. So I mean, Octavia was raising the question of are the pandemic stories coming out of New Zealand in the years to come, or even just stories generally, because we've all been through this, it's affected how we think, how we look at the world, are they going - if our current situation continues, are they going to be more optimistic? Are we going to show more faith in our power to collectively change things? Are we going to have more time for government decisions and our belief in public health advice?" All this sort of thing is – I don't know if it's going to come through, but it would be really interesting to see in the next five years, if that difference is obvious there.
Cassie: Yeah, it will be.
AJ: Yeah. One of the things that I'm interested in, in our modern speculative literature is how we undertake urban fantasy. And usually when it's a New Zealand based story, set in one of our cities, it doesn't really get overseas.
Cassie: [Slowly raises a hardcopy of The Wind City] The Wind City?
AJ: Yeah! [picks up a copy of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep] And also The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, which is set in Wellington, and Andi's book is set in Wellington as well, and my book is actually set in a rural area, down south —
Cassie: We really need a good name for that genre.
AJ: We do! We really —
Sascha: I call them southerns. When I've written things set on the south island, I've called them southerns.
Sascha: No one in New Zealand wants to buy them but they sell quite well in the US. I don't know why that is, I think it's like a western with a fun twist.
AJ: That rural farming aesthetic of New Zealand. But I also like that finally New Zealand urban fantasy is being seen by the world, and our cities and – and our locations are being seen in a different way, other than just "We're the place where Lord of the Rings is set." That's not – we have beautiful areas, but there's so much more to New Zealand than that, so looking into the different locations and the different social structures in New Zealand is what I'm really interested in seeing coming out at the moment.
Cassie: [reading chat] "Farmtasy!" [laughs]
AJ: Farmtasy! Somebody said – that's a really good idea, yeah, I like that one.
Cassie: Oh I love it, that's really good. I like Aotearoa Gothic —
Cassie: — that's good too, but farmtasy. I think that's the winner. [laughs] No, that's gold.
[Pop-up from Kim: farmtasy]
Sascha: I'm from the south, and it feels like a different country getting off the boat. Like the grass is a different colour, there's this really kind of – there's an emptiness. The north island there's always something. There's always at least a cow, or a house.
AJ: Or a giant kiwi fruit?
Sascha: You can go for ages in the south, and it just feels empty, and I think that informs a lot of quite interesting horror, and that's why you get a lot of quite good short horror from – particularly from authors from Christchurch. Christchurch has this weirdly incredibly good untapped short fiction market.
AJ: It did.
Sascha: I don't know if you remember four or five years ago, I won the best flash fiction in Wellington, and it was an international competition and I was number twelve. Numbers one through nine was Christchurch.
Sascha: Christchurch, Christchurch, Christchurch. And they write the scariest, weirdest, loneliest stuff, and I love it.
AJ: Yeah, and – and it has something to do with the weather and the locations. The rocks and the mountains through Central Otago for example. And it's just barren and brown in the middle of summer. It's HOT, and the nor'wester coming through – I love writing about the nor'wester, cause it's so different to any other wind or weather. The closest you probably get is Santa Ana winds, but it's this gritty wind, and getting that grittiness and the texture of the locations of New Zealand into our speculative fiction is really interesting and I love seeing it come through.
Cassie: I think that's really – a really important thing to know about New Zealand fiction as well. Like, I remember back when I was a much younger writer, not wanting to put – like kind of hearing that, and we'll go into this later – about how New Zealanders don't wanna read stories set in New Zealand because, y'know, it's cows and sheep and gumboots and jandals and it's boring, and no one wants to read about here, so making my fiction quite bland, set nowhere, whereas what makes New Zealand stories really strong is when they're set, when they're really grounded – well grounded in the locations where they're written. Yeah.
AJ: Is there —
Sascha: Yeah I think —
AJ: Sorry, go ahead.
Sascha: It's become a lot easier to write in a New Zealand way, I think Tamsyn Muir kinda blew the doors off in that way. She was telling me that “Union”, which was published in Clarkesworld a couple of years ago, like, people were saying "I can't – it's in this incomprehensible dialect!"
AJ: Oh really?
Sascha: Then Gideon has lines in it like "I'm not going down there, it's bloody chockas with ghosts." Which —
Andi: ‘Got the hots for’ comes up quite a lot as well, and while that's not unique to New Zealand, it's that comfortableness with slang, and that is very New Zealand even for a book about space necromancers.
AJ: Yeah, I remember —
Sascha: Remember that – sorry, go on.
