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A fantastical haul at this year’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards – Aotearoa New Zealand’s premier SFF awards, named for a previous premier of the country – were announced by livestream at CoNZealand yesterday. (The ceremony itself was actually filmed on Sunday, with an open bar, but we were all sworn to secrecy. Which largely succeeded. Despite the open bar.)

Now that the embargo has lifted, I can safely say how thrilled I am for the Paper Road Press authors whose work has been recognised by the SJV voters.

Best Novella/Novelette: Andi C. Buchanan, From a Shadow Grave

Photo showing a paperback copy of Andi C. Buchanan's FROM A SHADOW GRAVE next to a Sir Julius Vogel Award trophy.

Andi’s wonderfully Wellington novella about a young woman’s life and death and other lives won the award for Best Novella/Novelette.

From a Shadow Grave is available to purchase in paperback from our webstore

Or you can buy the ebook from the usual suspects.

Best Collected Work: Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy, Volume 1, edited by Marie Hodgkinson

Photo showing a paperback copy of YEAR'S BEST AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY, Volume 1, edited by Marie Hodgkinson, next to a Sir Julius Vogel Award trophy.

My first outing as an anthology editor since 2015 (SHORTCUTS: Track 1) – I’m so thrilled this anthology, the first in an annual series, has found its audience.

You can buy the paperback from our webstore

Or get the ebook from the usual suspects.

Best Short Story: ‘A Shriek Across the Sky’, by Casey Lucas

Front cover image of Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy, Volume 2, edited by Marie Hodgkinson

Casey’s wonderful story about the horrific reality of having a dad, and then a dad who has turned into a fishman, won Best Short Story.

You can read ‘A Shriek Across the Sky’ for free at Sponge, where it was first published,

Or in the Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy, volume 2.

But wait, there’s more…

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are a brilliant celebration of SFF creative works from Aotearoa New Zealand. Head over to Locus to see the full list of finalists and winners, and if you’re looking for a new read, something to watch, or some new art for your walls, I’m sure you’ll find something you like.

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Excerpt from Andi C. Buchanan’s From a Shadow Grave

Cover image of From a Shadow Grave, by Andi C. Buchanan

From a Shadow Grave, bu Andi C. Buchanan, is the story of Phyllis Symons and Aroha Brooke, and the ways their lives and deaths overlap as time splinters into different threads. Phyllis dies, is saved, and saves herself and Aroha always finds her, or is found, herself, by the woman her own story twines itself around.


The searchers find your hand first, where you had almost but not quite broken the surface in your desperation. There’s a cry, and then others arrive with shovels.

It’s a strange thing to watch your own body dug up from beneath the soil. You don’t understand what’s happening at first, whether you’re alive or dead, whether you’re above ground or below. You want to yell at them that you’re here, not there, but you also want to hide from all of them, very quiet and very small. Your face looks pale beneath the soil, and your hair is muddy and matted. It’s a terrible thought, but you can’t help wondering if anyone could ever call you beautiful now.

*

You are no longer whole. You have been broken in two; victim and villain, vulnerable child and wild young woman. You are tethered to this hill, and yet you are being taken into town for examination. Cold hands and instruments and peering eyes and verdicts, until finally, you are being taken up to Karori and buried properly in a corner of the cemetery among the drifting petals of old roses.

You’re too far away from Karori. Like most ghosts, you’re tied to the location of your death, cursed to keep reliving it. Your spirit is on one hill, and your body lies deep within another. Your mother visits the Karori Cemetery every Sunday after church for a year, but she never visits Mount Victoria. She visits your body, but she never visits you.

You try, sometimes, to visit her, to move from this place, but you always end up moving in a circle. There’s nothing solid to hold you, but at the same time escape is impossible. It is a lingering pain, the final insult, an endless cage. Sometimes you’ve longed for death, real death, and you’ve thought, couldn’t he just have killed me properly?

But perhaps it is also a resistance, the last piece of you refusing to die, clinging on out of stubbornness, out of spite. Clinging on even as George is tried and hanged at Mount Crawford Jail, and after, on through the decades.

You haunt this hillside through the lingering Depression, and into another war. The tunnel opens, and the sound of picks against rock is replaced by endless motors. You haunt the hillside as the troop ships leave and return emptier, or don’t return at all. Fortifications are built on other hills for an invasion that never comes.

You feel the shudders of every earthquake, and wonder each time if the earth has finally come to swallow you up. You wish for a peaceful grave but are strangely relieved each time to find yourself still able to rise above the soil and rock and mud. You watch out over the harbour after the war, as the lights and the city grow, and you cannot grow at all.

*

You don’t remember when you first realised that the noise of car horns through the tunnel was directed at you. At first, you thought they were sounds of greeting or of anger, anger at each other as the roads packed ever tighter with cars.

You realise now, that it is you they are scared of.

You weren’t good, in the early days, at controlling your visibility. You’re not sure, even now, how you do it, but with enough practice it comes to you as naturally as speaking or swallowing once did. In the early days you were seen floating around the tunnel, semi-translucent in your old dress, and was your hair brushed neatly, or tangled and bloodied? You’re not sure.

