Sunday, April 23, 2023

Zero at the Bone

[all photographs: Bronwyn Lloyd]

i.m. Zero Tolerance Lloyd-Ross
(c. November 2007-21st April 2023)

We're devastated by the loss of our delightful companion Zero, who left this world - hopefully for a better one - on Friday.

I don't really have any words to express how much she's meant to us over the fifteen and a bit years we were privileged to have her with us. Instead, I thought I'd put up some photos of her over the course of her life, together with a few poems I wrote about her during this time.

Hail and farewell, beloved friend. We'll never stop missing you.

Zero at the bone

The dark looniness
of your leaping
worries me

no pause to reflect
furry paws

food comfort sleep
combine in
strange parentheses

(just like the town
they found you in

post-Xmas traffic)
beating up
poor Smudge

before you’d met us
now hounding

forgiving? maybe

roving emblem
of desire

claws outspread

This is an early piece, written shortly after she first came to us. She was certainly a very spirited kitten! Later on she calmed down a little, but she never ceased to have strong views on a number of issues. It first appeared in the anthology below:

Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand poems about animals. Ed. Siobhan Harvey (Auckland: Godwit, 2009): 67-68.

Zero is lying down today

but little specks of blood
on the bedspread
make me think

she may have run into
one of her twin nemeses
last night

a big fat greedy
green-collared glutton

or Brindle
a raccoon-tailed

each of whom
sneaks in the back door
several times a day

to eat her food
she jumps out
hisses at them

but is only a little cat
once or twice we’ve seen
them ganging up on her

unable to help her
unless it’s in plain sight
I suppose that’s it

our little cat
so wilful

has become the thing
we most fear losing

yet cannot safeguard
threaten to crush
with the sheer weight

of our love

This poem makes Zero sound like a bit of a victim, and it's true that she was bullied from time to time by larger neighbouring cats. She never provoked these fights, but she always gave as good as she got. Later on most of these cats seem to have moved away, so the last few years of her life were almost entirely free of such squabbles. The poem first appeared in Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020, edited by Johanna Emeney, and subsequently in the book below:

The Oceanic Feeling. Drawings by Katharina Jaeger. Afterword by Bronwyn Lloyd (Auckland: Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021): 21.

All I want

is for every moment
of every day

to be constant bliss
for Zero

Astyanax cringing
from his daddy’s helmet

safe in his mother’s arms

watching enslaved
as Achilles’ son

throws her baby off
the walls

if only I could wish away
fast cars on the road

trespassing neighbour cats
basements with tempting doors

shut after her
lead nailspoison baits

the loss of a furry friend
is the sack of Troy

by the Greeks

This poem, written late last year, sounds uncomfortably prophetic to me now. The reference to Andromache's baby Astyanax being frightened by his father Hector's plume is from Homer's Iliad [Bk 6, ll.466-502]. His death at the hands of Achilles' son Neoptolemus is reported in Euripides' Trojan Women [ll.719-25]. The last two lines are a paraphrase of the quote below:
Someone has said that the death of a mouse by cancer is the whole sack of Rome by the Goths
- Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)

Monday, April 03, 2023

SF Luminaries: John Christopher

The Tripods (1984-85)

"John Christopher" - aka Christopher Youd, Samuel Youd (his real name), Hilary Ford, William Godfrey, Peter Graaf, Peter Nichols, William Vine, and Stanley Winchester - is perhaps best remembered for his YA SF series The Tripods, dramatised - rather poorly - by the BBC a couple of decades after the trilogy first appeared.

John Christopher: The Tripods Tetralogy (1967-88)

Concentrating solely on his 'second life' as a YA author would be to sell him short, though. His earlier adult novels have often been characterised - mostly by people who haven't read them - as imitations of fellow Brit John Wyndham's crossover megahit The Day of the Triffids (1951).

