Review: Te Korero Ahi Ka: To Speak of the Home Fires Burning

Te Korero Ahi Ka breathes fire in its very name, bold letters seared in fierce flames in a composition of contemporary speculative fiction infused with Maori and Pacific Island enchantment, language and folklore. The compilation’s title emphasises the spirit of story, mottled with the subtlety and blitheness of New Zealand levity, draped in the wealth and diversity of unforgettable landscape. Each story is bequeathed the legacy of a strong sense of place.

In a quest for speculated times, spaces and events, as you read this assemblage, you stumble across crumbling rock, echoing valleys, sentient trees, beaches with pumice sand, piney worlds harbouring tawny-coloured owls, bush-clad humps of islands, translucent waves lapping the shores of a cold lake, clear sizzling geysers erupting from mud-splattered earthcores... As the Waitaki River silently rages, neutrons and quantum states shape the destiny of subjects in life and death experiments inside a bioquantum laboratory where time is all slivers and an awful lot happens in fractions of a second.

Te Korero Ahi Ka is cross-genre in its assemblage of science fiction, fantasy, horror and sub-genres by a community of speculative fiction writers in New Zealand. Editors Grace Bridges, Lee Murray and Aaron Compton present to the reader the class of median, notable and epic you might envisage in a collage of new writing, reprints and award winners. But no story is predictable, and everything is ‘what if’. There is something for the probing reader who revels in imagination, a mind without borders.

Opening with Ahi Ka, a dual written prose sonnet, the anthology is exemplar in its diversity, quintessential in its unique cast of dragons and fae, mages and princesses, black-deckled beasts and Godzilla mockups, moa and zombies as in Kevin Berry’s On the Run that culminates in a twist... As you look closer and summon a prophesy from the water in Grant Stone’s interrogation of real and the hyperreal in Friend, suddenly you tread across a paddock and travel through time without slipping past a magical doorway in Robinne Weiss’s futuristic Breach.

There is Kevin G. Maclean’s postmodern adaptation of the three little pigs, now championing the big bad wolf. Meet the threshold guardian and the stories he takes in Mike Reeves-McMillan’s Gatekeeper, What Toll?—robust in its characterisation, mystery and suspense. Find astonishment in a night of supermoons that charms a precocious little girl in Debbie Cowens’ The Music of the Spheres. Spooked? Just wait: a cadence of ghosts walks the rooms of an ancient two-storey house that stands on a ridge adjoining a murky sea in the poignancy of Alan Baxter’s Her Grief in my Halls.

As you ponder the heart and soul of each writing, an intently-eyed stranger with a woollen overcoat invites you to his boatshed in a wharf full of secrets in Jane Percival’s butcher story The Mysterious Mr Montague. We meet kaitiaki—the guardian; wairua—the great great grandfather’s spirit, taniwha—the mythical water-serpent that shifts within a hand-made sketch…

The clever pick of writing is a rich mélange of over 30 stories told in first, second or third person, past or present tense. Its only failing is perhaps the order of stories, some gems carefully ensconced between smoky whirls of other stories rather than lauded at the fore of the montage in crackling flames.

Purchase a copy of Te Korero Ahi Ka in paperback or ebook here

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