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Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy III | Regional News

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy III

Paper Road Press

Edited by Marie Hodgkinson

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I was thoroughly impressed, entertained, and engaged by this collection. These authors are not only thought-provoking and self-reflective, but entertaining and wildly talented storytellers. Each piece is as intelligent and self-aware as it is poignant and cogitative. Both the fantasy and science fiction short stories push the boundaries of reality in order to create empathetic and compassionate literature that not only amuses but also forces the reader to evaluate their own choices, self, and reality.

Whether two pages or 10, direct or allegorical, each writing pushes the reader as part of a collective human race to think beyond ourselves and re-evaluate our position in the world at large, the world’s future, and our relation to other humans, other beings, and most urgently our relation to our planet. No matter the context each story is, in effect, both urgent and earnest in its appeal. The Waterfall by Renee Liang tackles politics, corruption, and bureaucracy during a near future environmental disaster where preserving political image through gaslighting is still prioritised over medical emergency. Both topical and demanding political accountability. Octavia Cade’s Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead questions morality and the morality of violence versus self-violence during WWII. Florentina by Paul Veart comments on how clinically, animalistically, and uncompassionately humanity treats difference, while simultaneously reflecting on how this fear of difference forces often barbaric reactions to something like the AIDS epidemic or even our current COVID-19 pandemic. By painting pictures of post-apocalyptic futures, The Double-Cab Club by Tim Jones and The Turbine at the End of The World by James Rowland urge all of us to seriously acknowledge our imminent and impending environmental disaster.

Since reading this collection there are many stories that have crossed my mind daily but none as much as Casey Lucas’ For Want of Human Parts, which dissects, reconstructs, and assesses our own humanness and humaneness in the face of humanity itself.

The collection is pointed social commentary that forces us to look not only at ourselves as a society and human race, but also introspectively as individuals.

Beats of the Pa 'u | Regional News

Beats of the Pa 'u

Written by: Maria Samuela

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection of stories that pulse with the experiences of a myriad of characters living through the 50s to modern day New Zealand.

First and second generation Cook Island New Zealanders faced particular challenges on coming here – and not only in their quest for work. In The Promotion, Kura, a long-lost son, journeys to New Zealand to start a new life with an estranged father. His poignant attempts to find employment are punctuated by a forced attendance at church, his first taste of a good ol’ NZ pie, awkward encounters with family members, and clandestine visits to pubs. Similar situations were faced by the formerly estranged father, and these experiences alternate with, and enrich, the narrative. They also provide a moving explanation of the story’s title.

Especially delightful is Love Rules for Island Boys, a wry poke at how to get and keep the love interest of a girl. “If she’s an island girl, find out who her brothers are,” is telling. As is the order in which to feed her the chicken you’ve cooked. “If she’s a white girl, find out who her father is,” signals a whole other ball game. The observations here are justifiably sharper, and act as salutary pointers for the astute reader.

The last story, eponymously titled Beats of the Pa‘u, centres on a mother’s concern for her daughter – a theme that incidentally pervades the whole collection. It opens with another pervading theme – religion – or at least churchgoing. We can picture Father O’Shea leading Raro Mass. Stand, sit, kneel, pray is the mantra here – contrasting sometimes amusingly, sometimes startlingly, with the behaviour of the congregation once freed from Father O’Shea’s strictures! Katerina and Luana are young women with typical urges and preoccupations – and these must be experienced in a cultural and social context different from their own.

Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection richly dipped in nostalgic reflection – served with a sprinkling of irony, warmed coconut cream, and taro.

Impossible | Regional News


Written by: Sarah Lotz


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Well that was fun! I loved the title: Impossible – this isn’t a love story, this is f***king impossible. If the F bomb is dropped in the title, I know I’m going to read something written by a like-minded human being. I loved this line: “I know I’m getting old because I’ve started appreciating plants. And not just the type you smoke.”

The first chapter is great with a case of mistaken identity in an email trail between a man and woman that grows into something else. I’ve been there, intercepted texts meant for someone else. A nice guy trying to buy his girl a Kirks voucher that he thought she didn’t want. I said I’ll have it. I miss Kirks… The internet does bring out the crazy in everyone, let’s face it. There are two main characters and the chapters are split evenly between his and her stories. Between those chapters are their exchanges of email banter that are fun to read and usually humorous.

Part three gets a bit weird and I get lost. But then I get it. Alternative universes and all that. The two main characters live in different countries and eras. Stick with it. There are weirdos who belong to a society, a nasty boarding house, mad drunk husbands, affairs, smelly dogs, and attempted suicides that feature throughout the storyline. The ending was kind of predictable but not a lot is predictable in this book.

The author, Sarah Lotz, has written 18 books, several under non de plumes. A Girl Walks into a Bar is another fab book title that I’d be keen to read. I enjoyed Impossible and might read more from Sarah Lotz. It is chick-lit but has something for everyone I reckon. I read it over the long weekend and it was a nice distraction from the reality of going to the Omicron red traffic light system. We all need good books to read during COVID and this one provides light relief and the ‘what if it was real?’ factor.