John Christopher: The Death of Grass (1956)

This may hold some truth for one or two of them - The World in Winter (1962), for instance - but even the Wyndham-influenced Death of Grass (1956) occupies a distinctly fiercer and more troubled space in the post-apocalyptic landscape than the older writer's "cosy catastrophes" (in Brian Aldiss's phrase). It's this brutal and uncompromising flavour which makes his work particularly relevant to readers today.

As you'll see from the bibliography here, Youd began writing novels under his own name, then under a succession of other pseudonyms, each tailored to one of his many interests. It was as "John Christopher" that he achieved his greatest commercial (and probably artistic) success, however:
I read somewhere ... that I have been cited as the greatest serial killer in fictional history, having destroyed civilisation in so many different ways – through famine, freezing, earthquakes, feral youth combined with religious fanaticism, and progeria.
- quoted on his Goodreads author page

John Christopher: The Caves of Night (1958)

These early novels were all thrillers of one type or another, but not all of them can be classified as Sci-fi. The Caves of Night is about a group of amateur speleologists lost in an unknown cave system, and The Long Voyage (which I've discussed in more detail here) describes the strange odyssey of a ship that drifts through the North Sea to the ice-packs of Greenland.

John Christopher: The Guardians (1970)

The first of his novels I myself read was The Guardians. I got it for my birthday one year, and it made an indelible impression on me. There was a sharpness and precision to the writing which I hadn't really encountered before. He didn't seem to pull any punches for his "juvenile" audience. In fact it's clear in retrospect that he found these shorter narrative units particularly suited to his talents.

John Christopher: The Prince in Waiting trilogy (1970-72)

Perhaps the high point of his talent is the brilliantly original - and terrifying - "Prince in Waiting" books. The protagonist Luke was, I think, my very first antihero. Camus's Meursault, Greene's whisky priest, Joyce's Leopold Bloom, none of them surprised me as much as the bitter, scheming, unrepentant hero of these three vividly imagined novels.

After that the temperature of his writing began to cool off a little. Had he gone too far for Puffin Books? Certainly the successors to The Prince in Waiting were mostly one-offs, and the "Fireball" trilogy, when it finally arrived, was a bit of a disappointment.

But then I don't think it really matters where you start with John Christopher. The "adult" novels are not really significantly more demanding - or terrifying - than the children's ones. My favourite of them all remains The Long Voyage - it's the one I keep on coming back to - but I suppose his most dazzling achievement would have to be The Prince in Waiting and its sequels.

Whichever of them you choose to read, though, you certainly won't be wasting your time. He's long outlasted the era he wrote in, and only a few of his books are still in print. They're worth snapping up when you see them, though. I still have a couple of them I'm looking for, but fewer and fewer bookshops now maintain those tatty shelves of SF paperback which used to be such a happy hunting ground for fans like me.

John Christopher: The Fireball trilogy (1981-86)

Sam Youd (1929-2018)

Sam Youd ['John Christopher']

John Christopher: The Year of the Comet (1955)


  1. The Year of the Comet [US: Planet in Peril (1959)] (1955)
    • The Year of the Comet. 1955. London: Sphere Books, 1978.
  2. The Death of Grass [US: No Blade of Grass (1957)] (1956)
    • The Death of Grass. 1956. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963.
  3. The Caves of Night (1958)
    • The Caves of Night. 1958. London: Panther, 1962.
  4. A Scent of White Poppies (1959)
  5. The Long Voyage [US: The White Voyage] (1960)
    • The Long Voyage. 1960. London: Sphere books, 1986.
  6. The World in Winter [US: The Long Winter] (1962)
    • The World in Winter. 1962. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964.
  7. Cloud on Silver [US: Sweeney's Island] (1964)
    • Cloud on Silver. 1964. Hodder Paperbacks. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1966.
  8. The Possessors (1964)
    • The Possessors. 1964. London: Sphere books, 1978.
  9. A Wrinkle in the Skin [US: The Ragged Edge] (1965)
    • A Wrinkle in the Skin. 1965. London: Sphere books, 1978.
  10. The Little People (1966)
  11. Pendulum (1968)
    • Pendulum. 1968. Hodder Paperbacks. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1969.
  12. Bad Dream (2003)

