A little over two weeks ago – as people were gathering in what is now known as “Liberation Square” in Cairo – I started reading Genesis, a young-adult fiction thriller by Wellington writer Bernard Beckett.
It's an interesting book – great twist in the final pages – and I can see why it won a number of awards.
It is set in what is the now standard world for science fiction writers, that post-apocalypse future -- but also quite specifically in what we might call Fortress Aotearoa in 2075.
Before the end comes a great visionary (Plato) moves his investments to Aotearoa and by the time war is declared he has convinced the residents that they need an effective defense system. Hence the Great Sea Fence of the Republic, complete in 2051, so that by the time of the first plague in 2052 Aotearoa is effectively sealed off from the rest of the world.
By 2053 it was “widely believed within The Republic that theirs was the planet's last habitable homeland”, writes Beckett.
“The refugees were expected, of course, and when they came they were dispatched. Approaching aircraft were shot down without any attempt at communication, and in the early days the people gathered on cliff tops to watch the spectacle of ghost ships exploding on the horizon as they drifted through the mined zone.”
At the time Genesis is set the guards patrolling the Great Sea Fence are seeing few refugees. Aotearoa is safe from outsiders and their poisonous influence.
As I was reading this I remembered back some decades when C.K. Stead was talking about his Smith's Dream, saying that a New Zealander's ideal was that little bach where you could just bloody well get away from it all, just be left in peace.
It is what Smith seeks when his marriage breaks up. That's his dream.
Well, in both Genesis and Smith's Dream that outside world still rudely intrudes.
Yesterday I was thinking about this as people gathered in Cairo – and around radios and television sets across the planet – to wait for Egyptian president Mubarak (do he and Berlusconi share the same plastic surgeon you reckon?) to finally resign.
And what a momentous day this was going to be.
That morning I'd heard National Radio mention “the infamous Muslim Brotherhood”: The evidence for this characterisation would be? And Mubarak's regime wasn't? So I wondered how this historic event would be interpreted by commentators here. After all here was a great nation which might actually be the first domino to fall in what some call that “arc of instability”.
And so last night I turned on One News expecting to hear what was made of the fact that, at that time, Mubarak hadn't stepped down as was expected, and how experts might interpret this. Already there was talk of Egypt “erupting”.
I needn't have worried, in Fortress Aotearoa this wasn't the main item on the news.
The big story was some kerfuffle over the All Whites being given a Halberg Award and a judge resigning in protest.
Don't get me wrong, I think this is an interesting story as it plays into the hands of those who – and someone actually said this – think this “PC gone mad”.
But was it the most important news of that day?
I think not. But that's just me.
I'm sure many couldn't give a toss about what is happening in Egypt.
They might be the people who like going to the bach to just bloody well get away from everything – and might welcome Plato and his Great Sea Fence of the Republic.
But the world, like it or not, will still rudely intrude.
As I write this Mubarak has gone and I curious about what the lead item on the news is tonight.
Hope Richie McCaw hasn't pulled a hamstring.
CHEER UP THOUGH: If you still need an escape over at Music From Elsewhere there are many album reviews posted, From the Vaults (new tracks posted daily) throws the strange, interesting and beautiful at you in a random fashion (Laibach muscling up to invade Poland to Is 'e an Aussie is 'e Lizzie? from the Thirties), and there are interviews with diverse musicians here here and “cultural” stuff here here for you to lose yourself in.
Almost as good as getting away from at all if you, like me, can't afford a bach?
Actually Richie has a stress fracture of the foot (?) - but it's ok, that was top story a few days ago :)
Wellington • Since Jan 2009 • 29 posts Report
One of the things I have appreciated since late childhood is, the real life things happen in cribs (the family has several, all self-built, and -no, not appreciating in value since they’re on tribal land and they’re apt to get hammered by the sea-): you dont go there to escape the world, you go there sometimes to recuperate from personal life disasters, but the rest of the world is lying in wait, right on your seaward doorstep-
as with so many things, there’s little I resonate with, in C. K. Stead’s writing…I havent yet read “Genesis” but will do so. I think the premise you outline is flawed in both works __because__we are an archipelago – and archipelagos are always sea-affected.
And fencing out the sea is risible-
Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report
Nah... they just use the same hair dye.
raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1891 posts Report
Bernard Beckett was my son's year 9 form teacher. He taught a range of subjects from maths to drama, and could explain something scientific in a way that could captivate an adult audience. Don't know where he found the time for writing but he's written several, mostly for young adults. Genesis is worth reading. Lester, his first, is good too.
Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3229 posts Report
International news clips come expensive but I don't understand why they don't feel it's worth investing in. Fortress Aotearoa, indeed.
By the way, Liberation Square has had that name for decades.
Leiden • Since Jun 2007 • 27 posts Report
Is the fence from the seabed to above the waves, or does it sit below the surface waiting to foot-trip navies? I'll read Genesis to find out. I hope it's a five wire post and batten fence, with the top wire barbed and the second electrified to make a synchronised swimming attack difficult. If it's suburban paling, that's a vast canvas for aquatic taggers which could be a nice addition to the horizon; but please, no trellis!
Auckland • Since Nov 2010 • 64 posts Report
Not having read the book, I'm guessing too, but mind's eye said it was a floating barricade - a bit like the "wall of death" driftnets we used to see on the news, complete with dead whales and the like - only one that sat up from sea level and extended down.
But yes, news....hmmm. I don't watch the stuff on TV any more. I see more up-to-date news on this blog, with links to other info points.
Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report
A trend I'm impatient to end. I much prefer thorough world-building as long as an author doesn't indulge in details for details sake.
Thankfully I've found the opposite to be the case.
Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report
It's Tahrir Square, but Tahrir is Arabic for "liberation", so it has been known as Liberation Square since they kicked the Poms out in the 1920s.
Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 66 posts Report