A Game Of Two Halves | Regional News

A Game Of Two Halves

Victoria University Press

Edited by Fergus Barrowman

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Co-founded and published by Fergus Barrowman, Sport magazine ran from 1988 to 2019. It was a literary magazine that included a mix of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, and much more.

While it may not be around anymore, A Game of Two Halves was put together as a celebration of the best it had to offer – a highlight reel, if you will. Like the back of the book says, it looks back on 15 issues and presents us with some of its best work, starting in 2005 through to 2019.

If you are a writing buff, you will recognise some of the names in this book. For me, one of the standouts was the poet and short story writer Bill Manhire. While I’m not always a fan of the poetic verse, his words almost always had me smiling and, in a lot of cases re-reading them to make sure I understood the ideas he was trying to convey. Starting with The Eye of the Blackbird and The School Bus.

In many ways, this title has a lot in common with the latest book I reviewed, a short story collection called Middle Distance. You might remember that I said some readers might be put off by finding stories they didn’t like before finding ones they did. But in the case of A Game of Two Halves, that shouldn’t be a problem, especially with the content of 100 writers here. It’s almost ironic that the sheer volume available could be seen as a negative.

Its size might put off younger readers or those just getting into reading, but each story is reasonably easy to read, so once they start, it should be easy enough to keep going until the end.

This is the perfect addition to anyone’s library, and Fergus Barrowman should be proud to have this as a legacy to Sport magazine. It shows us just how much literary talent has been on display in this country.

Before You Knew My Name | Regional News

Before You Knew My Name

Written by: Jacqueline Bublitz

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Before You Knew My Name is a one-sitting read – as I turned the pages, time became irrelevant and it was hard to disengage from the voice of murdered teen Alice Lee who slowly and magnificently draws you in. Author Jacqueline Bublitz has created something unusual and intriguing, and it’s hard to not picture a fresh-faced Alice escaping to a new life in New York City as her retrospective words capture you. Alongside Alice is the parallel story of Ruby – a girl just like Alice, destined to escape life’s similar disappointments, only she’s older and still alive.

“In the beginning, I disappeared on purpose. Extricated myself from a life I didn’t want, just like Ruby did. But unlike Ruby, I didn’t tell anyone where I went.”

As the story unfolds I found myself inextricably aware of Alice standing strong and pragmatic in death, as the person she always was, but never knew it. The power she had once given to men, who had no right to it, propelling her forward. For a while, Alice is happy. She meets a kindly old man, Noah, who restores her faith in men.

Through Alice’s untimely death, hers and Ruby’s lives intertwine. There’s Alice’s murder and the devastation it brings, and there’s the deep connection Ruby feels to the body she has just discovered.

It’s as if you can feel what Alice feels and reminisce with her about her stolen youth and innocence. But there’s never a sense she is bitter or overly longing for what was.

Before You Knew My Name is a novel that keeps you questioning till the end. It made me think of all the young people who have left in search of a new adventure, or left to escape an unwanted life in search of a new one; and all the lives taken that were sadly not a work of fiction.

It’s the heartbreaking story of a girl whose life once seemingly irrelevant, post tragedy, becomes extraordinary.

The Surgeon’s Brain | Regional News

The Surgeon’s Brain

Written by: Oscar Upperton

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“Mama won’t look at me in my new clothes,” observes Oscar Upperton, writing in his assumed persona of Dr James Barry, the subject of The Surgeon’s Brain. “Tubes of cloth around my legs, tight, and a tight coat across my chest.” Thus attired, a transgender man living in the Victorian era ventures upon his career as a military surgeon.

The term transgender was non-existent at the time – did that make our man’s life any easier? “My landlady asks if I’ll give her trouble and I say I will not.” And later, in the same poem, “I observe my landlady’s gait and track the progression of her rheumatism”.

Such a juxtaposition of the behavioural and the anatomical typifies many of the poems in this collection, describing as they do imagined incidents, situations, and encounters in a life startling in its conception and courageous in its carrying out. “The rules are different now. I travel unchaperoned; I enter public houses; I attend a university.”

Barry’s work as a surgeon puts him in touch with female patients – repressed, underestimated, confined in airless rooms – a salutary reminder of Victorian times and values. Later, travelling beyond England’s shores, he encounters pressures from many quarters – not the least medical – in his attempts to heal, as well as promote public health reform.

One of the most striking poems amongst many is the eponymous The Surgeon’s Brain. “A man’s brain is, to some, the man himself. Forget this soul nonsense. He has cut into a thousand bodies and never seen a soul.” This quote prefaces a poetic meditation on the nature of the brain – sometimes grisly, determinedly objective, always sternly practical.

Dr Barry’s outward travels encompassed lands as far as the Windward and Leeward Islands, but they are surpassed by his inward travels, the true extent of which we shall never know. He requested burial without any post-mortem examination; such secrecy was surely justified.

We can only speculate and admire – something Upperton achieves with rare artistry.