  13. Short Stories:

  14. The Twenty-Second Century (1954)

  15. YA Fiction:

  16. The Tripods trilogy:
    1. The White Mountains. 1967. Rev. ed. (2003)
    2. The City of Gold and Lead (1967)
    3. The Pool of Fire (1968)
    • The Tripods Trilogy: The White Mountains; The City of Gold and Lead; The Pool of Fire. 1967 & 1968. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.
  17. The Lotus Caves (1969)
    • The Lotus Caves. 1969. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971.
  18. The Guardians (1970)
    • The Guardians. 1970. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
  19. The Sword of the Spirits trilogy
    1. The Prince In Waiting (1970)
    2. Beyond the Burning Lands (1971)
    3. The Sword of the Spirits (1972)
    • The Prince in Waiting Trilogy: The Prince In Waiting; Beyond the Burning Lands; The Sword of the Spirits. 1970, 1971 & 1972. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.
  20. In the Beginning. Structural Readers (1972)
  21. Dom and Va (1973)
    • Dom and Va. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1973.
  22. Wild Jack (1974)
    • Wild Jack. 1974. A Beaver Book. London: Hamish Hamilton Children’s Books, 1978.
  23. Empty World (1977)
    • Empty World. 1977. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.
  24. The Fireball trilogy
    1. Fireball (1981)
      • Fireball. Fireball Trilogy, 1. 1981. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.
    2. New Found Land (1983)
      • New Found Land. Fireball Trilogy, 2. 1983. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.
    3. Dragon Dance (1986)
      • Dragon Dance. Fireball Trilogy, 3. 1986. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.
  25. When the Tripods Came (1988)
    • When the Tripods Came. 1988. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.
  26. A Dusk of Demons (1993)
    • A Dusk of Demons. 1993. A Puffin Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994.

  27. John Christopher: A Dusk of Demons (1993)

    as Christopher Youd:

  28. The Winter Swan (1949)

  29. as Samuel Youd:

  30. Babel Itself (1951)
  31. Brave Conquerors (1952)
  32. Crown and Anchor (1953)
  33. A Palace of Strangers (1954)
  34. Holly Ash [US: The Opportunist] (1955)
  35. Giant's Arrow [UK: as Anthony Rye] ((1956)
  36. The Burning Bird [US: The Choice (1961)
  37. Messages of Love (1961)
  38. The Summers at Accorn (1963)

  39. as William Godfrey:

  40. Malleson at Melbourne (1956)
  41. The Friendly Game (1957)

  42. as William Vine:

  43. "Death Sentence". Imagination Science Fiction (June 1953)
  44. "Explosion Delayed". Space Science Fiction (July 1953)

  45. as Peter Graaf:

  46. The Joe Dust Series:
    1. Dust and the Curious Boy [US: Give the Devil His Due] (1957)
    2. Daughter Fair (1958)
    3. The Sapphire Conference (1959)
  47. The Gull's Kiss (1962)

  48. as Hilary Ford:

  49. Felix Walking (1958)
  50. Felix Running (1959)
  51. Bella on the Roof (1965)
  52. A Figure in Grey (1973)
  53. Sarnia (1974)
  54. Castle Malindine (1975)
  55. A Bride for Bedivere (1976)

  56. as Peter Nichols:

  57. Patchwork of Death (1965)

  58. as Stanley Winchester:

  59. The Practice (1968)
  60. Men With Knives [US: A Man With a Knife] (1968)
  61. The Helpers (1970)
  62. Ten Per Cent of Your Life (1973)

John Christopher: Bad Dream (2003)

Monday, March 27, 2023

My Favourite Vintage Bookshops: Ponsonby

Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937 / 1993)

The story is of Wednesday, half-sister of Ronald Gilfillan, a comfortable conforming New Zealander with "a quarter-acre section neatly fenced". Having consulted Madame Mystera, a fortune-teller of Freemans Bay, and been told that fortune, lovers and children are ahead of her, Wednesday takes a ticket in a lottery. She wins £25,000.
- Joan Stevens. The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965. 1961. Rev. ed. Wellington: A. H. & A. W. REED, 1966.

Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937 / 1989)

One of the nicest things about Wednesday's Children - for an Aucklander, at any rate - is the vision it provides of our lost city of the past.

I remember, for example, a daring weekend sail in my father's family-sized 16-foot yacht out into the Hauraki Gulf. We ended up landing on the far end of Browns Island, the only portion which can be safely approached from the sea, due to the skein of reefs that surrounds it.

We had to scale a fairly steep cliff to emerge out into the open fields, the ones which look so attractive from a distance, but which turned out to be quite swampy when experienced up close.

After that the wind got up, and we couldn't make it back through the outgoing tides at the head of the harbour. We were forced to anchor the yacht off Mission Bay and row our way forlornly by dinghy to shore. My father sailed the boat back to his mooring in Ngataringa Bay next day single-handed.

So when I read about Wednesday Gilfillan's residence on Brown's Island it immediately struck a chord. Mind you, I wouldn't fancy rowing out there in a tiny dinghy on a regular basis - but it's by no means an impossible feat.

And then there's Wednesday's part-time gig as a fortune-teller in Freemans Bay. Robin Hyde's descriptions of its tight-packed streets and working men's houses certainly allow her to channel her inner city-beat reporter. Has it changed much? Profoundly, I fear. Which makes her pen-portrait even more valuable.

It's nice to know that there are still a few vintage bookshops in the glitzy surrounds of Ponsonby / Grey Lynn. How they manage to survive is beyond me. But I suppose there must be enough people out there who savour the unique odour of mould and bookdust to keep them in business. All power to them!

Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937)

The Open Book

The Open Book
[201 Ponsonby Road, Auckland]

I remember once coming up to the counter in this shop with an armful of books, only to be asked: "What is it, exactly, you do?"

I must have looked a bit bemused, so the owner went on to explain that she found it very difficult to square such very disparate purchases with one another.

John Clute & Peter Nicholls, ed.: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1999)
Clute, John, & Peter Nicholls, ed. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 1979. 2nd ed. Contributing Editor Brian Stableford. Technical Editor John Grant. Orbit. 1993. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 1999.

I think I had, on that particular day, located a nice paperback copy of John Clute's magisterial Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, to which I was proposing to add a rather sumptuous edition of The Holy Qu'ran:

The Holy Qur-ān: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary. Ed. Mushaf Al-Madinah An-Nabawiyah. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali et al. Saudi Arabia: King Fahd Holy Qur-ān Printing Complex, A.H. 1411 [= 1991].

"I teach Creative Writing at Massey University" was my rather lame reply. I could see her still shaking her head as I left, though. How could the same person be equally enthusiastic about Science Fiction and the intricacies of Arabic culture?

I remember that one of the kinder reviews I received for my poetry collection Chantal's Book, some twenty years back, referred to me as "a literary magpie, gathering together his shiny objects with a remarkable eclecticism." The author was James Norcliffe, whose recent novel The Frog Prince I've just lately written about for Landfall Review Online. I hope I did it justice.

He did rather hit the nail on the head with that "magpie" analogy, though. I do like to collect pretty objects and ideas and put them together. You could call it mosaic - or even collage - if you were inclined to be charitable. If not, you could simply refer to it as lack of focus.

Never mind, it works for me. "The world is so full of a number of things / I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings" and all that ...

Herman Melville. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Ed. Walter E. Bezanson. New York: Hendricks House, Inc., 1960.

The shop has now changed hands. I still find the odd bargain in there, however. The above edition of Melville's Clarel was certainly an exciting addition to my collection of Melvilliana.