You’d like to take their fear of you as power, to rise above it all. To know that they all fear you now, those who once looked down on you, the rich people and important people, the clever people, and they can do nothing to harm you. But you cannot. The car horns do not scare you away, as they like to think, but they make you feel forlorn, rejected, and despised in death as well as in life.

You are, after all, still only seventeen.

Over the decades, you watch buildings being constructed and demolished, the city rising and the cars changing, the girls heading up to school, how the fashions evolve each year. You can see only part of the city, tethered to this hillside as you are, but you know it has changed, that so many of the places where you spent your time are gone.

Every year, there are fewer and fewer people who remember you at all.

*

People will say that you are just a ghost story. They remember you only as a haunt, a presence that unnerves them, unnatural and perhaps malevolent. Something that needs to be sent away. You’re a memory of memories they’d rather forget.

They name you not with your name, but with the site of your murder. They don’t remember any of your other stories. To them, you will never be a lonely, angry, confused teenager, who liked to go to the movies and hoped she was in love, who fought with her siblings and always had a tune in her head. You’re a ghost story, and all other stories of you have been told and ended.

You deserve more stories than you get.

*

In this story you do not remain alone. In this story it’s eighty years later and Aroha Brooke has just arrived in Wellington, having loaded two cases of books, clothes and weapons onto the InterCity at Feilding and not looked back.

Aroha Brooke has black hair, heavy like inked lines, and year-round freckles scattering her face. She wears a black leather jacket, with knives in the inner pocket and more in the belt that runs through her jeans.

She finds a room in a rundown villa on Ellice Street and enrols to study law and sociology at Victoria, but that’s not why she’s really here. She doesn’t come to find you for almost a year, because she has other things to deal with, but there comes a time when you’re the only one who can help her.

Aroha Brooke isn’t scared of you. Anyone who considers themselves haunted by a girl who is always seventeen and just wanted to go to dances with her friends and listen to the radio and have children she could take out on the trolley to the beach at Island Bay, has led a charmed life as far as Aroha Brooke is concerned. She knows about real hauntings; you can see it in her eyes. And perhaps that’s why you can talk to her.

She finds you the old-fashioned way, by marching up the hill one night and calling your name. No-one’s ever done that before. There has been the odd ghost hunter – either drunk young men or middle-aged cranks with all kinds of equipment, but they’re interested in detecting changes in temperature or distributions of infra-red light, rather than talking to you. No-one’s called your name like they want to speak to you, like you were a person. Not until Aroha does. And so, you answer.

You expect your voice to be hoarse from lack of use after all these years, but you sound like you always did.

“Yes,” you say. “I’m here.”

“Good,” she says, like ghosts respond to her every day. “Can I see you?”

No human has seen you since 1932 – they made it clear you weren’t welcome, with all their screaming and waving of spades, and they’ve continued to tell you that you aren’t welcome ever since, palms pressed hard on their car horns, rhythms of determination as they speed through the tunnel. But you still show yourself sometimes to the birds and to the night air, just to prove to yourself that you can.

Still, it’s been a couple of years since you even did that, and you’re pleased to see you show little sign of your old injuries, at least as far as you can tell. Your smocked dress is crumpled and a little muddy and you’re bruised right through, but as long as you don’t turn your back to Aroha you look acceptable. You try to run your hands through your bobbed hair, to tease out the mud-matted knots, but your hair is air, your hands are air.

If losing your life and yet still being here makes any sense, if there is a way to understand being dead and yet not being dead, it is in this: you had some power over yourself, to decide on your own body – how it moved, where it went. To brush your hair and change your clothes. To dance or to sit still, to sing or to listen. He took your life from you; not your existence, but your choice to do all those things and more.

You still have some choices though, and you make one of them now. You walk forwards out of, or more accurately through, the gorse bushes and stand or hover or whatever it is you do now in front of her.

“Hi,” she says. “Thank you.” Then she pauses. “You’re Phyllis Avis Symons?”

You savour the syllables of a name barely spoken in decades, and smile in spite of yourself.

“That’s me,” you say.

“Aroha Brooke,” she says. “Pleased to meet you, Phyllis.”

She sits, more comfortably than you’d expect, on a stone ledge, not worrying about the dampness from the days of horizontal rain.

“How do you know about me?” you ask.

“You might not believe me,” she replies.

“I’m a ghost. I’ll believe most things.”

‘‘I deal with supernatural things, I guess. Ghosts, and all the others. Patupaiarehe, demons, shifters, werewolves, taniwha. Even had a dokkaebi someone had managed to import. That was … interesting. I could always see things other people couldn’t, but when my grandmother died, that’s when I started taking it seriously. Doing research. Taking responsibility for keeping people safe – wide definition of people there.”

You don’t recognise half the words she says, but it’s no surprise to you that there are other things out there that are neither human nor animal, not quite of this world. You haven’t come across them, because you’ve been tied to this hillside and they’ve had no reason to come to you, but you’ve always assumed there were other ghosts out there, and if there are ghosts, there could be anything.

