Papers, SFF

Image and the Tree in Middle-Earth

I have a new paper out! “Image and the Tree in Middle-Earth” came out in issue 23 of the BFS Journal. Technically it came out a couple of months ago, but it doesn’t quite feel real as the issue, while posted, hasn’t arrived here yet. It takes an age to send things to New Zealand! (When my most recent book came out, and my Canadian publisher sent me copies, they took five months to get here.) I don’t know why the postal system’s so very slow, but I’d like to post this in the same year the paper was published, so here we are.

I actually wrote the paper over a decade ago, I think, in a class on fantasy literature. It stayed, in its school-draft form, on my hard drive for ages before I decided to pull it out and see if I could make it publishable. I sent it off to the good people at BFS Journal, who have published some of my academic work before, and happily they took it – but they also took it before the new Tolkien tv series came out, so if you’re expecting any mention of that in there, don’t.

It was a fun paper to write, in that my primary research was reading Tolkien over and over again (such a chore!) and I do that anyway, so it was killing two birds with one stone. How tree imagery reflects throughout Middle-Earth, and how it reflects historical tree imagery in Europe, is a particularly interesting topic, at least it is for me, so I’m glad to be able to share it.

SFF, Short stories


I have a new story out! “Older” is free to read in issue 17 of The Deadlands. It’s my first time appearing in that market, but hopefully not the last.

It’s only a very short story, barely more than a flash, but it was still interesting to write (and, I hope, to read). As can probably be guessed from the title, The Deadlands is particularly interested in stories about death, which gives a lot of narrative possibilities. “Older” interprets this theme through ghosts and extinction, as the narrator is confronted with her own Neanderthal ancestry. How do you engage with the dead, when they exist, still, in your own body? Admittedly, we see this every day, as people lose their parents or grandparents, and look into the mirror and see the pieces of themselves that they shared with them.

I suppose it’s not really that different: having your mother’s eyes, having your great-how-ever-many-mother’s DNA. Because the Neanderthals are not entirely gone… they interbred with early modern humans and that genetic inheritance can still be found in many of us.

It seemed like a fascinating idea for a story!

Papers, SFF

SA After Apocalypse

I have a new paper out! It’s only the second time I’ve co-written a paper, but this was a particularly easy experience, writing it as I was with Ryn Yee, who is currently a grad student at the Centre for Science Communication at Otago University, which is where I got my PhD. Ryn and I are both big speculative fiction fans, and when we saw that the SFRA Review had a call for papers for a special symposium on sexual violence and science fiction… well, to be honest, I noped out of that one pretty quickly. It’s not a subject matter I was particularly interested in exploring.

But then Ryn and I got chatting, which quickly became ranting, about a shared hatred of that worst of science fiction tropes: repopulating the world after apocalypse. Rarely have I seen this trope handled in an appealing way. More often, it’s used as a narrative “justification” (and I use the term very loosely) to excuse a constant assault on women and girls.

I hate these storylines. Ryn hates them too. If the subject matter didn’t initially inspire us, spite and the opportunity to rip this stupid trope to shreds had us writing a paper that was, I’m happy to say, accepted. The paper, “Sexual Assault After Apocalypse: The Limited Logic of Natural Selection” is free to read with the rest of the symposium articles here. Please read with care, as it’s a horrible topic.

I shall probably never write about it again. Once was enough. I’d happily co-author another paper with Ryn, though, because they were excellent to work with. Thanks, Ryn!

SFF, Short stories

The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels

I have a new reprint out! It was out some time back, actually, but I’m late updating. Anyway, the story of mine which has the longest title (and which I think better of every time I have to say it) is “The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels, and How World Trees Are Not a Substitute.” I’m very fond of that novelette, despite the lengthy title, and I’m pleased to say that it’s been reprinted in The Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume Four, which is a mouthful in itself.

“The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels” is one of those science history pieces I write from time to time. I like the way that speculative fiction can use science history to talk in new ways about science, both in the past and (crucially) in the present. My science communicator background means I’m very interested in talking about science in hopefully creative ways, because it’s a very general topic, I think… the impact of science on life today is universal.

I like the juxtaposition, therefore, of having such a generalist topic in such a geographically limited anthology. New Zealand has a number of excellent speculative fiction writers, and Paper Road Press is doing a fantastic job in bringing together the best of our creative achievements each year. Fingers crossed this series will go on for a very long time!

Papers, SFF

Erewhon: 150th Anniversary Edition

I have a new book out! At least, I have part of a book out. Erewhon Press has just put out the 150th Anniversary Edition of Samuel Butler’s classic utopian text Erewhon, and they very kindly asked me to write the introduction.

Butler came to New Zealand as a young man, and stayed for several years, working on a sheep station and writing articles for the local newspaper, some of which were the germs of what would become Erewhon. Even though he didn’t stay here, the book is very firmly located in the history of New Zealand utopias. Growing up here as I did, and with a long-held love for science fiction, I was aware as a child, albeit dimly, that New Zealand was a place of utopian dreams. (Thank John Wyndham for that. The children of The Chrysalids escaped their fundamentalist community, in the aftermath of atomic war, to come here.)

A lot of the utopian imagery surrounding this country is a product of colonialism. Actually, pretty much all of it is. New Zealand was actively marketed, in earlier times, as a perfect place for British settlers to make a new life. Even over the past few years, as we navigated our way through pandemic, New Zealand was held up as some utopian example of community togetherness.

That utopian perception has always been deeply flawed. We are not a paradise, and we have our own problems, and the creation of a settler utopia bulldozed any Indigenous idea of the same. However, what utopian literature such as Erewhon can do is to critique the idea of paradise. Who is it for? Who is it not for? What issues are there to be overcome? Butler, who was deeply concerned with the idea of a war between humans and machines – and he was at the forefront of genre writing there – decided to explore this. Erewhon was the result, and it is simultaneously confronting and (often) flat-out strange. Some of his ideas are mad. Some are terrible. But they’re worth grappling with, and I’m super pleased to have contributed what I hope is a generally academic, but still readable, introduction.