Spec’ Fic’ in Chch

Spec Fic… what‘s that? Spec Fic is short for Speculative Fiction and was first used by R.A Heinlein in 1953 in a Library Journal as an umbrella genre for fiction about “things that have not happened”: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the bits in between. Spec fic is alive and well and happening in Christchurch as last weekend’s Spec Fic meeting to celebrate local Sir Julius Vogel awardees testifies.

Cover of The Heir of Night by Helen LoweAbout fifty people gathered in the Fendalton Library boardroom to congratulate four Vogel award finalists, two of whom won in their category. Beaulah Pragg, herself a published author, introduced the session and multi-award winning Helen Lowe who spoke about the importance of the genres and the place of awards. Fantasy, she told us, is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality, as the myths and folk tales of hundreds of human cultures attest. While writers write for the delight of storytelling and because the stories demand to be told awards can still be tremendously affirming to those who frequently work in some isolation. Moreover, events like this demonstrate the importance of the literary community supporting and celebrating one another.
Read Helen’s keynote on her blog.

The best of Twisty Christmas talesThe first finalist speaker was Shelley Chappell, who was short-listed for both best novella and for best new talent. Shelley has a PhD in Children’s and Young Adults’ Literature from Macquarie University in Sydney but writes for all age groups. Many of her YA titles are re-tellings of fairy stories, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstilkskin. Re-telling fairy tales, often with a twist, writing new ones, and exploring their development has become a fairly popular genre with several notable proponents such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Catherynne M. Valente and Jack Zipes.

Tim Stead has written a trilogy of book and seems well into the next trilogy. The ‘The Seventh Friend‘ was a finalist for Best Novel and have been warmly reviewed on Amazon. He was also a finalist for Best New Talent.

A.J. Fitzwater was the winner of the Best New Talent award, although she said that she’s been at it for five years so being called “new” was an odd thing to wrap her head around. She read us an excerpt from her latest story about to be published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Issue 61 – “Long’s Confandabulous Clockwork Circus and Carnival, and Cats of Many Persuasions” which seems to have a ‘carni-punk’ setting so look out for that one. A. J. also spoke about her experiences at the prestigious Clarion Writers workshop last year where she underwent an intensive six weeks of tutoring and writing with top writers such as Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, Nora Jemisin, and Catherynne Valente.

Spec Fic displayOur final winner was Rebecca Fisher who won the prize for Best Fan Writing. Fan writing isn’t the same as fan fiction, but rather is awarded for blogging, interviewing, reviewing and other forms of writing about speculative fiction. She has a popular blog They’re All Fictional, guest blogs at various sites and is a top reviewer on Amazon so if you’re into the genres she’s one to follow.

Connecting with New Zealand genre authors and their work isn’t always easy, so events like this are really important. If you want to find out more about these great authors follow the links above and keep an eye on the Sir Julius Vogel Awards and the SFFANZ (for science fiction and fantasy) or other NZ book sites.

Locked and loaded for the Zombie Apocalypse

Cover of Zombie SurvivalIt’s Zombie Awareness Month. Do you know where your cricket bat/lawnmower/blunt object of choice is?

No, but seriously, it IS zombie awareness month. What’s more, it’s nearly over and I haven’t even revised my evacuation plan or topped up the first aid kit in case of the Zombie Apocalypse. I deserve to get my brains munched, frankly.

But fear not! For your library is practically overflowing with zombie-related reading and viewing. So here are my picks of the best of the shambling undead.

Watch

Better check out some fight sequences and bone up on your best zombie combat moves –

  • The Walking Dead – We’re between seasons with everyone’s favourite zombie horror TV series, but why not got back and rewatch the first season before Rick went feral and facial hair took over his face? You know, back when the post-apocalyptic world was a kinder, gentler, better groomed place.
  • Warm BodiesCover of Warm bodies – A zombie as a romantic lead? Seems a bit unlikely but that’s the premise of this film starring Nicholas Hoult of TV show Skins.
  • World War Z – Where the zombies are fast and really good at climbing, the little monkeys. But are they a match for Brad Pitt in “action” mode? Well, they give it a good try at least…
  • I am Legend – Not technically zombies because they’re not dead (much like the ones in World War Z) but if you spend time quibbling about such distinctions during the apocalypse you’ll likely become someone’s afternoon tea, so just enjoy the ride (and make note of Will Smith’s survival skills and strategies).
  • Shaun of the dead (we’ve got this as a double-DVD combo with Hot Fuzz). Just the rom-zom-com to lighten the mood a touch.