“So you have a responsibility to meet all the … all the … people … like me?” you ask, unsure of your words. You have not spoken to another in so long.

Aroha laughs. It’s a deep, hearty laugh, with no  unkindness.

“Nope. I’m not a fucking networker or ambassador or whatever the fuck. I mean, it’s nice to meet you and all, and you seem lovely, but I have way too much to deal with without going out to find anyone I don’t have to. Believe me, if I had my way, I’d be spending my evenings alone with ice-cream and Netflix.”

You look at her blankly.

“I’ll explain Netflix to you some other time. You’ll love it. Anyway, this is a difficult case I’m on and I’m sorry it’s going to bring back some bad memories and shit, but if I don’t, people will die, so I’m going to ask for your help anyway.”

You laugh bitterly.

“I’m a ghost with a huge head wound. I don’t get that far away from my bad memories at the best of times.”

Aroha nods, and there’s an understanding between the two of you.

“The thing is,” Aroha says, “usually when there’s trouble it’s either someone being ignorant or someone fucking around. There are heaps of pranksters and tricksters in every culture, and sometimes they just need a firm word and a show of strength. Or it’s like … Pākehā complaining about a taniwha hanging out by their nice new river-view homes. And anyone with any sense interprets a taniwha as a warning not to build in a certain place because come the next earthquake or tsunami, you’re fucked. And yet, they act like the taniwha is the problem.

“There’s a lot of talking, a bit of posturing. Not as much danger as you’d think, though I’ve had my moments. But believe me, the worst people in my life, the biggest dangers, have been solidly human.” She pauses. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this stuff.”

“Because you need my help? And because you don’t have many people to tell it to?”

Aroha tosses her hair in the sort of dismissal that makes it clear you’ve hit the mark. “Yes, I need your help.”

“Do you want me to stop haunting or something? Because I don’t have that much choice in the matter. Practically no-one’s seen me in decades. And I know people get scared but I’m actually quite harmless.”

“Oh no. It’s not you that’s the problem. I mean, it relates to you, a bit. But I don’t want you to stop doing anything, just help me deal with something.”

You swallow, still uncertain what is happening.

“How can I help?”

Aroha laughs. “You’re meant to ask what’s in it for you. At least, that’s what I’m used to.”

You feel vaguely ashamed, as if you’ve missed out on learning an obvious social convention. “Is there something you can do for me?”

“I can free you from this place. Break the ties that hold you here. You can go through the whole city at will. Do what you want.”

You’ve been trying for a long time not to let yourself feel any hope for anything, but when you hear this, your heart soars. You know you can never get your life back, but to escape from this cold and unforgiving hillside, from the site of what had been done to you, is the best thing you could hope for.

You don’t let these feelings show. If she thinks you want it too much she can change the terms, demand more from you.

“How?” you ask.

“It’s an issue with body magnetism and directional positioning. Well. Not body, I guess. Birds always know where to fly when the seasons change because they’ve got some magnetic sensor in their heads. It’s similar with ghosts. You’re always pulled in one direction. It’s not strictly magnets, but it works the same way. When you died and became a ghost, something changed in the place where you died and it’s charged and pulling you back to it. I need to remove the sense of you from the soil or rock or wherever you’re tied to, and then you can move wherever you want.”

“And I just have to help you?” You try to hide the scepticism in your voice, but you struggle to believe this is all she’s asking for. “How long will it take to deal with that problem of yours?”

She shrugs. “How long is a piece of string?”

“I’m not agreeing to that. Not when there’s no escape for me. I’ll help you for a year, and then if we haven’t sorted it, I’m free to go.”

“Works for me. If it takes that long we’re all fucked anyway. I’m not trying to keep you captive though, I’m not into that shit. This is an exchange of services, that’s all. Deal?”

“Deal.”

*

Aroha breaks the bonds that hold you; she sets you free.

The whole hillside lights up around you and her, lines glowing like trails of stars, like neon crossing the darkness. You follow the intangible wires with Aroha close behind you, and when you see where they are leading, you stop. Memories overwhelm you. You’re not sure if it’s crying, when there are no tears, and you’re not sure if it’s nausea when it’s impossible for you to vomit, but it’s definitely something, and you find it harder and harder to move.

“Almost there,” Aroha says, like the cause of your slowing is something simple like a twisted ankle or a sleepless night, and that makes you want to laugh, and that distracts you enough to keep going. All the lines lead to one point, a patch of soil that is shining brighter than any other. You swallow.

That soil must have been turned and turned again, trampled upon, grass mown and regrown. Underneath, your blood that once soaked it is now indistinguishable from the mud. No-one looking at it would notice anything different, no-one would know that the last of your life force seeped out there.

You know.

“What are you going to do?” you ask. “Burn it?”

Aroha laughs. “Ohhhh no. Not unless you want to be a fiery terror flying around the city at night. Been there, done that, got the second-degree burn scars on my arm that will be with me for life.”

Once you dreamed of being something like that, unholy and vengeful, screaming around the city striking fear, wreaking retribution on every man like George, every man who misled young women and, worse than merely striking them, made them believe it was their own fault when they were struck.

There’s still a glimmer of appeal in it. But all you say is: “Right. Bad idea then.”

“If we scatter it widely enough it loses its strength. Sometimes it happens naturally. There are ghosts in this world far from where they ever lived. Though mostly even when they’re free, they stay put. Habit, I guess. Or not knowing they can move.”

Aroha grabs a handful of the glowing soil and throws it towards the city. Another on the path below, and then she moves quickly, picking up handfuls and throwing them in all directions, spinning, nearly dancing, laughing as she goes.

The light shatters. The soil loses most of its glow as it hits the ground, dispersed amid the grass and on the paths below. You float upwards and you keep floating over the hill, down the pathways and through the streets that are not the same as you left them but not impossibly different either. The Kings is gone but the Paramount and the Embassy are still there; you find traces of the past, traces of the world you were snatched from. You keep going and you are free.

The world splinters into shards of new stories for you to find.

Read on by purchasing From a Shadow Grave in paperback from our website (New Zealand only) or in ebook or paperback from any of these stores!

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Excerpt: Octavia Cade, The Stone Wētā

Cover image of The Stone Wētā, by Octavia Cade

Octavia Cade’s climate-change thriller The Stone Wētā is a claustrophobic story about how the web of connections between working scientists can be used to preserve research that could save our planet – or to hunt down the scientists themselves.

In the excerpt below, climate operatives have begun to disappear and one woman – who uses the code name the Fish-scale Gecko – fears she might be next.


“There’s got to be a contingency,” said the Sand Cat, in the first days after the first woman disappeared. “If one of us is found out.”

“We can’t just wait to be picked off, one by one,” argued the Japanese Sea Star. “We need a way to hide women as well as information.”

A necessary conversation, but one which had made the Fish-scale Gecko shudder. She was a creature of heights and canopy. Most of the data she’d heard of, the rumours of other women and the hiding places they chose, was a lot closer to underneath, and she didn’t enjoy her claustrophobia.

“How can we even know,” she said. “We’re not spies, not really. None of us! It’s guesswork and instinct and we’re trying.” Doing well even, for women faced with work they weren’t trained for, gritting teeth and getting on. “And if someone panics and runs off before they should, if they think they’ve been recognised and haven’t, all they’re going to do is draw attention. It’s better to stay put,” she said. “Our advantage is that we know our own communities. We’ve all got neighbours, colleagues.” People who knew them, who would come to help if they heard screaming, who might recognise a wrongness.

That had been the Sand Cat’s recommendation right from the start. “I don’t need the reminder,” she said.

“I think you do,” said the Fish-scale Gecko. But she said it kindly, because that first disappearance meant they had blood on their hands, all of them. Every woman involved, who had chosen to be involved, who had come in believing that they knew the risks. “And I’m the one who’s asked them to do it,” said the Sand Cat. “Even when it’s not me personally, it’s someone who can be traced back to me.”

“I’m not doing this for you,” said the Fish-scale Gecko. “This isn’t a cult of personality. I got involved to protect the science. I’d like to think I’d be doing that whether I knew you or not.”

And that was the truth – but it was also true that it was easier to be brave as part of a group. And all of them, everywhere, were just a few small strands away from being cut off from that group, from a compromise that had to see data moved elsewhere. “It’s knowing whether or not you’ve been compromised that’s the problem,” she continued. “It’d be easy if we knew for sure. But if we don’t know… if we’re left alone, all of us, someone’s likely to panic.”

They’d do it with the best of intentions. Sacrifice themselves, even, to lead the threat away, but intent didn’t mitigate outcome and that sacrifice, made before time, could be a long and costly one.

“I will not tell women they have to stay and even die if they are afraid, or if they are found,” said the Sand Cat. “I will not do it.”

“I don’t think you understand,” said the Fish-scale Gecko. “No-one ever said that you had to ask. We knew what we were getting into, all of us.” It was presumption to speak for them all, she knew, but no-one could bury data – literally bury it – without thinking of the need, and of what the acknowledgement of that need implied. “You have tapped into a population that tends to understand equations,” she said. “One life against the climate?”

They all had homes. They all had places that they loved.

“It’s not your place to make that decision for us,” she said. She might have to run, one day. She might not. She might have to leave everything behind, shed her old life and start again in a harsher world, but advice or not, friendship or not – conspiracy or not – that decision was hers to make. 

#

Their physiological escape mechanisms mean that the fish-scale gecko is very difficult to catch. Even a loose grip causes it to shed its skin and run for cover, and captured specimens are often damaged in this way, making investigation of entirely intact geckos a rarity. Even capturing them with wads of cotton is insufficient to prevent damage.

#

Jealousy. Indecision. The awareness of threat, both to herself and to science. It was hard to do nothing, hard not to want to recreate the bonds she’d felt while working with others.