AJ: I remember that discussion around “Union” now that you bring it up, and I remember having those feels at the same time, because I was getting a little bit about my accent, because I do narrations for podcasts sometimes, and I was getting a little bit about my accent, and it was that – that feeling that we're not part of the wider speculative fiction community because we're not American, but that's what makes us so unique! Is our language, and — I could read “Union” and I knew exactly what was going on there and I remember really enjoying it, and it's good to see that New Zealand aesthetics and language are coming through now, in other stories, short fiction and novels.
Sascha: So then I – because I mean, Gideon is a very New Zealand novel, okay. I talked about this before, but I think it's interesting to dive into, is that irreverence, the fact that is this big gothic space cathedral with all of the skeletons, and Gideon refuses to take it seriously. Like, and that's a very Kiwi approach to that, that if you ended up in that big gothic cathedral with all the necromancers and, y'know, all of the cancer bombs and stuff, you'd probably just take the piss a bit.
Cassie: I'm sure you're right.
Sascha: [deadpan character voice] "So how's that? That a skeleton, is it? Where's the rest of 'em?" That seems like the sort of thing that would come up.
Cassie: Do you think – I know Andi and you, as well, AJ, with your recent books, you're quite into – you tapped into the historical aspects of New Zealand for your novellas. How – what made you go in that direction? And turn it on its head by adding those speculative elements?
Andi: I think for me, it started just with my connection to the city. So it started with the ghost story and me getting quite annoyed about people’s attitude to the ghost story and the historical murder, and I felt quite defensive of this murdered teenager and I really wanted to give her more of a story, but I really enjoyed delving into the historical elements as well. There's Papers Past, which is a digitisation of pretty much all of the historic newspapers, and it's a gold mine, it's all OCRed, you can search it. So I started with this murder case, looked at the family, and then I was just delving down various different rabbit holes, thinking about how Wellington had changed. Part of the setting of the story is the public works like the roads and the tunnel building that happened during the great depression, and also places that don't really have the same character anymore. There's Chinatown mentioned, which isn't really a distinct area in Wellington anymore, and it was really my introduction to writing historical fiction and it's fascinating what assumptions you make when you – when you're writing. One thing that one of my editors picked up was teabags. I had a character using teabags. In New Zealand, late sixties we had decimal currency before we had tea bags. HOW?! They weren't even in England before 1950, and I was like "Of course! Of course my grandparents were using teabags."
AJ and Cassie: [laughs]
Andi: And it's that sort of detail, which is fascinating and really important to challenge your misconceptions of what things were like and realise just how much has been built on them.
AJ: Yeah, that's – that's kind of the way that I was looking at it as well. Challenging what I knew of New Zealand history and New Zealand queer and women's history. And I have an interest in finding stories and histories that have been forgotten, and science fiction – women's science fiction, and I – what I ended up doing is I wanted to tell the story of the land girls because that was a forgotten history of New Zealand.
AJ: And I was like Andi, I was really angry about this, this was a story that's been forgotten, and I also wanted to talk about – go into the queer history of mid-century New Zealand. So it was a great serendipitous ideal of putting the two together, and yeah. I found out a lot of little details like Andi. Like researching the train timetables for World War II between Dunedin and Christchurch, things like that, and having the details about the trains described to me, and little things like I forgot there was prohibition in North Otago during –
Cassie: Oh really?
AJ: — during the forties, thirties and forties, yeah. So them hiding beer in the milk cans was a fascinating thing I got told about. So finding all of these tidbits and all these little lost bits of history, and being able to turn them into a fantasy as well, it was a really interesting time.
Cassie: Yeah I think that's maybe part of – so, because our post-colonisation, the time period is actually so short, in the terms of the whole world, there's actually – it's actually – it might be easier to look back into some of those times because there's not as long that's passed. Whereas the time before colonisation is harder because there was so much lost or pushed down or suppressed or forced out of common knowledge, that it makes writing Māori history stuff harder, in a sense than it does since colonisation. I just wanted to mention this book Legacy by Whiti Hereaka, who's an amazing author. She got really into the history stuff with that one, and that's part of how it came about, but it's actually a timeslip novel. Very cool.
AJ: And you reminded me I wanted to hold this one up. This is Ruahine by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, and she, at the time, was researching how the term takatāpui came around, and these are stories about mythic women, and they – they are of speculative bent. It's a very hard to find book, it took me a while to find this one.
Cassie: There's a few of those really hard to find ones.
AJ: Yeah. yeah. It was a Huia Publisher one as well. But yeah, retelling the stories, queer stories and womens’ stories and reclaiming the living culture, I found this really interesting and it's a great place to delve into.
