Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume III edited by Marie Hodgkinson is out now in ebook and paperback. It's the third volume in Paper Road Press's annual anthology series celebrating the strength and diversity of local SFF writing. This is award-winning stuff. “For Want of Human Parts”, by Casey Lucas won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Short Story and “Salt White, Rose Red” by Emily Brill-Holland, “Synaesthete” by Melanie Harding-Shaw, and “How to Get a Girlfriend (When You’re a Terrifying Monster)” by Marie Cardno were finalists.
The great thing about an anthology is you can dip in and out. There might be some duds, but you can move along to the next thing. Not here. It is All Gems, No Filler. These Aotearoa writers are bringing it, big time. The introduction by editor Marie puts it well:
Far from being cut off from the rest of the SFF world, writers from Aotearoa continue to share their words and worlds around the globe.
The stories range from a couple of pages (university time travel humour in "They probably play the viola" by Jack Remiel Cottrell), to stories that read as a chapter from a novel.
The fantasy of the fairy tale is felt in stories like "Salt white, Rose Red" by Emily Brill-Holland and "Even the Clearest Water" by Andi C. Buchanan. There are the frissons of horror in "Synaesthete" by Melanie Harding-Shaw (claws, fangs, and eyes) and "The Secrets She Eats" by Nikky Lee (which calls back to witches and sin eaters and eldritch things). "Otto Hahn speaks to the dead" by Octavia Cade is a revelation, combining death, a haunted life, war, history, and pure existential horror:
He can't tell when science stopped being a wonder to him and started being a horror, but in the back of his mind now is a fear that the chemical death he brought on so many is a small thing. A small and burning thing, and what is coming is holocaust.
Where there is horror, there be monsters. In "For want of human parts" by Casey Lucas a creature made of scungey detritus lurks beneath the street, you feel sorry for this character as much as you feel repulsion. "How to get a girlfriend (when you're a terrifying monster)" by Marie Cardno is a funny and quirky timey wimey wibbly interdimensional love story. "How to build a unicorn" by Ōtautahi's own AJ Fitzwater is as clever and sharp as the hooves of the unicorns, and as painful as a wound from those hooves.
The stories resonate with a sense of time, history, and this place - Aotearoa. You can see it in "Kōhuia" by T Te Tau where the past and the now mesh, and we encounter extinct birds. More ancient birds as we meet moa (and charm them with music) in "The Moamancer (A Musomancer short story)" by Bing Turkby. Christchurch makes an appearance in "Death Confetti" by local writer Zoë Meager (Death is put in a cannon and blasted off New Brighton Pier). Wellington features in "A Love Note" by Melanie Harding-Shaw and that famed Wellington wind stars in "You can't beat Wellington on a good day" by Anna Kirtlan.
One of the strong through-lines in the collection is an imagined Aotearoa Eco-dystopia. You can see it in "The Waterfall" by Renee Liang, "The Double-Cab Club" by Tim Jones, "Wild horses" by Anthony Lapwood, "You and me at the end of the World" by Dave Agnew. "The turbine at the end of the World" by James Rowland, the last story in the book ends with a plea to that last turbine:
"I don't know how you're going to save us," she said, "but please do it soon. Before it's too late."
What makes this collection extra special is the flow. From story to story, the tales nod at each other in recognition, and they flow from one to the next in an elegant fashion. "Salt white, Rose Red" by Emily Brill-Holland and its roses, is followed by the eerie rose-related disease in "Florentina" by Paul Veart. Kia ora to editor Marie Hodgkinson, and the writers and publisher Paper Road Press. You have built something special.
New Zealand Gothic, by Jack Remiel Cottrell
Synaesthete, by Melanie Harding-Shaw
Kōhuia, by T Te Tau
Death confetti, by Zoë Meager
For Want of Human Parts, by Casey Lucas
How To Get A Girlfriend (When You’re A Terrifying Monster), by Marie Cardno
Salt White, Rose Red, by Emily Brill-Holland
Florentina, by Paul Veart
Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead, by Octavia Cade
The Waterfall, by Renee Liang
The Double-Cab Club, by Tim Jones
Wild Horses, by Anthony Lapwood
You and Me at the End of the World, by Dave Agnew
The Secrets She Eats, by Nikky Lee
How To Build A Unicorn, by AJ Fitzwater
Even the Clearest Water, by Andi C. Buchanan
You Can’t Beat Wellington on a Good Day, by Anna Kirtlan
The Moamancer (A Musomancer short story), by Bing Turkby
They probably play the viola, by Jack Remiel Cottrell
Crater Island, by P.K. Torrens
A Love Note, by Melanie Harding-Shaw
The Turbine at the End of the World, by James Rowland
Win a copy of Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume III and Lockdown: Tales from Aotearoa (enter by Monday 13 December)
What was your favourite book, movie, TV show or album from this year? Tell us and you could win one of two great New Zealand titles - we have a copy each of Lockdown: Tales from Aotearoa and Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume III to give away. Get your picks (and contact details) to us by Monday 13 December and you'll go in the draw. Prize drawn on Tuesday 14 December. Enter now!
Read more in the series: