31 August 2008

Transported, by Tim Jones

I haven’t been getting too much time to read of late, but when I have snatched some time, I worked my way through Tim Jones’s recent short story collection Transported (Random House, 2008). Tim is a literary and blogging friend of mine, and he’s also the guest editor of JAAM 26, which I’ve just finished typesetting.

Transported is Tim’s second collection of stories – his first, Extreme Weather Events, was published in 2001 by HeadworX, who also published his two collections of poetry: Boat People (2002) and All Black’s Kitchen Gardens (2007). Unusually for a poet (I think?), he’s also published a fantasy novel, Anarya’s Secret (Redbrick). From all of that, you can see that Tim Jones is an extraordinarily flexible writer, with a rather large range of styles and interests – and not just between books, but also within books and within pieces. For example, some of the poems in All Black’s Kitchen Gardens are little poetic science fiction stories.

In a recent blog post, Tim talks about this mixing of the ‘literary’ and the ‘genre’ as ‘interstitial fiction’ – fiction that falls between the cracks and gaps of our usual categories. This crossover of ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ styles is an area Tim is obviously really interested in – in his own work and in that of others. In his call for submissions for JAAM 26 he particularly encouraged writers of ‘speculative fiction’ to submit.

And it’s definitely in evidence in Transported. In here, you’ve got orcs, philosophers, astronauts, poets (actually, the astronaut is a poet), flying people, politicians, alien neighbours, people in the future, people from the past, a girl who can make inanimate objects move just by walking past them. This isn’t your typical short story collection, and that’s what’s so cool about it.

My favourite stories probably are the ones that perhaps tend towards the literary. What do I mean by that? It’s a pretty loaded statement, and one I’m not going to be able to justify entirely, but I guess I mean the ones that tend towards a quiet, reflective tone; the ones in which maybe nothing much happens, but which are especially full of meaning.

Anyway, several of my fav stories combine, in terms of the subject matter, literary/high culture with the ordinary, the banal – what one might call low culture, should one wish to be snobbish (though I would never suggest such a thing.)

In ‘The Visit of M. Foucault to His Brother Wayne’, philosopher Michel Foucault comes to New Zealand and stays with his brother Wayne, a dairy farmer in Southland. Foucault is not especially good with farm work, but has some skill in milking. ‘Borges and I’ begins with the narrator and the South American writer Borges watching the rugby. The narrator advises Borges that ‘only woofters drink coffee at half-time’.

This imaginative combination of things considered high culture and things considered low culture is, of course, what Tim is doing in the entire book, and a great deal of his writing. He plays with this idea in another of the stories I particularly liked, ‘Measureless to Man’. When the poet Coleridge is having trouble with getting started on ‘Kubla Khan’, one of his attempts at a beginning also (though less successfully than Tim) combines high culture with the ordinary: ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a block of council flats decree…’

Another thing that only just struck me about many of my favourite stories in Transported is that a significant number of them are the ones that have ‘real’ people in them – people from history. Others like this are the fantastically titled ‘A Short History of the Twentieth Century, with Fries’, which features ‘Lenin and his posse’, and ‘Win a day with Mikhail Gorbachev!’ I think this points to a preoccupation of mine, more than anything else – of sticking real people into fictional narratives, which is something I very much enjoyed doing in My Iron Spine.

One of the other stories that I really liked is ‘Said Sheree’. It’s kind of a love story between Sheree, a Tier One poet, and Miranda, a Tier Two poet. In this version of reality, New Zealand’s funding system for poetry has categorised everyone into various tiers. Because Miranda and Sheree are in different tiers, theirs is a forbidden – or at least not approved of – love. Along with the fantastic satire, and interesting ideas, it’s also a sweet, moving, and quite sad love story. I was also delighted with it when it mentioned that Miranda, the Tier Two poet, has two poems accepted for JAAM – I think that is our first mention in a published literary work!

Reading this collection I became aware of just how full of ideas Tim’s brain must be – I just can’t fathom how he came up with some of the ideas in these stories. I expect he is the kind of person with folders and folders full with so many ideas for poems, stories, novels that it would take a lifetime for him to finish them. So expect to see many more publications from him.

To read more about Transported, you can find links to and quotes from reviews on his blog here, and here.


Tim Jones said...

Thank you, Helen, for this long and thoughtful assessment of Transported!

You are right about the folders full of ideas, but an idea, by itself, doesn't often make a story - it's when two or more ideas spark together that the stories come.

Nevertheless, I am awaiting the development of a clone army, as per "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones", which will be given the task of turning all my ideas into stories. I expect them to be played, as in Star Wars, by Temuera Morrison. Negotiations are at a delicate stage as I write.

Mike Crowl said...

Hi, Helen, I've recently posted a review of Transported online (it'll appear in the Otago Daily Times soon). This is the link if you're interested. http://www.bookstove.com/Science-Fiction/Transported-by-Tim-Jones.235607
I hadn't come across any of Tim's writing before, and now, having read Transported, would be interested in catching up with some of his other books. Thanks for so helpfully providing a list of them!