All posts by ReNewZ

About ReNewZ

Privately intellectualising since 1994.

Where to buy

You can pick up The Sovereign Hand from these New Zealand booksellers:
Unity Books: In stock, or able to order.
Paperplus: In stock, or able to order.
Whitcoulls: Ask – may not have in their order system yet.
And definitely please ask and support your local independent bookseller.

Online you can order direct from Steam Press, with free postage, or from Fishpond.

For Ebooks, links to Amazon, Kobo etc, are on the Steam Press page. 

International print and ebooks can be purchased from Amazon.


Writing in fantasy

One thing I spoke about at the launch was my experience in discussing the book with someone for the first time.
One type of response was polite interest, knowing that I had a degree in boring old politics – then the listener perking up when they heard it was a fantasy.
The other was the reverse of this – effectively, if you want to write something important, why fantasy?

Well consider the alternative, if I set a story about personal and state power and the nature of authority, in our “real world. In New York. Moscow. Baghdad. Just from those words, the reader immediately summons an entire pre-constructed world of meaning full of assumptions. Literally, cultural baggage. If the author’s reality and the reader’s do not match, communication is affected. In fact, viewpoints may differ so greatly the only transmission of ideas might be the book flying, thrown by the reader across the room.

By writing and reading in fantasy, it’s like we make a pact, giving each other permission to imagine and question in ways that might conflict with everyday assumptions. This is not so important with what I call “Tree of Life” stories; but it is essential when you are deconstructing big ideas around the “Book of the World”. Our world resists deconstruction, so you have to take that task elsewhere. If I make that new world welcoming to the reader, don’t disrupt with too-intricate world-building, tap into the familiar, keep to what I know is true, I get a chance at a clean slate, and maybe the reader can discover something new.

And also have some epic quests and cool monsters along the way.

Book launched and firing

Thu726088bd-fcec-4a6c-906e-5df5646e40cfrsday’s been and gone, and the book is away. Photos forthcoming. There was a good turnout for the launch, despite the cutting Wellington weather that night, and fun was had, books signed and sold. Stephen said some fine things about the shenanigans between publisher and author over the last couple of years. I unloaded with my undiminished thanks, to Stephen, and particularly my wife Adele, who has been my absolute rock these past ten years, making this happen. The Sovereign Hand couldn’t have been without her.

So the book is now officially everywhere in NZ, Unity Books, Whitcoulls, etc; just ask for it by name. Also, Steam Press will deliver free of charge, and has links to all the other methods of purchase.
Print copies will be available for overseas buyers any day now through Amazon, which also hosts the Kindle version, of course.

The book and I have had good press, with another interview and a feature article going to print this week, and a public reading on the horizon next month. More details (links) when they come to hand, and I expect more reviews soon too.

First review, latest excerpt, free sample – and how you can get it

Book launch details

August 21 is when you can get your hands on a copy of The Sovereign Hand.
I’m still talking with the publisher about pre-orders and getting e-versions out early, but the launch is at Matchbox Gallery 166 Cuba St, Wellington. An elegant space. Frivolity commences at 5:30pm, with some palaver from me and Stephen, and me reading something, probably from Part I (see below – I’m open to suggestions).  There will be nibbles, drink, and of course copies to purchase, at a special price. Just show up on the night.

Or just grab it from Amazon,, etc., or all the usual bookstores after that.


First review
The Sovereign Hand
has also had it first (frankly, glowing) review, from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of NZ. Steam Press have a quote (the full review isn’t up on the SFFANZ website yet). It is pleasing that someone who knows fantasy rates TSH as “possibly one of the best works of fantasy ever published in New Zealand”; but as the reviewer notes, it’s the particulars that make that true:

“[The] setting is quite unusual, an amalgam of High Fantasy and Steampunk, where science and magic both work… And not just that, it is a socially and politically evolved magical society where non-human sentients like gobelins, drakes and Taureans are being steadily integrated into the Primacy… Gilbert has dared to be different, to do the difficult thing, and by and large, he succeeds.”

This echoes what Bernard Beckett has said of the novel: “This is a fantasy that doesn’t simply draw a world for the purposes of its story, but rather draws its story from the richness of the world Gilbert has created”.

Critical feedback so far: people get it. I’ll post a link when the full SFFANZ review comes online.