The Door knobs | Regional News

The Door knobs

Odlins Plaza, 26th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

A last-minute venue change from Cuba Street to Odlins Plaza made finding The Door knobs a challenge this weekend. Once I’d unearthed their social media post and hot-footed down to the waterfront, I discovered I hadn’t missed the start as feared because they were running half an hour late.

My second frustration was realising that my understanding of what I was about to see wasn’t what I’d interpreted it to be from the advertising. I’d arrived expecting to see four performances in one one-hour show. However, each artist performs only once per day, so the stated show duration of 240 minutes is literally that. Like most people, I don’t have four hours of my life to devote to street theatre and had a different expectation of something included in the Fringe Festival.

Organisational and advertorial sketchiness aside, the two Door knobs performances I did catch were entertaining. Clown Fraser Hooper was on first. Fortunately, he is not the traditional white-faced clown that I always found terrifying even before the movie version of Stephen King’s IT. He is of the modern, surrealist style with a cute dance, silly electronic sound effects, and a predilection for ducks. His show relied heavily on the cooperation (or not) of the mostly young audience members who gamefully held inflated balloons, chased a motorised mallard, and wore a fish head to swim in a fake pond. The fact that his final stunt was an epic fail due in part to the overzealous propulsion of a plastic duck into the air by an audience member was probably funnier than if it had worked.

The second, shorter, performance was by Patrick ‘Tennis Tricks’ Federer. Anyone who can squeeze their whole body through a destringed tennis racquet deserves praise, as does someone who can ride a two-metre-tall unicycle and juggle three tennis rackets while doing so. He also made the valid point that laughter is great for mental health, which is what street theatre is all about. And I did laugh.

I Know You, Fish | Regional News

I Know You, Fish

Presented by: Brickhaus Productions

BATS Theatre, 25th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Genoveva is a fish who likes jazz, black and white films, and philosophy but loves only fish flakes. She wasn’t always a fish. Once she was a cheeky little girl, but now she inhabits a tank in an undisclosed domestic location with an unseen woman shouting in a distant room.

The powerful one-woman performance from Genoveva Reverte centres on intimate monologues about a fatherless childhood that created her self-confessed daddy issues, bad relationships with men steeped in patriarchy and misogyny, a brush with religion, and other relatable life experiences that range from the amusing to the deeply traumatic.

Genoveva’s excellent writing could easily engage an audience for an hour by itself. The extended metaphor of a woman as a house speaks strongly of female oppression and elicits murmurs of agreement from the audience.

As presented in this performance, the spoken narrative is interspersed with physical comedy, clowning, and Epic theatre techniques that force the audience to engage with the confronting shape of Genoveva’s addiction to fish flakes – a stand-in for destructive human coping mechanisms such as drink, drugs, and sex – in novel ways. We are treated to a mimed display of developing alcoholism through a comedic rendition of the song A Horse With No Name that is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and painfully sad.

This could all be doom and gloom, but Genoveva comes to understand that no matter how hard she tries, she’ll always be a fish because she is the sum of her experiences. And that’s okay.

The minimal staging consists mainly of filmed material projected onto the back wall. This is largely effective in supporting the narrative, although the Apple toolbar that lurks at the top of the screen when the AV elements are inactive is a distraction. The placement of lighting was also a little off so that Genoveva sometimes struggled to find her light. With a little more spit and polish on the production side, this has the potential to be a great show.

Spitz & Crumple | Regional News

Spitz & Crumple

Directed by: Jennifer O’Sullivan

The Roxy Cinema, 25th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A word to the wise: Spitz & Crumple is an entirely improvised concert. The banter, the stories, the songs, even the choreography are all made up on the spot. In the first 10 minutes I sat dumbfounded, thinking it had to be one of the strangest and worst shows ever. When it clicked, I did a full 180. “This is one of the strangest and best shows ever”, I whispered to my friend. 

Eleanor Spitz (Liz Butler) and Barney Crumple (Ben Jardine) are a married couple from Florida who have been in love and making music for 50 years. Together with The Captain (Matt Hutton) on keys, the famous lounge band is celebrating the release of their Greatest Hits album with us, their adoring fans, who are dotted about in stylish cabaret seating.

We begin with tracks Diamonds In Your Eyes and You Are Like Candy, where Jardine pulls off an incredible trumpet solo sans trumpet. We’re then treated to a taste of Spitz and Crumple’s number one LP Gift Giving (1983), which started Pitchfork as the first album to ever be reviewed on the site. It earned 17 pitchforks and reached heights that all the greats still aspire to.

More show highlights – although the whole thing is a highlight and a half – include The Bond Song (James Bond Under the Sea) (I’ve made that title up, but the song tracks the time James Bond went nautical and sees a stroke of red-lit genius from lighting designer Nino Raphael). Let’s not forget the highly niche and experimental Before the Grease Wars; Citrus Baby One More Time (yes Brit did steal that one, but thankfully she didn’t get her mitts on the citrus part); and the minimal-lyrics, maximum-impact Cha Cha Wow.

Butler and Jardine are two masters of musical improv whose chemistry and cleverness leap off the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed an improv show more, and I’ve seen Whose Line Is It Anyway? live.