Monday, January 18, 2021

Pūrākau: Māori Myths Retold by Māori Writers, by Witi Ihimaera (editor), Whiti Hereaka (editor)

Random House New Zealand, May 2019

This is a collection of recent fantastic fiction by Māori writers, based on Māori creation myths and legends. There's a wide variety, here, some retelling Māori creation myths, some telling the tales of Māori legendary heroes, both in something like their original context, and some in more modern settings. Still others are the Māori gods and mythological figures interacting with humans in very contemporary settings.

Most of these stories worked very well for me, despite my having little to no prior exposure to Māori mythology and culture. Yes, the mythological personalities and their stories don't have the recognizable familiarity for me that Greek or Celtic or Norse mythological figures and tales do, but that's part of the fun, meeting new stories and personalities, and figuring out what it means or represents.

Other stories, though...

One is a story of a person playing a--computer game? augmented reality game? But he's an unpleasant person, the narrative voice of the game is unpleasant, and nearly everyone he encounters in the course of the game is unpleasant. I'm not into gaming, but other gaming-based stories have nevertheless given me a reason to care what happens to the characters. This one, I finished merely to be sure it wasn't the unfamiliar cultural aspects that were putting me off. It wasn't; these characters were just unpleasant and I didn't care what happened to them.

The last--might have worked a lot better for if I actually had the assumed cultural background in Māori myth and legend. It was presented in an intentionally distancing, academic style, commentary on the story rather than telling the story. It didn't work for me, but I think this was a case of "wrong reader," rather than a failing of the story or the writing. I kept thinking, I bet this is really interesting if you already know the story and can therefore appreciate the commentary...

Overall, though, this is an excellent and enjoyable introductory collection. Recommended.

I received this book as a thank you for having volunteered on CoNZealand, the 2020 World Science Fiction Convention, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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