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31 July 2012

If nothing goes wrong, AGRICULTURAL DAZE will be appearing early next year. This was after discussion with the publisher during the Australian national SF Convention (Continuum 8) which I attended, and the book was agreed for early 2013. The DAZE series has always been huge fun to write and it certainly has hung in there. The original, Farming Daze, was my first published book and appeared in 1993. It continues to sell, as have its five successors. Not in best seller numbers, but in a steady trickle that rarely varies from year to year but does mount up. I guess animals and humour don’t date much. So next week I sit down to start collating the material for this new one, and discussing its possible cover with the excellent local artist (Judy Giddens) who’s done the last several DAZE covers. The nice thing about the timing will be that I should have copies in time to bring them to Au Contraire II, the NZ SF Natcon in mid-2013 which I am booked to attend.

and yes, it certainly is here. We’ve had several heavy downpours over July, but also a steady trickle of showers and drizzle.  The average for a July is around 90-120mls. A wet July may yield 164/5 as it did last year (and in 2000.) However this year July isn’t quite over and this morning my rain gauge passed 225mls. It’s fortunate that my small farm is sited on a plateau at some 1400ft. Otherwise I’d be eyeing my hen house with an eye to knocking that down and building an ark. For those on lower levels, and  if they’re getting similar rainfall, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some don’t already have that building programme in place. All I can say, is that 1400ft or not, my sheep are starting to look distinctly waterlogged.

It occurred to me today to check if my latest book, QUEEN OF IRON YEARS, is around in New Zealand. I googled, and find that Fishpond is selling it. That is, they have the correct cover, publisher, author, book size etc. details on the physical book. What they don’t have right is the blurb – which appears to have come from  someone else’s non-fiction book, and which bears no relationship at all to mine. I can only wonder how they managed that, and note that since I don’t want to create an account with them, I apparently am also unable to tell them about this and get it fixed. Mutter mutter mutter…

10 July 2012

Naomi May Margaret Mitchison lived a very long and interesting life. She was born Naomi Haldane in Edinburgh on the 1st of November in 1897 and died on the 11th of January in 1999 at the age of a hundred and one and she remained writing until well into her eighties. Mitchison came from an educated and comfortably-off family. Her father (J.S. Haldane) was a well-known and respected scientist and her uncle (Richard Haldane) was a British cabinet minister during WW1. Her books aren’t so well known in America, and some USA SF readers may find them odd in style. If you like historical novels, I recommend her book THE CORN KING AND THE SPRING QUEEN, which has been printed and reprinted endlessly since it was first published in 1931, I believe that Soho Press still has it available under their Hera Series which includes novels by Cecilia Holland and Gillian Bradshaw.

But my favorite of her works and the one in my permanent library is Memoirs of a Spacewoman (Victor Gollancz,1962, my copy is an ex-library book, a first edition hardcover of this.) Memoirs is a slightly peculiar book, not so much in the content, although that too was definitely unusual for the times and is still so but also in the style. It reads like a diary although it isn’t in specific diary format, but more, as the book title suggests, in a meandering memoir of the sort that any modern editor would probably reject on sight. Mary is a Alien communication expert (women are highly regarded in this specialty for their ‘sympathy and adaptability,’ so much so that you receive the impression that almost all, of not all, communication experts in Mitchison’s world, are women) which can involve some very strange going-on, in the course of one of which she becomes pregnant to the Martian, Vly, with which she is communicating urgent information and as a part of that communication. In fact sex in some aspect and of some sort pervades the book, not in any prurient fashion, but as a part of the life of both humans and aliens and of human observation and the communication between them.

An extra in Memoirs, is the use of ‘time blackout’, this is the way Mitchison describes the contraction of time for explorers traveling deep into space to meet new cultures. Such explorers, (and Mary as communications expert for an exploration team) may be gone a generation, and return to find old friends, who have not been traveling this way, aged or dead. Nowadays this is a commonplace detail in SF, but Mitchison dealt with it obliquely through both Mary’s mother’s absences and then Mary’s own and discussions as to how careful Mary is not to take on such employment until her children are of an age to cope with this. One thing to notice too, Mitchison had The Prime Directive in this book, and in more detail than Star Trek, and, since she was writing this book for quite a number of years before publication, it would definitely predate ST’s use of that. Memoirs has some very strange moments, the stories are not at all in the usual line of (male-written) space exploration, but they remain involving after almost fifty years and I recommend the book to those who can cope with this and to those feminists who may enjoy a work written well before sex and a female space explorer were much at all on the American SF book scene.


The Blood of the Martyrs

Cleopatra’s People

Cloud Cuckoo Land

The Conquered

The Corn King and the Spring Queen



Memoirs of a Spacewoman Science fiction. London: Victor Gollancz, 1962; reprint, New York: Berkeley, 1973

Solution Three Science Fiction.Written in 1970.

Two notebooks containing corrected drafts of “The Clone Mums,” in The National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Acc. 5831.
Originally published: London: Dobson, 1975.
Reprinted 1995 with an afterword by Susan M. Squier. The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 311 East 94 Street, New York, NY 10128. ISBN 1-55861-097-9; ISBN (paperback) 1-55861-096-0.