Andi: [holds up hardcopy book]
Sascha: I think we are in a pretty unique – so I used to work for the Nelson Library, and a lot of that was just digging in people's diaries from colonisation, and I think we have access to that, these books still exist, they haven't rotted away, they're just there and you can read them, and that gives us a lot of access to the secret histories and you can pull them out and that lets you tell quite interesting stories. I think, y'know, we'll probably talk about it a lot at Worldcon because it's a very high profile piece of New Zealand science fiction, but Thor Ragnarok is all about uncovering secret histories. Y'know, Asgard has a very whitewashed history, but it's actually built on colonial violence and that colonial violence comes back to destroy it. And I think that's often how we can look at history in a way that I think is quite rare. We can interrogate it in our stories in a way that is quite rare.
Cassie: Yeah, I'd agree with that.
Andi: I think this comes down to this book, which is Pūrākau edited by Witi Ihimaera and Whiti Hereaka, and it's retellings of older stories, of old traditional stories, some of them using science fiction or fantasy elements to do so. And it's really really good.
Cassie: It is really good.
Andi: [laughs] A lot of them I hadn't heard them in their previous form, multiple previous forms, I think they all have, but there's so much going on in every single one of these, so if - there's one book – it's published by Penguin, I'd really recommend it.
Cassie: But it's a big book, there's tons in there to read.
Andi: Look at how thick it is.
AJ: Chonky. Chonky.
Cassie: Yeah it is. Don't leave it on your headboard in case there's an earthquake. What was I going to say? There was something...
AJ: Speaking of earthquakes, I just wanted to bring up that there's a lot of interesting things coming up in the last ten years, using what happened to Christchurch. One of the movies that came out recently was a Margaret Mayhew story, which was The Crossover, and it was made into a movie and it was set in post-earthquake Christchurch and that was a really interesting way to examine that story, of lost children and – and finding your power and magic and things like that, and I'll be interested to see what stories come out of New Zealand authors after Christchurch earthquakes. I've written a few, but I don't think I've really nailed it yet, because even ten years on that trauma is still pretty fresh.
Cassie: Yeah, it can take time to unpack those things in a way where you can approach it from a rawer, vulnerable point of view. I think. Ah, okay, I've – my handwriting's really bad.
Cassie: I scrawled notes earlier today, but I can't read them now because my eyes are tired. So, I wanna talk a little about short stories in particular, because we have some amazing short story authors in New Zealand. We've actually had – put out a lot of speculative fiction in short story collections in the last ten years or so. I was looking today through my stack, I have the stack here, it's quite big, it's not all of them.
AJ: [raises stack of books]
Andi: [raises one book]
Cassie: Mine's a similar size, I think. [raises pile of books] Half. But I was looking at, A Foreign Country, which had my first publication in it and that was ten years ago.
AJ: [raises hardcopy of A Foreign Country]
Cassie: Over that time, there's been – Yeah! A number of short story collections with huge – and there's not the same people every year, every time one comes out it's different authors and so many phenomenal short story writers in New Zealand. What are some – I know most of you've been involved in various collections or read them, what are some themes you see popping up? Do you think there's things we're inherently, as people who live in New Zealand, drawn towards writing? Other than things about the land, we've covered that.
AJ: Yeah, yeah.
Cassie: In New Zealand it’s very vital to who we are and where we live, I think.
Andi: I mean you mentioned early on the sense of distance, and how that was used by overseas authors in a quite – quite dismissive, sort of, "Oh I need to have one place in the world people survive, let's stick them over in New Zealand," without any real sense of what it might mean, but I think local writers, y'know, who've sort of grown up with that trope, can do some quite interesting things with it. Again, I keep talking about Octavia, but Octavia Cade got a series of – where there's a disaster – all right, it's a pandemic. We were writing all of these pandemic stories and now we can't sell them, it’s a nightmare!
Sascha and Cassie: [laughs]
Andi: No one wants pandemic stories anymore! But Department of Conservation workers on outlying islands —
Cassie: Oh! [leans off-screen]
Andi: — who do — [laughs]
Cassie: [holds up hardcopy of Black Dogs Black Tales] One of them is in Black Dogs, Black Tales, which we put out earlier this year. I don't know, all of – is it that one? Yeah, “The Feather Wall”. It's awesome, such an amazing story.
Andi: I've got the Defying Doomsday anthology, that's Australian based, on the shelf behind me too far behind me for me to reach. So sort of thinking another layer of isolation outwards, and almost how people in populated places might think of New Zealand as being isolated. No, we're not, but, these places really are!
