Fiction in 2019 #3 – Inheritance


After a period of quiet, no doubt connected to the birth of four lively and rambunctious children, Harris returned to the art world in 1955 with ‘Their Founding Fathers’. The painting, from outside the frame, seems merely a historical scene recreated. It is one any American would be able to recognise in a heartbeat: the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, the inflammatory title (Their, not Our) is a clue to what might be found within. It is truly a remarkable painting to enter.

It is like stepping into a furnace. That is the first thing someone experiences upon entering the painting. The heat embraces you, squeezes you. It sinks deep into your lungs. Before you can even recognise the faces of Washington or Jefferson, you are dying. The music comes soon after. Pushing dangerously on the eardrum, it drowns out any of the Founding Fathers’ conversation. Unmistakably, the words of ‘Go Down Moses’ fill the room. The singer is unidentified. The voice is croaky, dry. You wonder if he’s going to be able to make it to the end of the song. The feeling is only emboldened when you hear the snapping of a whip and the cry of anguish reaching every corner of the room. Coupled with the heat, the music makes the room almost unbearable to stay in. You take a step back, readying to leave. And that is when you notice the floor. The dark, varnished floorboards the Founding Fathers stand on are not wood at all. They’re men. Eyes look up at you. Mouths scream.

It is perhaps impossible to state the impact and outcry that ‘Their Founding Fathers’ had in 1955. There were several genuine attempts to have Harris charged with a litany of crimes, including treason. She had to hire private bodyguards for security, but she remained firm in her work. In later years, she refused to discuss the aftermath, and we can only imagine how frightening such a time must have been with four young children. Her commercial reputation was shot. But while the public recoiled from the painting, some progressive critics raved about it. It was a stinging indictment on America’s founding myth, an expression of African American distaste for how a nation of freedom was built upon the back of slaves. More work came, the brushstrokes of Harris lashing out at centuries of injustice.


There are stories you just love once you’ve finished writing. This is one of them. ‘Inheritance’, found in Issue 124 of Aurealis, is possibly my favourite story which has been published this year. It takes a simple premise, a magical painter who can create art you can walk inside of, and spins out an entire new world through the form of an art history essay.

‘Inheritance’ really sticks to the art essay approach, including footnotes alluding to events in this parallel world where magic exists. There is worldbuilding in this story and there is, of course, magic. But the story is also concerned with politics, family and the fragile nature of memories. I’m always fond of a twist, but I don’t think I have ever landed one at a thematic level as well as I have in this story.

I really urge you to check out Aurealis #124 if for no other reason that this is the story I’ll be shilling when it comes to nominating season for awards. I love this one. I hope you do too.

You can find Aurealis #124 here:

Aurealis #124

Fiction in 2019 #2 – Ten Stages of War

alternative apoc

“And people are saying, they are actually saying, ‘oh the President is making this up. There are no aliens. They don’t exist’. I can’t believe people are saying that. If I was going to lie, I’d come up with a better lie than that, believe me. But this is the truth. We are under attack. I think you all have a right to know by what.

“The media, they’re not reporting on it. They’re being so dishonest. They won’t report on what Conaxas is capable of. So many capabilities. I can’t believe it. They weaponise everything. Water, water like you wouldn’t believe, so hot and boiling, melts a man in seconds. And, let me tell you, their leaders don’t have to worry about the dishonest media like I do. In fact, they don’t even have media. I know. Sometimes I think, hey, you know, maybe these Conaxasians are onto something. I joke, I joke. It was a joke. The media is very important but only when they’re being honest, and they are being so dishonest right now. They write stories about lies. People come up to them and lie, they say, ‘oh the President is doing this’ and they never even check with me. So dishonest.

“The media is like the Conaxasians; they are basically on the same team. Conaxas has weaponised facts. They don’t believe in them. They just say what they want, and it becomes true. You see that wall, it’s blue right? A lovely blue wall. Been there since Reagan I believe, and I love Reagan. Well in Conaxas, they just go, ‘oh that wall is gold now’ and it is. It is, folks. The wall becomes gold. How do you fight that?”