Excerpts, & The Sovereign Hand (Part I: Thorn) – for free
If that leaves you wanting want to read more,  the major United StatesSFF site,, has posted a new excerpt from the novel. This makes for fantastic exposure and is a big tick for The Sovereign Hand’s value in a crowded and competitive global market.’s excerpt comes from Part I: Thorn, which Rise and Shine also comes from – and now Steam Press has the whole of Part I: Thorn available as a free download. Around 50,000 words! So if you enjoy the excerpts, I guarantee Part 1 has more goodness for you. And if you really like that, please share it around.


30 days from The Sovereign Hand’s launch, but it’s my father’s funeral today. He passed away on the 17th after living for most of six months with Motor Neuron Disease.

Give me 48 hours and I’ll have something exciting happening around here.



A stir of activity (all things considered)

It would be lovely to be in a state of 100% excitement, focus and organisation in the lead up to launch of the The Sovereign Hand‘s on Aug 21; but my Dad is dying. He has Motor Neuron Disease. I’ve known since February and ever since I’ve been arranging to move down to Wellington, to be closer to him and for him to be closer to his only grandchild. Waiting for employment to fall into place hasn’t been working for a little while now. Dad’s health has deteriorated sharply, so me and mine are in the final days of bundling our things for storage and shuffling off to some temporary digs in the capital, somewhere nearby where I can imagine my daughter and I can see a bit of Dad each day, or whatever share of his dwindling time we can get.

Hence the slightly spotty updates around here. I haven’t , especially for an election year, been able to publish much of anarchically democratic value, with my best and most measured analysis reserved for internal monologues while doing the dishes. But I have managed to keep up with some reading, including, of late, Lawrence Patchett’s short stories (I Got His Blood On Me), rereading Voltaire’s Candide (among other of his stories), and James S.A. Corey’s Star Wars novel Honor Among Thieves. (Decent effort at characterising Han Solo, very good story – will have to check out their Leviathan Wakes space opera.) I also want to read Ledgard’s Submergence and Jim Crace’s Harvest –  oh, and Ancillary Justice pretty soon. At some point I’ll have to start being particular about my reading, furnishing the mind for my next project.

Because in actual Sovereign Hand news, the script goes to the printers on Sunday. Done. Finally. An end to my eternal tinkering, after 10 damn years. The next big date will be July 21, when Part One: Thorn will be released as a free download, along with other exciting happenings on that day too. Before then, I’ll be sharing some background to the book addressing the burning question: “Top Ten reasons you should buy (and read) The Sovereign Hand”. Because that’s why you’re all here, right?

But that’ll be a couple of weeks off. First things first.

The Luminaries (Forget your feet)

As already noted, I really enjoyed the discourse flowing around the greatest literary occasion to hit NZ in a long time: Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries winning the 2013 Man Booker Prize. It’s also been great reading more thoughts from Catton via interviews and such, they’re all over the internet. And it’s good she’s not shy with her opinions.

And unsurprisingly, prevailing opinion favours The Luminaries. But it is not unanimous, and I know that some are not attempting or finishing the novel, and there is a reason for that. Upon finishing The Luminaries, I felt fulfilled, satisfied and teased out as if after an actual physical workout, but I’d be lying if I said I loved it right from the start. While I don’t do reviews, as such, I will sound off on books that I like, and I figure a little light analysis might help people know how or whether to try The Luminaries out.

Upon winning the Booker, VUP’s Fergus Barrowman himself said the book had a slow start. So I think the first thing to point out is that if you can get a quarter through the book, you might as well keep reading, it will only get easier, better, and more enjoyable. This is not to say the first chapters aren’t skilfully wrought. The Luminaries carries two stories. The one that kicks the novel off is an intricate tale of a dead man’s gold and what 12 men know about it, which of course includes all the lies, misunderstandings and machinations with each person’s “whole truth” making nothing so true, but nothing less whole than a wheeling constellation of relations.