Read

Board up the windows and hunker down with some reading material –

Make

No actual zombies around just at the moment? Make your own with the following crafty titles –

I think you’ll agree that’s plenty to be getting on with, but if you’ve got an hot tips for zombie reading or preparedness please do make suggestions.

Science Fiction June 2014

More sci-fi goodness from our June science fiction newsletter.

Cover of Darl Eden Cover of The Burning Dark Cover of The Bees  Cover of Halo: Mortla Dictata Cover of The AdjacentCover of Limit Cover of Seeker Cover of Great North Road Cover of Osama

Subscribe online to get this delivered to your inbox every other month.

A Zombie You Can Take Home to Your Parents

I learnt of a new genre this week and fell in love with a zombie for the second time. Zom-Rom-Com is a romantic comedy featuring a zombie as a leading romantic lead.

He’s cute, endearing and with a droll and funny sense of humour. He’s ‘R’ and he’s the zombie hero of Warm Bodies, a great Young Adult book by Isaac Marion that I really enjoyed last year, and is now a great new movie out in the theaters at present.

We have all got used to the lovable if troubled vampire, via the  True Blood television series, the books it was based on by Charlene Harris, and of course the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer that spurned a generation of movie vampire heart throbs.

But Zombies? They eat people, and they’re dead, so where’s the appeal? R doesn’t remember his past, just a shuffling existence around a deserted airport terminal in a post apocalyptic world. The remaining humans who have been spared the virus that has turned most of the world to zombies are holed up in a fortress and when R meets Julie, the daughter of leader of the human resistance, something sparks his humanity and he spares her, and becomes determined to save her and in the process saves himself.

The humour is great. In the movie there is a scene where ‘R’ tries to remember what life was like before, his voice over talks of a romanticised view of people connecting, loving, enjoying each other’s company, and we find ourselves looking at a busy airport terminal where everyone is connected alright, but to phones, computers, i-pods, all together but disconnected.

In both the book and the movie, the horror that is usually at the core of Zombie-hood is not at the core of the story, but love, acceptance and taking risks for others are.

Warm Bodies is a great story and has been made into a great movie, a faithful film recreation of a unique written story that is often hard to find.

Things that go burp in the night

Ah, Halloween: the celebration I love to hate. When I’ve finished locking the doors and closing all the curtains so the wee kiddies can’t peer in the windows and make unreasonable demands, I love to sit down with a great book. A scary book, filled with tension, drama, heart-stopping horror and dismembered body parts. Also Vom the Hungering, who lives in Diana’s closet, a small dachshund called Boswell, and the Bride of Frankenstein, currently running a B&B in Whitby.

I’ve written before about horror – good horror – and how truly wonderful it can be.  I could also go on for days about just how bad horror can be when written badly. This week’s collection of titles, however, is all about the burps.  There’s a small but fab group of writers who make me laugh. Out loud. In public. And interestingly many of these clever people choose to write in a genre that is more often linked to pants-wetting terror.

A Lee Martinez consistently produces clever, funny, heart-warming stories about monsters, zombies, robot detectives, and the end of the world – Chasing the Moon was one of my top reads last year, and even now I’m sitting here thinking I might go find it and read it again.  Who wouldn’t want a collection of odd monsters living in their apartment, devouring everything they can find, and bickering with each other?

When he’s not writing Doctor Who books, Paul Magrs takes familiar stories and characters and turns them upside down, adding extra crunchy bits on the way. 666 Charing Cross Road is (obviously) about two people living on different continents who swap letters and books back and forth.  The difference with this version is that one of the books turns out to be a manual to bring back the greatest vampire spirits of the world, who then set out to invade New York and London, in an impeccably dressed, tres chic sort of way. Magrs is also well-known for his series featuring Brenda, the Bride of Frankenstein, and her best friend Effie.

In Tom Holt’s Barking, the scariest creatures in existence turn out to be … lawyers. Opposing firms of lawyers who are either werewolves or vampires. Poor old Duncan is caught up in their rivalries when he is asked to join the law firm founded by an old school friend, and finds himself running around London under a full moon, being chased by a snow-white unicorn who seems to have less-than-good intentions.