When it comes to ‘Ten Stages of War’, published in B Cubed Press’s Alternative Apocalypse, we have to look to Argentina. The world of literature is vast and glorious. That’s a great thing. The sad downside to this fact is that you’re never going to be able to read every good story. Also, your tastes can become insular, less a comfortable blanket and more a strict prison. There are heroes, though, fighting the good fight in providing us with a chance to broaden our reading: translators.

I owe an enormous debt to Gregory Rabassa for translating Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder for translating Carsten Jensen’s astonishing We, the Drowned. However, the biggest debt might be owed to those translators (too many to list unfortunately) who translated the work of Jorge Luis Borges. Borges was a genius and I urge you to read some of his work. ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ is one of the funniest short stories I have ever read. ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ is dealing with quantum mechanics in literature a decade before quantum mechanics was even being dealt with in science. And ‘Three Versions of Judas’ is a staggering thought experiment even for a non-believer such as myself.

However, one story, seems particularly prescient. ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ imagines a world of subjective idealism, where reality itself can be rejected. It is a philosophical issue. It also seems entirely fitting to the political environment of the last four years. We pick our sides. We choose our own subjective reality. There is no objective narrative, only alternative facts.

So, ‘Ten Stages of War’ is a Borgesian tale, a remake of ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ in a Trumpian world. There are ten stages until the Earth is a lie.

You can read it in the best-selling Alternative Apocalypse (ebook and paperback):

Fiction in 2019 #1 – Much Obliged, Stephen


I was in a right pickle. Not one of those pickles someone says before telling you they’re stuck between choosing two lovers, one a busty maiden perkier than Everest and the other some Adonis bathed in the remaining olive oil reserves. That’s not being caught in a pickle as so much as being trapped in a light French pastry. No, I was well and truly swimming in the vinegar, hurtling toward the Sun in a single-seater ship with a lick of power, no plan, and no hope. You could spread me over a sandwich I was in that much of a pickle.

Honestly, I suppose I should bally-well row back a bit and explain exactly how I got into this mess, but it seemed important to establish the rumblings of the train heading toward me. It’d be a bit like introducing the kids to the stray tomcat you’re about to beat over the back of the head with a shovel because it won’t leave the prized-winning tomatoes alone. I’m the tomcat and the shovel is the Sun. Don’t grow too attached.


And with such a start, it should be immediately obvious if Much Obliged, Stephen might be a story you are interested in. Published in Issue #10 of MYTHIC, Much Obliged, Stephen is essentially a love letter to the style of P.G Wodehouse. But in space.

I’m aware I’m not the first person to try this. Charlie Stross’s Trunk and Disorderly is another short story that takes a Wodehousian sensibility to science fiction. I enjoyed his spin on things, but I wanted to write something that was even more of a Wodehouse send-up. I took all the major trappings of Jeeves & Wooster, from a helpful butler, a semi-hopeless aristocrat, a convoluted scheme and a troublesome aunt, and then gave them sci-fi makeovers. The butler is now an AI, the aunt is a post-local entity, and the convoluted scheme involves space racing.

Personally, I love this story. I think it is very funny, while still retaining an interesting plot. I recognise, though, that this might not be for everyone. This is Wodehouse through and through. It is about trying to find the perfect comical description for every moment. It is for witty asides. It has an unexpected discussion of Jeremy Bentham’s view of utilitarianism. If you like your sci-fi with a whole lot of funny, or you really wished someone was willing to send Jeeves up to space, then please check out Much Obliged, Stephen. I think you will love it.

And if you read that introduction and thought that you wanted to stab yourself with a fork, well, I’m sure I’ll have another story that might be a better fit for you instead. Let’s find out over the next week.