This story, the messy intrigue of “the whole truth”, is well-served by the astrological origins of the text’s structure. Where the novel shines, however, is towards the end. Catton herself has stated her story is, at the heart of it, a love story, and I would agree. But this heart it is only felt in the final, revelatory third once Staines is found and the text tapers to “nothing but the truth”, without the embellishments surrounding the dominant gold/mystery story. The Irishmen Paddy Ryan appears for one moment just to mark this transition where the lovers’ tale emerges from the body of the other. “Give us a tale and spin it out, so we forget about our feet, and we don’t notice that we’re walking,” he says. In The Luminaries there is a lot of palaver from tenuously connected characters, many minutiae of shipping and insurance, the tiny yet significant details of typesetting a paper, and a general mix of coincidences and contrivances that bring the constellation of events together. This is not a criticism in itself, but as these relations are so slender and transient, a lot hinges on whether you are engaged by the presence of the Victorian-style narrator and her insights and asides as to whether you “forget your feet”. I do like a little narration; a good narration not only reminds us we are engaged with a text but invites us to make our own external connections between it and our world. While others, apparently, have been appropriately bewitched by The Luminaries’ narrator, she remained aloof for me.

But while the early content might be a barrier to some persevering with the novel, Catton’s writing is still a huge ameliorating factor. Her skill with sentences is what makes this conflation of circumstances readable, much less converge with masterful sense. The Luminaries is a novel that shouldn’t work, doesn’t quite work, yet does its work perfectly. Together the two stories comprise “the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, suitably intertwined by the Carvers’ ambitions, and in this the text seems to execute the author’s intent. I confess a wish for the lovers’ and their antagonists to have spent more time centre-stage in a story told with the élan of The Luminaries’ final third. But that would have been an entirely different novel.

Novel progress? Yes!

When you’ve been working on a project for ten years, probably written several million words, you get kinda casual about reporting that yes, you are working on another draft and it will soon be back in the hands of your publisher. It’s draining enough doing it, without writing about doing it. I don’t even really talk about it. It’s a grunt and a nod. It’ll get done. Little Train That Could, n’all.

But now, happily, we’re at the stage of “real” things happening. First, a cover.

The Sovereign Hand - coverIt took much back and forth to get this how Stephen and I wanted. For a long time it felt like nothing would please me – and it’s true, it’s almost impossible for any cover to properly reflect the many varied dimensions of the story – but this one does its job well. The title font evokes the foundation genre well, an impression modified by the font choices for my name and the tag line, the latter being most modern. Equally the eye is a significant image from the text and adds interest with its detail. In short, it speaks directly to those who identify with speculative fiction, while remains understated enough, with enough intrigue, to attract the wider readership it suits. We hope.


TSH proof

And now the proof is in my hot little hand. Okay, this arrived three weeks ago – at this point it’s clear that I have been less than diligent about my updates, tis true – but excuses and explanations for that can wait till tomorrow. For now let’s say she is weighing in at a flattering 452 pages in what I find a very attractive typeface. Pretty damn pleased, and this is where things are at: me scrawling final changes before sending it back. If I motor, that will be by end of May.


Of course, the arrival of a proof also means that people are reading it. Bernard Beckett is author of the award-winning Genesis (a personal favourite that I recommend to everyone) and writes elegantly and knowledgeably on a vast field of topics, while also managing to be a secondary school teacher on the side (and father, and husband – I know better than to leave those out). All his writing has that most critical quality: something to say.  So his praise is like gold to me. I’ll have to dart over to Neil Gaiman’s blog for tips on how to shamelessly integrate such comments to my site.


But there’s more. Without blowing anything too early, there is a real prospect of some major international exposure for The Sovereign Hand, probably in July, online. Stay tuned.

Shortly after that, I hope to have Part One, the first quarter or so of the book ,up online as a free download. I’m a great believer in try-before-you-buy, where possible, and The Sovereign Hand has so much to offer, there’s no reason not to share.

Then the book launch is scheduled for Wellington in mid to late August. If you’re in town, I hope you can make it. For everyone elsewhere, I’m working on making something special available for you too. (A special trip back to Hamilton would be nice too.)


Last, thanks for stopping by. Welcome to my new followers on Twitter – I don’t really use it , but will always tweet when I have news specifically about my book (such as this post). Additionally, if anyone has some other media they prefer to use to keep in touch, for instance a Facebook page for The Sovereign Hand,  just let me know in the comments or contact page. If there’s demand, I can add it. But the easiest way to catch every update is just to follow the blog.

Tomorrow, The Luminaries (finally), and a little more on what I’ve been up to.