\We Have Been Warned. London: Constable & Co., 1935.

When the Bough Breaks and Other Stories

Separate Short Stories:

“Mary and Joe” (written 1962) reprinted in Harry Harrison’s Nova 1 (1970 and part of Memoirs of a Spacewoman.

“Words” in Jan Green and Sarah Lefanu’s “Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind” (1985)


9 July 2012

published by Scholastic 2010, softcover.

One of the books I’ve recently purchased is Patricia Wrede’s Across the Great Barrier. However I decided before reading that, to re-read the first in this series, THE THIRTEENTH CHILD. It could be loosely described as a weird western, in that you have the more civilized east, the wilder west, and then you have the really wild west that lies beyond the great magical barrier, which keeps the savage natural animals and the even more dangerous magical ones from the settled lands.

Eff is the thirteen child, twin to Lan who, as the seventh son of a seventh son is believed by everyone to be ‘lucky’, talented, and likely to grow up to be a great magician. Unfortunately they also believe that Eff, as a 13th child, will grow up to be wicked, dangerous, and wholly unpleasant, and many of her cousins buy into that belief, encouraged by an uncle and aunt, making Eff’s life something of a misery – until her father is offered a teaching position in the wild west and he accepts.

Where they go no one knows that Eff is a 13th child, and gradually she begins to blossom. She makes friends, learns that to be 13th isn’t necessarily to be evil, and that Lan may not be the one who has power and ability. Yes, this is a story about the wild west, about magic, and about adventure. It’s also and more importantly to my mind, a very clear message, that drumming into a child that they were born evil is an excellent way to make them so. That constant harassment and tormenting of a child can convince them, even against the evidence, that they are useless, unlucky and wicked.

I have always loved Wrede’s work and I have bought her books from the beginning. I recommend anything she’s written, but this series may be deeper in tone and in understanding of and for her characters than usual and it should win awards.

It occurred to me while tearing from home to Auckland to Melbourne and back home again recently, how much we now take travel for granted. I was driven to Palmerston North, a trip that took us an hour by car. By horseback it would have taken my ancestors several days. I flew to Auckland, also in an hour, something that would have taken weeks on horseback, or days by ship. And the flight to Melbourne was several hours, something that would have taken a week or more by ship originally. And that’s when it also occurred to me how lucky I am to live in these days when I can do this. To visit the countries I’ve visited, attend the conventions I’ve attended, and catch up with the overseas friends that I have and have many of them visit me. Yes, there are downsides to modern life, and most of us grumble at some of the inconveniences of modern travel. But it’s all a heck of a lot better than riding for a month to get to Auckland…

And no, it isn’t, but I have a lamb all the same. It may be that the friend’s ram I used (Basil) was a bit lazy this year and didn’t get on with it until later than usual. Because the first lamb that normally gets here in May, arrived this week. In fact it was originally two lambs that arrived, twins, one strong and healthy, one smaller and weaker. And as they arrived in the early hours of what has to have been the wettest night of the year to date, the smaller one didn’t make it. But mum and junior are now doing fine. They’re in sheltered accommodation to make sure, and, as I’m due to move the flock to a different paddock later this week they can rejoin the others then. I’ll keep an eye on junior however, this is not a great time of the year to be a new lamb.

(And if one of my hens has anything to do with it, I’ll be also getting new chicks for it not to be a great time of year for too. I’ve explained, complained, and demanded that she abstain – to no avail. However I’m just as obstinate as she is, and she can’t hatch what she doesn’t have. She’s still sitting grimly, but now on a single plastic egg. She won’t get far with that, and I won’t have the problem. There’s more than one way to handle a determined hen…)

And just before Queen of Iron Years, I also saw the second in my ‘four seasons quartet’ appear. AUTUMN OF THE WILD PONY (with a foreword from Julie Czerneda) is out from the Banana Oil Imprint of Cyberwizard Press in America, and I’m also very happy to see that book appear. It’s set a year after the events in Summer of Dreaming (winner of the 2011 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Young Adult SF/F Book by a New Zealand author published in 2010.) Writing this was a lot of fun while I looked back to my own days of riding, and also using some of my current farming background. The third in the quartet, working title for the completed first draft – The Wicked Winter – is tentatively scheduled for 2014, while I begin writing the final book, A Pony-Buying Spring, at the start of 2013.

Kite Hill finally has my collaborated (with my friend Sharman Horwood) alternate history novel, Queen of Iron Years, available to the public. The book  took Sharman and I four years work to complete so we’re extremely happy to see it available. It may be controversial, one main character is transsexual, the other main character is a major historical  figure  and their interaction will alter the entire course of early British history from the time that they meet. However we had fun with the book, and have in mind a sequel set in the now altered Britain some 300 years later.

Unfortunately due to a number of problems the publisher was unable to keep to the original schedule which should have seen the book appear about a year ago. Sarah persevered however, and while the initial copies suffered from printing errors, we hope that the edition currently selling now has those corrected. Please let the publisher know should you want a PDF copy of this title for review.