I'm still not quite sure why the copy of Tuwhare's Ralph Hotere-illustrated Sapwood and Milk I found there was quite so reasonably priced, but perhaps they're less rare than I thought. In any case, I didn't think about it: just bought it (my motto as a bibliophile).

Hone Tuwhare: Sap-wood and Milk (1973)
Hone Tuwhare. Sap-wood and Milk. Illustrated by Ralph Hotere. 629 of 700 numbered copies. Dunedin: Caveman Press, 1973.

Dominion Books

Dominion Books
[230 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay, Auckland 1011]

Latest news: "Dominion Books,which has been selling secondhand books at 230 Jervois Rd in Herne Bay since 1986, is finally closing down at the end of May 2023. Between now and then I am selling all stock at $3 per book, or as big a bag as you like for$20. I am no longer buying any books. I am clearing out my entire stock. Thanks to loyal customers after all these years."

Many years ago my father used to take me to a second-hand bookshop called "Dominion Books" - not unreasonably, as it was then located on Dominion Road. It was owned by a certain Mrs. Brazier, mother of soon-to-be-famous singer Graham Brazier.

It was a gloomy, fascinating place, full of obscure tomes in almost-unreachable corners. Or at any rate that's my memory of it. I'm not quite sure when she sold the business, which then moved to Jervois Road in Herne Bay, but I imagine it must have been back in the seventies sometime. Or perhaps the early eighties [1986, it now appears].

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Obras completas (1969)
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Obras Completas. 1951-1957. Prólogo de Francisco Monterde. 1969. “Colección Sepan Cuantos …”, 100. Ciudad de México: Editorial Porrúa, S. A., 1977.

So that's the reason for the rather anomalous name of this fascinatingly out-of-the-way shop, which still seems to specialise in obscure treasures hidden in odd corners. Take the book above, for instance. Who on earth would be interested in the complete works - in Spanish - of a seventeenth-century Mexican nun?

Well, me, I'm afraid. My PhD thesis was on Versions of South America in English Literature, which took me all the way from Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688) to Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School (1978).

Along the way I spent a lot of time poring over Nobel-prize-winning poet Octavio Paz's classic work on Mexican Culture, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). Paz also wrote extensively on Sor Juana de Asbaje - notably in his other great prose work Sor Juana: The Traps of Faith (1982).

This profoundly gifted young polymath, Sor Juana, occupies a position in Mexico somewhat akin to that of Murasaki Shikibu in Japan - or, for that matter, Katherine Mansfield in New Zealand: the one indisputably great, mysterious genius at the heart of an entire literary tradition.

William Plomer, ed.: Kilvert's Diary (3-1-23)
Francis Kilvert. Kilvert’s Diary: Selections from the Diary of the Rev. Francis Kilvert, 1870-1879. 3 vols. Ed. William Plomer. 1940. Rev ed. 1960-61. Illustrated Edition. London: Jonathan Cape, 1977.

Here's another nice purchase from Dominion Books. I have a perhaps unreasonably aversion to abridgements of classic books. It wasn't until I was able to find all three volumes of William Plomer's edition that I could really settle down to reading Kilvert's diary, which I found very entertaining indeed.

Christopher Ricks, ed.: The Poems of Tennyson (1969)
Christopher Ricks, ed. The Poems of Tennyson. Longmans Annotated English Poets. London & Harlow: Longman, Green and Co, Ltd.. 1969.

This one was the real prize, though. I spent a long time searching for this particular edition of Tennyson, from the Longman Annotated English Poets series. It's true that there's a later, three-volume second edition, but the sheer audacity of including Tennyson's complete poetry in one massive volume was the main reason I had to have this one. And there it was! - one fine day in the poetry section - straight from Bill Pearson's collection, as it turned out.

It is, in other words, always worth having a glance in Dominion Books. The stock there does, admittedly, tend to linger on the shelves, but you never know what might have walked in just the day before ...

Ink eats Man: Dominion Books (2010)