Books given, books read

Gifts: The Wind City, by Summer Wigmore; Tropic of Skorpeo by Michael Morrisey; Unspakable Secrets of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauclan; The Factory World by Joe Ryan; I'm Working on a Building by Pip Adam' Hand Me Down World, by Lloyd Jones2013 was my Christmas of Literary Giving. All my family got great NZ books, as pictured, plus The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion‎ (a thoughtful choice, which my mother promptly vetoed by exchanging it for Amy Tan – sigh.)  Of the seven, I’d only read Tropic of Skorpeo and The Factory World, so I was giving away treasures I actually want to read myself: an inverted narrative about the construction of the world’s tallest building on the west coast of the South Island; Wellington’s Aro Valley has a hotbed of adventure, dark magic and intrigue – maybe with The Wind City‘s Maori gods romping around in the capital at the same time? Definitely no lack of entertaining ideas.


Of the books I have read recently, I enjoyed Hamish Clayton’s Wulf, historical fiction fusing Te Rauparaha with the Beowulf epic. Sometimes I take just one or two things away from a novel, and in this case it was the evocative emphasis on a New Zealand that was all “black and green”, without the imported autumnal colours. Living in Dairyland, I was really impressed by that simple point, and kinda yearn to be in that long-gone place. Makes me appreciate my time in what remains of our bush even more.


Kafka’s The Trial. Freedom of information advocate Aaron Swartz was facing the full weight of the US anti cyber “crime” agenda – years of stress, maybe years of jail, millions in punitive fines – after he made academic texts held by MIT available online. Swartz read The Trial in 2011, shortly after his arrest, and according to his father he called it “deep and magnificent” “I’d not really read much Kafka before and had grown up led to believe that it was a paranoid and hyperbolic work,” instead, he’d found it “precisely accurate—every single detail perfectly mirrored my own experience. This isn’t fiction, but documentary.”

Having now read The Trial, it is hard to argue – it resonates with my experiences with Inland Revenue, even challenging a parking ticket, any bureaucratic power. Has anyone not hit their head against a govt department wall? And now they are gathering all our information so they think they have even more god-like powers to judge guilt before innocence, and for anyone hoping to change the world this is chilling to the core.
Aaron Swartz was, of course, driven to suicide last year. No official of any sort will be held responsible for the witch hunt. He was 26.


The most challenging and fascinating, and impressive, novel I’ve read lately is Sleight by Kirsten Kaschock. As a writer, you are attracted to reading that resonates with your own writing. I enjoy texts that ask the reader to make their own connections, and our understandings of the characters, the story, and “sleight” begin as disparate then coalesce, in the same way the sleight troupe’s practise comes together and arrives as a singular definitive event. In this way, the subject mirrors the novel’s structure, which is always effective, when achieved.

The multi-dimensional, abstract, almost impossible performance art-dance Kaschock created in sleight also resonated with the abstract-impossible aspects of The Sovereign Hand: those elements that are often decribed as “unfilmable”, where concrete description and detail surrender to an impression that eludes reality, and is all the more potent for it. The slake moth of Perdido Street Station and the perpetual train of Iron Council come to mind; the affect of scent in Süskind’s Perfume; In The Sovereign Hand, it’s the diablerie, in particular. All evidence that sometimes you can not just call a spade a spade, that you need richer language to unchain the reader from unthinking signifiers and permit them to draw their own ring around whatever is signified in their mind. That’s what speculative fiction, in whatever genre, does best.


Next post: Joe Sacco’s Palestine, The Luminaries, and maybe a bit more about my book.


New year. A lot of change here at the anarko demokratus homestead, one of which being I’m almost ready to become more regular and wide-ranging with my blog posts.

Most exciting, the final final draft of The Sovereign Hand is in Stephen’s hand at Steam Press, so I’m looking forward to discussing the novel more in coming months, including making the whole first act available for download, free. And of course the book’s launch, in August this year, during New Zealand Book Month 2014.

Other topics: I have read a number of books over the summer, including The Luminaries – I did preview the novel, definitely a few more things to say having now read it. And plenty still to say on reading and writing in general.

It is also election year here in New Zealand. I’m not really interested in political parties, but power. Power. Power, power, power – what it is, who has it, and how we relate to it – so I may find a few things to say about that.

In the meantime, here is a snapshot  to prove that I spent my summer in lands distant and wonderous. Well, Wellington Zoo – but what a prize! Not photoshopped, I swear.