New Zealand

Tagged: International

One of the last lands discovered by Europeans, New Zealand was a convenient setting for moral and Utopian tales. The anonymous Travels of Hildebrand Bowman ... by Himself (1778), apparently by John Elliott, anticipates Samuel Butler's satirical Erewhon (1872) and Erewhon Revisited (1901). Utopian fiction by New Zealanders includes Anno Domini 2000, or Woman's Destiny (1889) by the New Zealand Premier Sir Julius Vogel, a dreary novel of a UK/US empire formed through dynastic marriage, and Godfrey Sweven's difficult novel sequence Riallaro: The Archipelago of Exiles (1901) and Limanora: The Island of Progress (1903), the latter described by E F Bleiler as "probably the greatest of all early utopian novels". Some nineteenth-century works, mostly published in England, are extrapolated from the celebrated New Zealander remark of Lord Macaulay (1800-1859) in Critical and Historical Essays (coll 1843): "... when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Paul's." The UK author Francis Carr's Archimago (1864), partly set in a ruined London of 1964, is an example.

A more popular taste is seen in the end-of-the-century boom in romance. The Great Romance (1881 2vols chap; omni 2008) by "The Inhabitant" is New Zealand's first space story. The heroes in Ajor's The Secret of Mt Cook (1894) revive frozen people; in Hedged with Divinities (1895) by Edward Tregear (1846-1931) all men die; the subject of The Elixir of Life (1907) by William Satchell is self-evident.

A puritan realist mode dominates New Zealand Mainstream fiction and criticism, yet writers within the tradition often use sf and fantasy tropes. Robyn Hyde's Wednesday's Children (1937) is fantasy; Maurice Gee has written fantasies for children; M K Joseph wrote the speculative The Hole in the Zero (1967) and The Time of Achamoth (1977); Janet Frame's metafictions Scented Garden for the Blind (1963) and Living in the Maniototo (1979) are fantastic; and the dystopian Smith's Dream (1971) – filmed as Sleeping Dogs (see below) – by C K Stead tells of a future military dictatorship. Current writers such as Russell Haley, Marilyn Duckworth (1935-    ) and Rachel McAlpine (1940-    ) are adept at using sf devices for mainstream audiences.

Works marketed as sf include Adrian Geddes's The Rim of Eternity (1964), in which Aliens invade, Colin Gibson's nuclear-winter tale The Pepper Leaf (1971), and the novels of Hugh Cook, which are fantasy. Peter Hooper's fantasies and Craig Harrison's thrillers have escaped the genre label. Phillip Mann and Cherry Wilder (who lived for some time in Germany before her death) are the best-known New Zealand sf writers of recent times, along with Sandi Hall. New Zealand sf in the Cinema started with the now lost A Message from Mars (1909), based on Richard Ganthony's popular 1899 UK stage play, which he and Lester Lurgan novelized (1912), the play itself being published much later (1924). There was no further New Zealand sf film until the successful Sleeping Dogs (1977) directed by Roger Donaldson, a Near-Future political thriller envisaging a totalitarian government. The industry flourished from this time until the mid-1980s with government subsidies, its sf titles including the routine, Post-Holocaust Battletruck (1982), the violent, lunatic brain-surgeon-and-his-experimental-subjects story Death Warmed Up (1984), the sf thriller Dead Kids (1981; vt Strange Behavior) and The Quiet Earth (1985); then subsidies were withdrawn. Subsequent films, such as the deliberately disgusting Bad Taste (1987) and the Time-Travel fantasy The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988), plus television shows such as Space Knights (1988), seem to show that, in the visual media, New Zealand sf and fantasy must cross genre boundaries if they are to be viable. [MMacL]

see also: Joanne Anderton.

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