Random Play by Graham Reid


The dawning of the Age of Precarious

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?

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