Cassie: Yeah, yeah. And there is still —
AJ: Ah —
Cassie: Sorry, you go.
AJ: OK . People write a lot about nature. It's a bit different to the climate fiction. There's this big connection to nature in New Zealand, and a lot of us grew up going bushwalking or on the edge of a town where you could wander down to the stream and poke at the eels, so we write about trees and we write about birds a lot! And the changing nature of the semi-rural around urban areas. Go ahead Cassie.
Cassie: Oh, I thought Sascha was going to say something.
Sascha: I think actually in New Zealand short fiction, there's a domesticity, almost? One of my favourite pieces of speculative fiction that ever got sent into Sponge was about a dude, and he's just an old man, he's got a garden he likes pottering around in, and a meteor lands in it one day and everything starts growing in these kind of very alien ways. So it's like The Colour Out of Space, but it's done as a comedy? Because he just like – he brings his mates over, and pokes an alien plant it eats the stick, and they all kind of sit there and drink the tea and go [mimes drinking tea, nods]
Andi and Cassie: [laugh]
Sascha: [deadpan character voice, stroking beard] "Huh, look at that. Don't poke that one again mate." And it kind of just – it doesn't even really end, it's just a shaggy dog story where it's kind of this big towering alien garden, and he goes "Oh, what do we do?" and his cat looks up at him and goes "Don't ask me mate!" The cat has never spoken throughout this story.
AJ and Cassie: [laugh]
Cassie: That sounds awesome.
Sascha: But it was just the fact that it was just about this old man and he brings his friends over and they just kind of sit there and eat scones and sit in their deckchairs, while A Colour Out of Space happens, was the most Kiwi thing I've ever read.
Cassie: [laughs] That sounds awesome. I was thinking about Kiwi things, one of the things I've had people say to me is that people in my novellas, especially the Kotahi Bay series, they drink a lot of tea and coffee? Because in New Zealand, all the way growing up because I grew up in the country, you'd go to someone's house and the first thing they'd do is ask if you want a cuppa. And it was funny how naturally I just slipped in everyone's always having tea and coffee. Because it's part of our culture as you know. "Oh, do you wanna have a cuppa? Have a biscuit?" because that’s what you do. It's just a lot of Kiwi things that we don't even think about that creep into our fiction, that we don’t even see until someone else points it out, and they're like "Why do your characters drink so much coffee?" or "Why is there so much tea?" Well that's – that's what you do! You go to your neighbours house and you have a cup of tea!
AJ: Yeah, now that you mention it I do that too and I didn't even think about it!
Andi: I do too.
AJ: I have scenes in No Man's Land where they're sitting about the billy making damper and billy tea, and it was such a natural thing of going camping or being down on the farm or whatever. Oh.
Andi: Yeah. I think there's also a sort of irreverence which takes a political form. When we were talking about finding the bones, but on a more domestic level, one of the short-listed stories for the Sir Julius Vogel awards, was called “Work and Income Gothic”, by Jack Remiel Cottrell, I think, and Work and Income are the – is the organisation that pays unemployment benefits and so on. They don't treat people well, and this story was very much coming from that experience. I was writing – a friend and I were writing stories about witches, and we realised we both spontaneously put in them that "Mind control is bad unless you're mind controlling your landlord, which is fine." That's the ethical exception.
Sascha and Cassie: [laugh]
Andi: And people don't necessarily read these as political, even though I think they very definitely are, but there's a sense of how people interface with authority, and with systems, that is written in a jokey way, but there's some – there's a lot of personal experience and collective experience behind it, which is why that really resonates to people.
AJ: Yes, now that you bring it up, yes we come at our politics very sideways, we're not... [sigh] I know there are people trying to parachute into New Zealand and trying - split opinions and split people and all this sort of thing with modern politics, but we've been very – It's that "She’ll be right, number 8 wire" attitude of New Zealand, as, yeah, you sit around and you have a cup of tea, and you do talk about politics and that sort of thing, but you're always very quiet about it. So that quietness does creep into our speculative fiction and what might not look like a political piece is quite political. And that's where a lot of people get tripped up about the idea of what New Zealand's speculative fiction is. Is that they just think of it as fairies and rocket ships, but you really have to look deeper, especially at the modern stuff with the great writing that's going on, especially with short fiction. There's layers and layers on layers, that you can look into.