She worked in the park as well, of course. Eco-tourism, introducing people to trees and lemurs, the organisms of an island life; a slow move to economic and environmental stability. The Fish-scale Gecko had colleagues there, a community there, and she enjoyed working with them. What they were doing was valuable; it would provide long-term benefits. But it was all open, lacking entirely in secrecy, and that tore at her, left her shamed.

Do I feel this way because there’s more that I could be doing, or because I miss the excitement of it, the danger?

In the end her greatest difficulty was plausibility, because she could almost convince herself that a return to conspiracy had rational support. But that, she knew, was a reasoning supported by ignorance.

The Fish-scale Gecko didn’t know how many climate operatives were in Madagascar, if any. She might be the only one. Might be the only one left in the entire region, all of south-east Africa. The numbers changed depending on circumstance and risk, and she knew that the Sand Cat had to keep sourcing more and more people for her network as more of them were compromised.

I might not be able to be as active as I’d like, thought the Fish-scale Gecko, but maybe I might be able to find someone who can.

It was a risk. If she were being watched, on the chance she might lead them into caches then she’d be watched if she were meeting someone as well, and even if that meeting could be explained away for other reasons the suspicion would only be slightly ameliorated.

So. Communication she couldn’t do, perhaps – or not yet. Observation, though… a scientist was trained to observe, to record data and analyse. The Fish-scale Gecko knew that was something she excelled at. Not only did it allow her to navigate the forests – and worse, the karst – of the Park, to see the small plants and animals that had otherwise escaped the view of many, but it may have saved her when the realisation that she was being observed herself had dawned.

The suspicion that came upon her – always that feeling of watching, whether she was out introducing the tourists to forest, or introducing the villagers to tourists – had been too convincing to ignore, and she’d contacted the Stone Wētā, ostensibly for work purposes, and ended the relationship.

So began her silence.

She’d never be able to tell if she had been identified. She suspected not, because there’d been no follow-up, no strange questions or strange people arriving at stranger times, no actionable threat. The watching had been certain, she’d swear to that, and her escape from it a near and thin-worked thing. But it had given her a sense of watchfulness, of what it felt like to be watched. That was a sense she wanted to avoid evoking in others.

If she was going to assess the people she worked with, to discover which of them would be open to conspiracy and willing to sacrifice, she couldn’t let them know that she was doing it.

“Did you ever think this would turn out so well, when we started?” she said to one of her co-workers as they waved tourists away, chattering and happy as lemurs as they got onto their bus to be driven back to town. Said it again to the women in the villages, talking to them about their children and their futures – and again to the local officials who helped to smooth the way for new sites, new employment opportunities. “And what do you think we could do better?”

#

Because the fish-scale gecko is restricted to a small region in Madagascar, being primarily found in the limestone karst and nearby deciduous forest of the Ankarana National Park, it is particularly vulnerable to threats. Illegal deforestation, grazing, and mining all endanger its habitat.    

#

The Fish-scale Gecko had always been an outdoors person. She didn’t much enjoy cities, far preferred the jagged landscape of limestone, the long stretches of forest, to noise and bright lights and the mass press of people, but that preference didn’t stop her from visiting the capital on occasion – mostly because her family lived there.

Her young cousin, especially, was a favourite. He was a cheerful little kid, had a real sense of wonder that she enjoyed and wanted to encourage. The Fish-scale Gecko had been invited down for his tenth birthday party and was eager to go. She’d ordered a telescope for him – not expensive, but enough for him to point towards Mars and dream, because the colonisation had been a marvel for him. He followed it along as much as he could, drove his parents crazy with questions they couldn’t answer.

“I want to go there one day too,” he said, and the Fish-scale Gecko had warned him that he’d have to work hard but she believed he could do it. She didn’t speak to him of what he’d leave behind, parents and siblings and her. More important, the forests of his home, the surrounding ocean. She’d have felt as if something were amputated from her if she’d have to leave them, though it was more likely, she admitted to herself, that they’d be taken away. But this was a grief far ahead of him and she couldn’t bring herself to squash his enthusiasm. Instead, she’d driven down to Antananarivo, picked up his present, let him open it and dream and smile.

“Do you think I’ll be able to see the colony from here?” he said, pink-cheeked and dancing from foot to foot with excitement as they set it up outside.

“Sorry, but it’s not that good a telescope,” said the Fish-eating Spider. “You’ll be able to see the Martian ice caps though, according to this.” The instruction booklet was spread out in front of them, but the light was fading now and she didn’t want to use a torch and get their eyes unaccustomed to the dark.

“You can see the space station from here too, did you know?” said her cousin. “Only for a couple of minutes. It’ll be here soon, you don’t need a telescope to see it either. I can show you if you like.”

“I would, thank you,” said the Fish-scale Gecko, and let herself be positioned for best viewing.

“You can see it move,” said her cousin. “There, just there! Can you see it?”

“I can see it,” she said, squinting. She’d seen it before this, but didn’t say, not wanting to begrudge him the ability to share what he’d learned. The space station was brighter than most of the stars in the sky, the sun reflecting off it most visibly close to sunset – and then it shone brighter and brighter, a small starburst of light, and was gone.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know,” said the Fish-scale Gecko, squinting in the dark and with apprehension rising up, because she’d seen , seen the space station move out of range before and it had never ended like that, and the shock of it, the sudden looseness of her flesh, made her think that perhaps it was because this time, the ending was different.

