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1 February 2012

and another sale, my story, Before All This (Modern Stuff) has just been accepted for David Riley’s LOW NOON (invitation only) anthology. I was pleased with this sale, I’ve been selling Weird Western stories to Dave for years and they’re always fun to write. This will be about the fifth of his anthologies in which I’ve had my work. I like westerns as a genre (and had my own published by Cyberwizard several years ago – SOUTH OF RIO CHAMA.) But weird westerns are fun too, and indeed, if I ever find the time to finish it, I have a full-length one to be entitled LET IT RAIN, done so far as synopsis and first couple of chapters.

Bee Baldwin was born in England in 1920. During WWII she served in the Casualty Service, then in the ATS, before marrying and in 1956, she, her husband, and their two children emigrated to New Zealand. In 1965 her first book, an SF disaster/post holocaust novel, appeared from Robert Hale. Bee Baldwin is one of the earliest SF writers in New Zealand, and The Red Dust is one of the earliest SF books set, or partially set, in New Zealand. In the cover information for Dust it noted that she was already working on a second SF novel, however this seems never to have eventuated, and she is best known for a series of well-written, regularly reprinted, and popular books on gardening topics most of whose readers probably have no idea that she ever wrote SF.
But The Red Dust is a solid work, (ignoring a certain amount of moralising, common enough in such books and for the times,) you have interesting characters, an initial setting which I have never come across in many years of reading and enjoying this sub-genre, and a clear acceptable conclusion.
The book begins with a ocean-liner heading from England to New Zealand. The ship’s doctor is irritated to find that most of his passengers have a case of “Ship’s cough,” which cough as he slowly grows to realize, is not the standard, “two or three days and the passengers are fine,” variety, but something more malignant which appears to be an allergy to a mysterious red dust which is slowly permeating every country and worsening each day. In fact those who are well out to sea where the dust is in lower concentration are better off. Still, passengers begin dying, the doctor is also ill, but a handful of passengers seem to be immune. Gradually the liner crawls its way across the oceans until it reaches New Zealand, where the immunes disembark.
The four immunes, two women, one of whom is pregnant and also caring for a new-born baby belonging to a now-dead passenger, and two men, find a young boy alone in Wellington, and, adding him to their party, they drive on up the coast to where they find a facially disfigured man living alone in a cottage. Here and there and one at a time, they add other immunes. Two more men who are also facially disfigured by the gang of maurauding Drones, a fourteen year old girl who has been gang-raped by the drones, and other escapees and survivors.
And as they do so they discover more about the dust and its origins. It is said to be a result of deliberate and scientific tampering in the Antarctic, born of the intention by one man to end up ruling first New Zealand and then the world, country by country. How the small group deals with this threat, how they integrate with each other, and what they find out about the dust is nice writing. The book ends on a note of hope, and with the ends of various plots and character’s tales neatly tied off.
The book, when I picked up a copy in the late 1960s, promptly joined my permanent shelf of this sort of sub-genre and has been read every 5-7 years since. It was published in a hardcover- of excellent quality – by Robert Hale and there are still copies around in good condition (of which I have seen several in the last 2-3 years.) Google Books also digitized it in March of 2011 so it can be read in that form as well. I find it a shame that so many people in New Zealand have never heard of this author, let alone read The Red Dust and suggest that Ms Baldwin could make a good Guest of Honour at a convention.
Apart from this single SF books, and for those fans who also like gardening, some of her other books are: Gracious Gardens in Small Spaces, The Home Vegetable Garden, Carry on Gardening, and Growing Flowers in New Zealand For Fun and Profit.

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