Cassie: It's true. What for me, one of the things – I was part of the Te Papa Tupu Mentorship through the Māori literature trust two, yeah two years ago now, and through that process I connected with a lot of other authors writing, connecting with their culture through fiction, which I think is another common thing in New Zealand because so much of our culture was taken away from us generations ago, a lot of people work through those feelings and those thoughts and the different stories that there are for – every tribe has a different version, basically, of so many different stories in New Zealand, but finding our way home through fiction is a way of reconnecting with our culture, because a lot of us don't have – y'know we weren't raised on a marae, we don't have the really tight, close connections we would have had decades ago, so I think that's another thing that you can often find in New Zealand fiction, is that searching for connection and searching for the way back to your roots, because they're so important.
AJ: Actually you mentioning that reminded me, [holds up hardcopy of Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings] one book like that is Tina Makereti's Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, this is a fantastic book, I love it so much.
Cassie: It’s also, got this [holds up a hardcopy of Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa]
Cassie: Oops. All my books fell off the desk. Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa —
Cassie: — which is a short story collection, phenomenal stories in here, lots of different stories which are really amazing. So yeah, there's a lot of – I see quite a lot of that happening these days. Sorry, books. You're just gonna have to stay down there for now.
AJ: People wanting to chuck questions and comments, go right ahead? We'll keep on going until...
Cassie: Yeah well, what we're gonna do now, we're gonna talk about where speculative fiction fits into the literary scene in New Zealand. Who wants to kick that one off?
AJ: [sucks teeth] Ooooh.
Andi and Cassie: [laugh]
Cassie: [At Sascha’s expression] That face!
AJ: Where to begin?
Sascha: [groans more] I mean, I am not naming names —
Sascha: — but my first publishing credit, a New Zealand literary author saw it and sent me an email saying that "You have the potential to be a really great writer if you can rid yourself of the trappings of this speculative nonsense." You know?
AJ and Andi: [makes a face]
Sascha: Yeah, I think there's a bit of looking down the nose at that.
Cassie: I think that's understating it. For those tuning in from other countries, New Zealand is well known for publishing cookbooks, gardening, sporting books, and autobiographies. Plus some really really good literary fiction. But speculative fiction is the ugly step-child in New Zealand. And we don't get a lot of love. Lots of people kinda think that no one in New Zealand wants to read it, even though there's a great demand for it from other parts of the world. So it can be – there's a lot of authors in New Zealand who are not known in New Zealand but are known in other countries, because it's just easier to sell things over there.
AJ: Yeah, like someone just mentioned, they didn't know that Tamsyn Muir had lived in New Zealand.
Cassie: No, yeah, she's ours, we're claiming her.
AJ: Yeah, it's that Australia vs New Zealand thing. She lived here the most.
Cassie: Tamsyn's ours.
Sascha: She was born in Australia but she moved here when she was very young. If people in the comment section didn’t know that. That’s what the dispute is.
AJ: Yeah, there are some incredible New Zealand speculative fiction authors, you've got Elizabeth Knox, and you've got Helen Lowe, who are reasonably – very well known in New Zealand, but there's very few who make the crossover.
AJ: And Elizabeth Knox is the one who can write fantasy stories with a very interesting literary connection —
Cassie: This is good stuff [hold up a copy of The Absolute Book], Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox, which is huge.
Sascha: Elizabeth Knox is really good at slipping "non-literary" elements into literary fiction. I think she's a scifi fan who writes literary fiction and then just slips that stuff in there kinda sneakily so the literary crowd are okay with that. I've got to give big ups to Liz, because she's the best at what she does.
AJ: And the thing is New Zealand thinks we only need one of that.
AJ: And so there's not a heck of a lot of room for us in the literary scene in New Zealand —
Cassie: I —
AJ: — which is really unfortunate – sorry Cassie, I'll give it back to you in a second. There are people in the New Zealand literary scene, and I'm gonna give a shout-out to Rachel King, who is the program director of WORD Christchurch, who has been working hard to try and get speculative fiction on the festival scene, and we also did that at the Wellington festival a couple of years ago, so there are fits and starts, and that happening, but there's just no cohesive idea of how big the New Zealand speculative author or scene really is.
Cassie: Yeah. I'd better try to remember what I was gonna say now.—
[Pop-up comment from Emma Lindhagen: What are your top recs for people who haven't read that much NZ spec fic? Older or current.]
Cassie: — I was gonna say that, this only really applies though to adult fiction. In young adult fiction, there's heaps of – I think I dropped it on the floor. I did! My – another Māori author, Steph Matuku, where is her book? She's got two books, Flight of the Fantail, which is young adult fiction and Whetū Toa, she's got – there's another coming out soon as well. But younger – middle grade? I think that's what they call it, yeah. So there's lots of young adult and middle grade books full of speculative fiction, but it seems as soon as you get to adult, just like nah, not allowed to do that anymore. Yeah. Okay.