Her little cousin had his eye pressed to the scope, was swinging it around in wide arcs trying to make himself see but the Fish-scale Gecko, pushed him gently aside, glanced once and then put the lens cap firmly on the telescope and pulled the boy inside to his parents.

“Don’t let him look through that thing again tonight,” she said.

If they turned on the news they’d soon see why. The Fish-scale Gecko didn’t need the confirmation. She didn’t need to ban the child from his toy either – the orbit would take care of the debris – but she needed a few moments alone, to look up and not away, to understand what had just been taken from her. Taken from them all.

The way station to Mars, the place she’d passed data on to, trusting it to the hands of a woman she’d never met, one who she only knew by the name of Lichen. An orbital promise of exploration, a place to look down from and see the blue planet surviving still for all they did to it.

Gone.


Cover image of The Stone Wētā, by Octavia Cade

The Stone Wētā is out now. New Zealand readers can buy the paperback from our webstore, and readers across the world can buy the ebook at Amazon, Kobo, Apple or Barnes & Noble.

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Excerpt: A.J. Fitzwater, No Man’s Land

Front cover of No Man's Land by A.J. Fitzwater

A.J. Fitzwater’s queer WWII shapeshifter novella is out now. Read an excerpt from the first chapter below…


A piece of night complete with tiny stars flashed amongst the sun-dappled trees. A dog, Tea decided. It must be a dog, that fast and low to the ground.

But this dog made a sound like it was chuckling and whistling at the same time.

The dog had been shadowing Tea for a good five minutes. She squinted into the roadside pines, ready to throw her heavy suitcase.

A wolfish yip. Tea froze.

No wolves in New Zealand, except the zoo, isn’t that right, Robbie? “Sure, no wolves, weird or otherwise, or bears or tigers out in the wop-wops.” He hadn’t sounded convincing as he’d kissed her on the cheek, boarding that train to catch the ship to sail to … where? Somewhere far north of the equator. Somewhere he would exchange shearing clippers for a gun.

This piece of furry night wasn’t a weird wolf, but the way the dog stalked her was not entirely canine. She knew this with the same certainty that used to rush through her blood in the moments before her twin brother came home from being in a fight, again, or in those quiet times when they sat on the shed roof throwing pebbles into the creek near their house on the hill in Dunedin.

Magic? Now that was silly. Besides, how could anyone believe magic existed with someone like Hitler in the world?

“You a good boy?” Tea called into the thick roadside greenery. Her voice squeaked. Annoyed, she wet her mouth. “Come on out, there’s a good boy.”
That’s what you say to farm dogs, right, Robbie?

Nothing. No panting. Not even that strange, jaunty whistle-huff.

The rushing pressure in her temples subsided and Tea sighed. Maybe she was too hot and tired. Her new floral dress pulled too tight under the arms. She dropped her suitcase. It was heavier than it had been that morning. Another sigh as she eased her left heel out of her new leather shoe which she’d had to stuff the toe of with newspaper. Blisters. Botheration. Well, at least they’d match the hardening calluses on her hands from the clippers Robbie had taught her to handle before he left.

Gritting her teeth, she put the shoes back on and resumed her trek down the gravel road. Not the Land Service uniform she was still waiting on, but still: new dress, new shoes. It had taken a lot of clothing rations, but Mum had insisted, as well as using some of what she’d put aside for Robbie’s wedding suit. To Tea, it was out of place. Even her twenty-first birthday dress had been a hand-me-down.

Her mother had insisted. “Who knows what handsome farmers you’ll meet! You’ll be home from that silly job and married in a jiffy!”

Robbie hadn’t called joining the Land Service silly. He’d been proud of his sister when she told him she had applied to be a land girl, alongside the other women’s war services.

“You’re doing your duty for King and country,” he’d said, supplying her with a hug that left her uncomfortable but comforted at the same time. Mum wasn’t big on hugs. “It’s tough work. Heavy work. But I know you can do it, what with all you did looking after Grandad. And I know he would have been proud too.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, and peach light softened her lids. Grandad. Taken by something wet and phlegmy, something that felt yellow. The Great War had eaten him from the inside out and she was worried that this war would eat Robbie, too, now she couldn’t take care of her ‘baby’ brother. At least when he had been out shearing, she knew he was only a day or two away. Now he was too far away for her to make a difference. He may as well have been on the moon.

She didn’t even have a photo of either of them, to remember. Mum didn’t like those ‘soul-stealing things’.

“Toughen up, girl.” Tea could hear her mother’s voice in her head.

Grandad hadn’t been tough in those last days. He’d lost the ability, or maybe the will, to talk, the only sound coming out of him that awful, rattling cough.
“I’ll punch Rommel for you,” was the last thing Robbie had said as he boarded the train, laughing at her downcast face. Mum had expressed her disapproval of punching and pouting; it was especially bad behaviour. Such an admonishment sounded ridiculous considering the arms Robbie would be taking up.