And finally, one of my favourite grown-up writers has recently turned his hand to writing for teens, and is in the middle of producing a delicious wee series about Samuel Johnson, whose neighbour Mrs Abernathy seems to be doing very odd things in her basement, and who smells suspiciously like sulphur. Samuel and his faithful companion Boswell the dachshund must overcome all manner of evils in order to save the world and stop the gates of Hell from opening next door.  Chock-full of REAL science, the Hadron Collider, and stuff about QUANTUM, this is an absolutely adorable series, and makes me love John Connolly even more (although be warned – his grown-up books are written in a much darker vein).

The Master Storyteller

When it comes to the big names, the icons of film, you can’t get much bigger than Alfred Hitchcock. I can’t remember when I came across his work, I think Psycho may have been the first, but I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

I went through a phase getting as many Hitchcock movies out as I could find, in the library and from friends, wherever I could lay my hands on them, and I still haven’t seen them all.

The Christchurch City Library has a great collection to assist you in getting excited about these wonderful films. I suggest you start with the earliest ones and work through to the most recent, that way you can watch the fine tuning of his film techniques, dark humour and use of the ‘McGuffin’ – a plot device he created that focuses on a fact or plot line that seems pivotal,  but in the end is irrelevant. You can also see some of his breakthrough techniques, that have now been used by so many other directors, but he did them first.

The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder

—Alfred Hitchcock

I love his humour, his way of making the upper classes of Britain look like less than upper class and he truly is master of slowly built suspense.

He attracted all the big acting names, such as James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak to name just a few.

It’s hard to pick a favourite, but some of the best for me would be Rear Window (1954), The Lady Vanishes (1938), and of course, Psycho(1960). We presently don’t have Psycho in the library collection, but there is an interesting book The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower.

He made almost 60 movies, so it is on my bucket list to watch all of them before I go to the great movie theatre in the sky (or would that be the snack bar?)

What would be your favourite Hitchcock movie? Or is there another director who really floats your boat.

Pick ‘n’ mix: the sequel(s)

Sometimes I come home from the library with armloads of new titles, new authors, debuts, ‘first’ books. This week, it seems, is Week of the Sequels. And it’s been a bit of a mixed bag, really.

A while ago I read the first in the Dog-faced Gods series, A Matter of Blood, and LOVED it. Book 2 was also a really good read. Book 3, sadly, has gripped me so little and annoyed me so much that I can’t even be bothered finishing it. It’s somewhere in the house, half-read and likely to remain that way until I find it and take it back to the library, destined to remain ever only half-finished.

Louise Penny’s series set in the tiny Quebecois town of Three Pines and featuring Detective Inspector Gamache was recommended to me by a friend. It’s been a long time since I read a ‘normal’ detective series, and I was a bit hesitant, but there’s just something about these books that I really like. I devoured Book 1, Still Life, and number 2, Dead Cold. Yesterday the third title arrived for me, and I can’t wait to pick it up. Interesting – there’s no zombies, mysterious inexplicable events (apart from the obvious murders), odd twisty interdimensional portals or much of anything really, apart from just damn good mystery writing.

I’ve only recently discovered Sarah Rayne, and I think I wrote about her somewhere here too … yup, here.  To my surprise and delight, she’s picked up and kept some of the characters from Property of a Lady, and they feature in recent release The Sin Eater. This was just as good a read as Property, and I’ll be a happy girl if this turns out to be an ongoing series.

I love FG Cottam’s books, and have just finished The Magdalena Curse.  While not a series in the strict sense, the more I read of these books, the more I see character and story patterns – impetuous but well-meaning intelligent man of action gets into sticky (often supernatural) situation, where only the interest (and then love) of a beautiful and super-sensible woman can save the day.  This sounds a bit naff, but truly isn’t – I really do like these books, and will continue to find and read them, but maybe I should take a bit of a break for a while, so the ‘pattern’ fades a bit.

Waiting on the shelf and still to be read is the second in writing team Preston and Child’s latest series featuring Gideon Crew.  The Agent Pendergast series by these guys is one of my most favouritest EVER series, and I had high hopes for Gideon, but I found book 1 to be pretty much bog-standard adventure.  I have been putting off picking up Gideon’s Corpse (!), because I am frightened it will confirm how I felt about book 1.

I’m also still on the waiting list for the next-in-series from Jim Butcher, Simon Green (two different series), Cassandra Clare, Ben Aaronovitch, and a heap of others including The Twelve  – the highly anticipated follow-up to Justin Cronin’s The Passage, a huge success with lots of readers from a couple of years ago.

What sequels are you waiting for? And what have you been thrilled or disappointed by recently?