AJ: Emma is asking about recs.
Cassie: Recommendations: [holds up hardcopy of Gideon the Ninth]
Sascha: Yeah, I was gonna start with the older stuff and get the obvious stuff out the way, is Maurice Gee.
Sascha: The Halfmen of O and Under the Mountain.
Sascha: Those are two YA books that I think — are they YA, that was from before when YA was a thing.
Cassie: Yeah, no I think that they – they would technically be, these days.
AJ: Yeah, but they are particularly bleak for kid's books.
Sascha: They are very dark, strange books for young adults, that most of us grew up on, and I think still have a huge influence on stuff we write today.
AJ: I would definitely say in that case —
Sascha: What's recently come out? Do we just shout each other's names?
Andi: [holds up hardcopy book] If you wanted to get started, I can come up with these Year's Best anthologies. This was the first one, the second one is coming out on – Thursday?
Andi: Thursday evening, they're from Paper Road Press, edited by Marie Hodgkinson, and they'll just give you a taster of some of the writers, and obviously find out who you like and look for more from there.
AJ: Another taster —
Cassie: It leads to other things.
AJ: Another taster, another one from Paper Road Press was At The Edge, this was a few years ago.
AJ: This got a more dystopian feel, some of them are quite bleak, but it also looks into more positive aspects of what, that whole dislocation that New Zealand has from the rest of the world, physically, so that's an interesting one as well.
Andi: Gideon the Ninth. Everyone should read Gideon the Ninth. [laughs]
[Pop-up on screen from Claire Rousseau: There's a party at CoNZealand for the launch of that anthology, I believe?]
AJ: Oh! Andi probably won't do it, but I'll do it. This is the gender diverse pronouns issue of Capricious magazine that Andi edited, and this was short listed for the Tiptree Otherwise award this year, and if you especially looking for queer speculative fiction, that's a good place to start as well.
Cassie: And yes Claire, there is a launch for the second edition of the Year's Best.
[Pop-up on screen from Casey Lucas-Quaid: Yeah! Thursday 8pm NZT]
Cassie: I'm just trying to figure out when that is.
AJ: Yeah, Thursday at 8pm, thank you Casey.
Cassie: Thursday at 8.
AJ: And that's part of WorldCon, and we should all be there, I believe?
Cassie: Yep, from the comfort of our homes. Yeah, I'm glad I'm not – I transferred to a sitting-down desk, about six months ago, very happy about that decision, because I can't imagine standing up for all of WorldCon. I think Tim had a question? Do you wanna pop that up Claire?
[Pop-up from Tim Jones: In terms of relationship between spec fic writers and literary fiction "establishment", have speculative writers tried e.g. getting into school visits via the Writers in Schools scheme?]
Cassie: Thank you. Oh. "In terms of relationship." Ooh. This is a good one. I know that some of the young adult authors have, I'm pretty sure Steph did Writers in Schools last year, I'm not so sure about adult – like, authors of adult fiction, I think in some ways speaking for myself and some other authors I know, not everybody obviously, lots of speculative fiction writers have tuned out of the New Zealand scene, which is sad but it's true because they haven't had much luck getting publishers to like – getting picked up by publishers here, they've had to go overseas to sell their work, there's – they kind of get to the point where there's not much point investing in my audience or my profile here, because no one really cares. So I'll go overseas. Which is really sad, I'm thinking like Nalini Singh, she's huge, like she's massive globally, but lots of people in New Zealand don't really know she's a New Zealand author or think of the fact that she's here and can do stuff here which is really quite sad. But there's lots of authors who do well overseas who are not common knowledge in New Zealand. I think there's a bit of a disconnect between speculative fiction writers and the establishment, as you put it. Does anyone else wanna–?
Sascha: That makes it hard to develop as a writer, because I think if you're a Scottish writer you can write and publish in Scotland and you get big there and then you can expand outwards into the world, but that doesn't really happen here.
Sascha: You either have to jump straight to like Big Five US publication, which just doesn't really happen, and obviously jumping straight to Big 5 US publication is really really hard. I think that stunts the growth of New Zealand speculative fiction, and I think that's – I mean, you're talking about Nalini Singh, she had to fight for YEARS to get on the shelves at Unity. Like they didn't consider it "real fiction" and they wouldn't put it in there. And that is changing, they enthusiastically put Gideon up and they gave it a little kind of "Recommended by the staff" – but there is, traditionally there has been no support for speculative fiction from New Zealand, and that means a lot of good writers just don't get off the ground.