Stop. None of that. She wasn’t a child anymore. She had her war duty to do, like any good girl. All of her fantasies about the world holding a secret in store for her came from those silly books Grandad had shared with her. Elves, mermaids, dragons, monsters, fairies and queens. There were no such things. It was time to grow up. She had to know her place.
But with the men gone, the call for the women to do their part, her place had been turned topsy-turvey. Every step down this road was a step towards the unknown. Tea had a job to do, if she could only find the MacGregor property. And get away from the strange dog.

She blew her frizzed front curl out of her eyes. The latest fashion for painstakingly manicured rolls would never survive the North Otago heat. She giggled at the thought of Betty Grable wrangling sheep as she paused again and extricated from her purse the envelope embossed with the Women’s War Service Auxiliary seal.

The address in the letter gave her no clue as to how far she still had to go. If she weren’t careful, she might get completely lost, walk all the way up the Pigroot, and end up in the middle of Central Otago nowhere. The Palmerston concept of ‘road’ differed greatly from that of Dunedin. “Up thataway,” the station master had nodded when no-one had been at the train to meet her. “Five miles or so. Not far.”

Her blistered heels protested that ‘not far’. Now she wished she had stopped at the tea rooms for a cuppa.

She hadn’t seen any vehicles since she’d left the main road, the valley steadily growing narrower and steeper alongside the Shag River, but that wasn’t unusual considering petrol rationing had been in place for almost a year. Only sheep and cows stared or scattered at her approach.

Oh, and there was the shadow and chuckle of the dog again. The shadow wriggled as if a heat shimmer rose from the road, a shimmer echoed in the strange squiggle that settled in her belly.

“Bother and damnation,” she said.

Enjoying the sound of her blasphemy, she said it again, louder, though her heart sped. Would someone leap out of the trees and slap her for her impudence? Or would her canine shadow take it upon itself to bite her?
The whistle-huff again, like the dog was laughing directly at her thoughts. Tea stared into the trees, tried her own whistle – a terrible, slobbery thing – but the dog didn’t appear. With a sigh and a wiggle of her shoulders against the unladylike sweat dripping down her back, she read her letter once more in an attempt to soothe herself.

The seal should have been that of the Women’s Land Service, but the office said they were still in the process of changing to the official name. No matter how much she’d squeezed her eyes tight and wished, it didn’t turn into the seal of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps or Women’s Royal Navy Service.

She’d volunteered early for the Women’s War Service Auxiliary, hoping to be manpowered to somewhere fancy like Wigram or Ohakea. Even the WAAF station at Taieri would have been great, if a little close to home. But, tempted by a rousing speech from MP Mary Grigg to a little-attended afternoon tea at church, and Robbie’s love for the countryside, she had forwarded her name to the Land Service. How strange it had been when the recruiter focused on her posture, dress, and quality of her shoes! How on earth would any of those help on a farm? Surely her nimble
gardening fingers and heavy-lifting ability from nursing Grandad were more important.

She’d felt conspicuous on the train with her lack of uniform or even a badge – the Service alluded they would be forthcoming if  she survived one month on the job. All she had were ugly gumboots and overalls to denote her call to duty, and she didn’t want to show them off to the other girls in their trim blue uniforms and smart hats.

“Oi! Gittin beyind, ya filthy mongrel!”

Tea flinched, and her purse shut on her finger. She yelped. Who would use such filthy words as a greeting to a girl? “Hello?”

“Who’s that?” A figure pushed through the tall, fluffy toetoe, weapon propped casually on one shoulder, prancing dogs at his heels.

Tea gulped down the taste of her heart. It wasn’t a weapon, just a spade.

“My name is Dorothy Gray. I’m looking for the MacGregor farm. Can you help me please?”

The heavy rhythmic thunk of hooves. A horse too big for the pallid boy atop pushed through the tussock and picked its way onto the gravel road. She bit her lip, annoyed at her surprise. This isn’t Dunedin anymore, Tea. You must pay attention to the smells, like Robbie taught you.

Dogs rushed her legs, but they danced rather than nipped. They were good dogs. And they were dogs, she was sure of that smell. The other dog, the strange one in the bushes, had smelled like … starlight.

How silly, she admonished herself.

The older man, dressed in sagging dusty pants and a red bush shirt, stepped to the fence line. His spade clanged against the wire; ‘number 8’, Robbie had called the ubiquitous fencing material.

“I’m MacGregor.” He sized her up too slowly for her liking. “Gray, huh? I know a shearer named Robbie Gray. You his thing?”

Tea set her shoulders like Robbie had taught her too. “I’m his sister. I’ve been sent here from the Land Service.”

“Huh. That’s right. Was expecting you on the evening train. Hmm. Robbie said something about a sister once. Didn’t expect a girl to follow in his footsteps.” MacGregor eyeballed Tea in a way that made her scalp prickle despite the warm spring afternoon. “You’re awfully dark for Robbie’s kin. You not one of them lazy mowrees, are ya?”