You can buy MYTHIC #10 and Much Obliged, Stephen in both ebook and print form here:

And I would have gotten away with it too…

As is now a long-running tradition, I have barely kept this website updated outside of the published works list. It is a flaw of mine, which I’m sure is knee capping me in some way from building a readership and utilising exposure, and all those other marketing buzzwords that I wish didn’t exist. Unfortunately, they exist for good reason. In this day and age, you do need to do more than just write stories. However, let me break this blogging silence with some news…

I have just now unveiled myself as the writer behind the Political Poetry NZ account. It’s been an interesting couple of years as a smart-mouth political poet. In 2017, thoroughly uninspired by the prospect of three more years of National doing nothing about climate change and reinvestment in areas like education, I decided to launch a guerrilla poetry campaign. Frankly, I have no idea why. I think maybe it was just an avenue to vent some frustration with a political system that leaves the average voter feeling pretty powerless at times.  Throughout the 2017 election, I said I would write a poem a day for the entire campaign. I didn’t quite manage that, but I did end up writing 26 poems about the 2017 election, which is absolutely ridiculous. Today, I am now up to 47 poems on that Twitter account.

One of them is now engraved onto the side of a small, mobile library (or book nook) in Hamilton, which is lovely. Another was linked to in the New Zealand Herald, which was a surprising development. I have yet to receive a cheque from the Herald for my contribution to its website. But I’m sure it’s coming soon. The New Zealand Free Speech Coalition blocked my account. I wrote a poem about Duncan Garner calling him a fuckwit, and then he wrote a lengthy Facebook message about online abuse, including that he had been called a fuckwit. I can only hope that it was my poem he saw. I will go to the grave believing this to be the case. Several MPs follow me, and so does Paddy Gower, and I have no idea why they inflict this on themselves. Especially you, Chris Penk.

This is just some of the craziest enough that has occurred since I started out. Bill Manhire even retweeted one of my poems!

In a lot of ways, the Political Poetry project got by on a lot of luck. My first two poems were hardly noticed. Then, Mike Hosking was appointed as the moderator for a debate and my poem on that development caught people’s attention. I think this is true of most creative projects. No matter how good, bad, well-planned, slapdash, or ridiculous they are, you’re going to need a whole lot of luck and a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time. The Political Poetry NZ account was never particularly massive. But it had a readership, people liked and shared its poems, and it was more successful than I ever thought it was going to be. I am honestly thrilled with how it turned out.

If I had to list some of my favourite poems, I’d probably say ‘competent economic managers’, ‘at the end of the day’, ‘competing narratives’ and ‘last orders’ were genuinely good poems with a clear political message as well. I’m proud of those poems. I’m also proud with the poems that dealt with difficult issues, like the Christchurch terror attack or the debate on euthanasia. I also love some of my jokey poems even if they were incredibly dumb. For example, a poem shaped like a worm when Peter Dunne announced his retirement.

When I first started this project, I chose anonymity partly because at the time I was working as a Judges’ Clerk at the District Court and was a public sector worker. But I think that was probably just an excuse. I chose anonymity because I am not a poet and putting work out in the world was scary. I did not want to publicly embarrass myself. Some of those poems are quite embarrassing. Some of them are very bad. But there were also good poems, which seemed to strike a chord with people. So, with hindsight, I’m happy to claim ownership of the good and the bad.

But I have found it harder to sit down and write new poems. I think I’ve said a lot, and I may be starting to repeat myself. Also, I’m truly not really a poet. I’m a fiction writer. I write short stories (and hopefully novels in the future) and that’s where my attention as a creative person truly lies. So, for now, the Political Poetry adventure is over.

And what does that leave me? Well, to come full circle, I am left with a Twitter account with a decent following and a fall-off in my desire to write political poetry. So, I’ve claimed it as my own Twitter account, revealed myself, and now you’re possibly reading this post after being linked here by my Twitter account. Did I just accidentally do a good marketing thing? Oops.

Anyway, I hope you stick around and continue to follow me. I hope you also check out some of my fiction work as well. I tend to write something near literary speculative fiction, I guess. If you like people like Neil Gaiman and Susanne Clarke then you might like what I write. I also love to write comedies as well, so if you like funny stories, I do also have that going on. I think some of the stories I’ve had published are actually quite good, and I hope you’ll like them. Over the coming days, I am going to run over all my stories published this year, so hopefully one of them might take your fancy. And who knows, there’s an election next year. Maybe Political Poetry NZ might be temporarily resurrected.

  • Political Poetry NZ James