Cassie: Or they just don't bother doing stuff in New Zealand. And they spend their time doing stuff overseas, which is a huge loss for New Zealand.
[Pop-up on screen from Casey Lucas-Quaid: Karah Sutton has a three book YA deal with Random House and hardly anyone knows she's a kiwi!]
Cassie: Oh, nice Casey, I didn't know that! Very cool.
AJ: Yeah, YA is a big thing – that's the difference between adult fiction and YA, they can go to the schools, which is really great, and the librarians are great in supporting that, and you've got a good audience with YA speculative within New Zealand, there's some fantastic authors who can do it within New Zealand and overseas, so there is a market there, but for adult speculative fiction, absolutely right. It's very very difficult. And there are some people – it happens in fits and starts, like Paper Road Press has been putting books out recently, and Andi and Capricious Magazine, and bits and pieces pop up say in Takahē, and very very rarely in our main media. But yes. We have to take it overseas. I mean the majority of my short fiction has been published in overseas magazines, which wouldn't mean very much to New Zealanders at all, unless you're really really in the scene.
Sascha: Mm-hm. Yeah, no, I don't think I've ever sold a story within New Zealand, like short fiction, it's almost exclusively to American and British publications because that's just how you do, really.
Andi: And there was a question that came up as well, about books set in a future New Zealand. And I'm thinking on that and I can think of very near future, or very far future, a recent one that comes to mind is Burning River by Lawrence Patchett.
[Pop up from Kim: Do you know of any writers writing books set in a future New Zealand and what that would look like?]
Cassie: I need to read that still.
Andi: It's clearly science fiction set I think a thousand years in the future, but marketed very much within literary networks. Really interesting stuff going on now with language with ancestral connections, it's set a long time after a climate disaster, so on the face of it it doesn't much resemble the world we know even in a future sense, but there's a lot below the surface and a lot going on in language that really does. Near future, Stone Wētā, Octavia Cade, it's set [unclear] but —
AJ: [holds up hardcopy of The Stone Wētā]
Andi: — centred around New Zealand. Another far future one that was an older one, Bernard Beckett's Genesis, the novel.
Cassie: Oh yes!
Andi: Messes with your head, that book, I can't tell you about it without spoiling it, but it messes with your head. And there's also a short story that I'll put in comments.
Sascha: Is Milk Island scifi? So, Milk Island is a book that's basically "Sorry to Bother You" except instead of horses it's cows, and it's a satire of the New Zealand dairy industry set in 2023, and came out in 2017, 2016?
Cassie: That's near future!
Sascha: Yeah, which is... I don't think it really has legs outside of New Zealand, you kind of need to understand Fonterra and the milk lobby and the terrifying degree to which dairy controls our government. But that's a very near future New Zealand specific satire. That's Milk Island by Rhydian Thomas.
[Pop-up from Claire Rousseau: Speaking of launches, @seraphsfolly also has a launch for her book at WorldCon; Somewhere Else by Sally McLennan Thursday 30th, 11pm NZST.]
Cassie: Somewhere Else? Oh yeah, I'll be fast asleep, but I was like "Tick!" then I was like "Oh, no, I'm gonna be asleep then, but I'll hope there'll be a replay of it." I hope it goes really well, Sally!
[Pop-up on screen from Adrienne Joy: (The Dawnhounds just became my first official Worldcon book purchase btw)]
Sascha: Someone bought my book? Thank you Adrienne Joy for buying my book, I still get excited.
Cassie: [laughs] I don't think it ever gets old, does it? Right, have we got any more questions? Because we've got just a couple of minutes to go, I think, so if you've got any questions pop them in now. I don't think we missed any. Ah, yeah, Sally, you said that you think being a speculative fiction author who is also a woman of colour probably made it harder, I would 100% agree with that one. It's – in New Zealand there's this we talked about this a lot with Te Papa Tupu but —
[Pop-up from Adrienne Joy: Where can we catch you all at Worldcon? Any readings?]
Cassie: — if you're a Māori author, you "should" be writing, like, what makes a Māori story, and you have to be writing – and you don't! You just have to be part of the culture, and my book which will come out next year, Butcherbird, is not – is not. It's more about small – yeah, farm life and family and secrets and scary things, but it's still a Māori book because that's part of who I am. Right. Ta – question.
[Pop-up from T L Wood: What's YOUR story that you are the most proud of?]
Cassie: Question: who wants to say what's the story that you're most proud of?