One off the shelf: A Matter of Blood

CoverFor some reason, I have let my reserve list numbers drop dangerously low, and I am waking in a cold sweat most mornings worried that I will run out of books to read. In a normal city this would be of mild concern at most, but in a town infested with short sharp shocks, temporary closures, engineering reports, and even snow days, this could be disastrous.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I approached the shelves last week and prepared to BROWSE.  I don’t know about you guys, but for some reason this often doesn’t work for me. Why not? Too much choice? Open space? Alphabet issues? Whatever the cause, I frequently fail at browsing.  Last week, however, I struck gold.  Or, as it turns out, red.

A Matter of Blood is the first in a series by Sarah Pinborough, with book 2 also available in the library.  It looked promising on the shelf – great cover (can’t go past a good pinned fly), great colour, intriguing subtitle, and a mysteriously interesting blurb.

Inside turned out to be just as much a winner – I always like a good crime novel, and A Matter of Blood is certainly good – sinning police detective with a heart of gold, devastating personal tragedies and chequered past; serial killer with odd fly-related tendencies; mysteriously shadowy powerful figures (Mr Bright! Mr Solomon!); and a tangle of near-future London streets all add up to a mesmerising read.

There are overtones of some of my favourite authors, too – Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Neverwhere, and China Mieville’s Kraken were often in my head as I was reading, as well as Kate Atkinson, and some of the best of the gritty crime writers.  It may seem odd to some to blend magical realism, horror and police procedural, but I loved it, and am eagerly looking forward to sitting down with Book 2 tonight, and hoping like crazy that Book 3 is well on the way from the publishers.

Pick ‘n’ mix: Oh, the horror!

CoverI’m not a big fan of Halloween, to be honest – I don’t find the idea of sending your kids out to knock on strangers’ doors and demand things with the threat of violence in any way attractive.  I am also a wee bit of a wuss when it comes to horror at the movies – Hostel and Saw don’t really do it for me either; although I do have a great fondness for Asian horror movies, which have the ability to thoroughly unsettle me in a really enjoyable way, and without the so-called torture-porn approach of a lot of current Western-style films.

What I DO love is curling up with a book and a blankie and being scared silly by what I’m reading.  It’s hard to find good-quality horror writing (believe me, I know, I’ve looked; and I’m sure our library selectors would agree).  A lot of it is either silly, or rubbish, or really icky, and some is an unholy combination of all three …

So for those who want to get into the spirit of horror before Halloween, without having to resort to cutting holes in sheets and stocking up on pre-wrapped sweeties, here’s a pick ‘n’ mix selection of a few of my favourite horror writers.

FG Cottam is a recent find, and I particularly enjoyed The Waiting Room, which reminded me so much of one of my favourite episodes of Sapphire and Steel, it was like watching the series over again – a double bonus!  Beautifully written, with believable characters, Cottam’s books have the ability to unsettle and disturb while also being a great read, and I’m waving them at everyone I talk to at the moment.

Sarah Rayne’s Property of a Lady was another great read – I love horror books that feature houses as setting (and/or character), and I found this one really enjoyable too.  Clocks that wind themselves, mysterious rooms with heavy draperies, and unexplained footsteps in the attic are always good for a wee chill.

If, like me, you enjoy Asian horror, try Thomas Randall’s new series The Waking.  First in the series Dreams of the Dead is a genuinely creepy story of American teen Kara who moves to Japan with her father, and finds herself caught up in a supernatural mystery of missing girls, murderous school students, and Japanese demons.  Again, the writing is excellent, the characters warmly drawn and the authentic setting and atmosphere make these books a must-read, not just for teens but anyone who loves good horror.

And I can’t let you leave without talking about one of my favourite ever horror books.  Now over 50 years old, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House still has the power to keep me awake at night and disturb my peace of mind in the daytime. Don’t say I didn’t warn you …

Sir Julius Vogel Award nominations open

The Sir Julius Vogel awards will be open in January. The award is for any science fiction, fantasy or horror works created by a New Zealander and first published or released in the 2010 calendar year. Anyone can make a nomination and it is free!  See the website for the categories open and get busy reading NZ authors and watching NZ movies.

Past winners include Russell Kirkpatrick, Nalini Singh, Helen Lowe, Brian Falkner and Under The Mountain.

Nominations open on 1 January 2011 and close on 31 March 2011 at 8pm.

For more information about the SJV Awards, please go to the SFFANZ web-site
You can find full details about the nomination procedures and rules, including eligibility criteria at

Christchurch City Libraries has a page on the award listing past winners