Tea didn’t hesitate; Mum hated such inferences, too. “No, sir. I simply take the sun easier than he does. We’re twins.”

“Huh.” MacGregor looked unconvinced. “Gonna have to put that hair of yours up. None of those pins and rollers round this place.”

“I understand, sir.”

“You better have your gear, girl.” MacGregor lifted his chin at her attire. “Them gloves are useless out here and Mrs MacGregor don’t have time to be wasting on mending and frilly sewing.”

“Yes, sir. These are my Sunday clothes, sir.” She hefted her suitcase. “I have overalls and such, from the Land Service.”

“Fine, fine.” MacGregor waved her words away like a fly. “A boy and girl twin, you say? You don’t got Robbie’s hair or much of his face.”

“Fraternal twins, sir,” chipped in the skinny boy on the horse. He too had been watching Tea too close for her liking. The shivery rush of blood made her vision tunnel and she had to take a deep breath. “Means they don’t always look the same. Like Robbie can have brown hair and Miss Gray can have black.”

MacGregor grunted and kicked at one of the dogs snuffling near his shoes. It yipped and slunk away with a baleful backward glance. Shame pinched at Tea’s throat.

The boy bent forward a little and tipped his floppy brim hat, showing off big ears and a peeling, beaky nose. She was glad he couldn’t offer a hand from that height; he might crumble at a stiff shake. Or a breeze. “Nice to meet you, ma’am. Robbie told me a lot about you. I’m Grant Stevenson.”

The prickle went through her scalp again. And Robbie didn’t tell me anything about you at all, Tea thought.


Front cover of No Man's Land by A.J. Fitzwater

No Man’s Land is out now. New Zealand readers can purchase a paperback here on our website, and the ebook is available at Amazon, Kobo and Apple Books!

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The Stone Wētā goes live

Cover image of The Stone Wētā, by Octavia Cade

Octavia Cade’s The Stone Wētā launched this week, with a virtual launch party and Q&A hosted by Massey University’s Dr Laura McKay, a Twitter game where Octavia tells you what your climate operative code name would be, and all ebook and paperback pre-orders heading out to eager readers.

The Stone Wētā is an absolute treat of a book. If you haven’t got your copy already, you can order one from your local bookstore (or from us!) or pick up the ebook from your favourite ebook store including AmazonKobo and Apple. More information about ordering the paperback here.

Octavia stars in Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bit blog series this week, talking about the science behind the story: My Favorite Bit: Octavia Cade talks about The Stone Weta. For more behind-the-scenes insights, check out her guest post on Jamie Sands’ website: Smuggling Science and Climate Change with Octavia Cade.

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Cover reveal: Octavia Cade’s THE STONE WĒTĀ

Here it is – the first of three covers reveals for Paper Road Press’s upcoming 2020 releases!

Last year, award-winning artist Emma Weakley created the covers for Andi C. Buchanan’s From a Shadow Grave and the very first Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy (Both of which are eligible for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Professional Artwork – nominations close 31 March!).

This year, I asked Emma to create cover artwork for Octavia Cade’s climate thriller The Stone Wētā. I’m thrilled with what she came up with. Gorgeously ugly and totally eye-grabbing. I can’t wait to see that face glaring out at me from my bookshelf.

The Stone Wētā comes out on 22 April – Earth Day, appropriate for a book that is so focused on what people would be willing to do to protect, or exert control over, our planet.

You can preorder the paperback and find links to preorder the ebook from all major ebook vendors here.

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Paper Road Press awards eligibility

The New Year has swept in and with it, SFF awards around the globe have opened for nominations.

Sir Julius Vogel Awards

Here in Aotearoa, the primary SFF awards are the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, run by Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans of New Zealand (SFFANZ).

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can nominate works for the SJVs using this form. The (up to) five eligible works that receive the most nominations in each category make it onto the shortlist, which is voted on by members of SFFANZ (Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand) and/or the national science fiction convention. And this year, the national science fiction convention is going international, with Wellington hosting this year’s Worldcon: CoNZealand. This is an amazing opportunity to share NZ SFF with the world.

The following Paper Road Press works are eligible for the SJVs and other awards:

  • From A Shadow Grave, by Andi C. Buchanan – eligible for BEST NOVELLA/NOVELETTE (25,000 words)
  • Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy – eligible for BEST COLLECTED WORK
  • Cover of From a Shadow Grave, by Emma Weakley – eligible for BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTWORK
  • Cover of Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy, by Emma Weakley – eligible for BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTWORK

An unofficial and by no means comprehensive list of eligible works in each category is available here.

Nominations for the SJVs can be made via the webform here, before 31st March 2020.

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A double book launch this Halloween!

If you’re in Wellington this Halloween, join us to celebrate the launch of our first new releases in three years!

We’ll be launching Andi C. Buchanan’s From a Shadow Grave and the inaugural Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy anthology at Vic Books Pipitea from 5.30 pm, on Thursday 31 October.

RSVP at our Facebook event or by email to marie@paperroadpress.co.nz

Find out more about these two books:

From a Shadow Grave

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I

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