AJ: [talking inaudibly]
Sascha: Man, that's a hard question. Cause I mean, I feel like on some level I have to talk about the novel —
Cassie: Are you muted, AJ?
Sascha: — I have to be like, "the novel is the most important thing I've done," that's what all the attention is on now, but I've written a lot of kinda just silly little drabbles and some of them I'm immensely proud of. About five or six years ago, I wrote a story about a mass driver in the planet's moon, that just kept missing while it was trying to destroy the planet, and while it kept missing, the people just built a giant statue of a man flipping it off, and it's a totally pointless story and I still laugh every time I read it. It's probably that.
Cassie: AJ, what's your favourite thing you've written?
AJ: Now that I'm not —
Cassie: Now that we can hear you.
AJ: Sorry about that, I was trying not to blow my nose on microphone. I'm at Worldcon, I have a reading at 5pm on Friday, I'm also part of the International Authors New Zealand on the Internet, sorry, New Zealand Authors on the International Stage Thursday at 3pm. And my favourite story that I have written is called “How to Build a Unicorn”, and it's in the current issue of Fireside Fiction magazine, it's available online. And, it's just one of those moments where you write a paragraph and you go "I'm never gonna write anything better than that." I probably will, but that was just one of those moments. It was one of those – I'd been writing unicorn stories as political speculative fiction, from the last four years or so, of the Trump Regime, and my unicorn stories are about fighting facism. And that's one of them.
Cassie: Nice. Right, you, Andi?
Andi: I can't pick one so I'm just going to pick - I can't pick one i'm proud of so I'm just going to pick one, and that's one that's going to be released tomorrow from Fireside Magazine, it's called “The Clearest Water” and it's a short short piece about a water fae that rescues autistic children from drowning and wants something in return. I posted a link to my CoNZealand schedule in the comments.
Cassie: That's clever, I should figure out how to do that but I don't have the thing up. The – blank. My brain's checked out for the evening. My favourite – my favourite story that I've written is probably “Te Ika”, which was in the first Year's Best anthology, —
Andi: [holds up hardcopy of Year's Best]
Cassie: —and also in another book before that, and I am all over the place for Worldcon. I've taken my calendar down so I can't see. I'm doing —
Sascha: I was just fighting with my calendar, that's why I was probably doing faces.
Cassie: Yeah mine, I have one on the wall so I can actually see it all the time, and it's fallen off so it's not very helpful. But I'm on a panel... No. I'll put a link down, I'll figure it out. [laughs]
[Pop-up from Claire Rousseau: You should be able to rewatch the Worldcon panels for a few days after the con is done, if I recall correctly]
Cassie: Cool. Do you —
Sascha: I missed my panels, sorry, I'll come back around to that. I'm on Infinite Entangled in Futures: Indigenous Voices in conversation. That's 3pm on Wednesday. Doing a reading for my novel at 5pm on Wednesday. Friday at 11am I'm doing Dungeons & Dragons: Still Going Strong. 6pm, I'm doing Fairy Tale Contract Law, which – I've talked to a lot of lawyers and boy they have a lot of opinions about the fair folk. That's gonna be an interesting panel. And on Sunday lunch time, I'm doing Ghost in the Ship: Sentient Spaceships in Sci fi and fantasy. As anyone who's met me knows, I'm way too into boats, and boats that can think are just the best boats. So that's me.
[Pop-up from Tim Jones: I'm going to throw in my novella "Where We Land (ebook version is "Landfall" from Paper Road Press) – near-future NZ climate fiction]
Cassie: Awesome, thank you so much for coming along. Ah, yes, Tim, that's fantastic.
Cassie: You've got a lot of great climate fiction.
AJ: Yes he does.
Andi: I only have it in ebook so I can't show off about it.
Cassie: Okay, alright, well I think we're out of questions and we're out of time, so thank you everyone for being here, for coming to see us talk, thank you to all my wonderful panelists for being here, thank you AJ for helping me put this together, and Claire for having us here as well. It was awesome.
AJ: Thank you very much for listening, thank you Claire.
Andi: Thank you!
[Pop-up from Adrienne Joy: Thank you so much for an amazing panel!]
Sascha: Awesome. [salutes]
AJ: [thumbs up]
Cassie: You're welcome.
AJ: [waves] [mouths goodbye]
Cassie: I don't know how to make this stop. [laughs]
Special thanks to Susan for drafting this panel transcript and to Cassie Hart for proofreading! Responsibility for final text lies with Adri Joy - for any corrections or comments, please get in touch via Twitter