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Post-apocalyptic novel carries a warning for NZ

Media release: for immediate use 12 July 2006

Post-apocalyptic novel carries a warning for New Zealand

A new novel for young adults uses the principles of Māori culture to urge the reader to get back in touch with the land.

In order to ensure human survival in a country whose population have been devastated by a calicivirus plague, the characters in Shadow Waters must battle with Kehua and Ponaturi; creatures previously thought to exist only in myth.

Author Chris Baker was lauded over his first book, Kokopu Dreams, for his ability to blend Māori and Pākehā culture to create a setting that is both fictional and plausible. Shadow Waters is Baker’s second book in a planned trilogy.

An environmentalist whose speech and mobility have been seriously affected by multiple sclerosis, Baker wonders whether his exposure to 245T, while working as a farmhand, contributed towards the severity of his symptoms. He draws on personal experience and strong belief when he questions the scientific and technological advances of contemporary society in his writing.

Baker is currently studying English, Film and Media Studies at Otago University.


Author Q and A

What inspired the events in Kokopu Dreams and Shadow Waters?
An abiding interest in biculturalism, and Māori mythology

You use Māori myths and beliefs in a new way – one that’s been described as ‘a futuristic way of going back to the past’ – how important to you is it to include these elements in your writing?
I take a few liberties here but Māori acquaintances say it’s ok and they enjoy seeing past stories given a futuristic setting.

The sense of place is a strong feature in your book – the New Zealand landscape and creatures such as Ponaturi and Taniwha really come to life. How important is setting to you?
Milieu is vital & the NZ landscape and society is an ideal stage for tales like Kokopu Dreams and Shadow Waters.

Is this a warning novel? Are you concerned about the consequences of messing with nature – introducing one pest, or disease as with the calicivirus, to take care of something else?
The whole Kokopu Dreams trilogy is definitely a warning. Papatuanuku is to be treated with respect and with loving kindness.

You suffered exposure to 245T when younger, do you think this has contributed towards the symptoms you suffer as a consequence of your multiple sclerosis?
It most definitely caused the MS, the most debilitating symptom of which is chronic fatigue. But this is manageable. Two days a week I lecture a group of medical students (different each time) about how to handle disabled people. The trick is to move out of your body and into your head. To do this you have to foster some worthwhile mental activity otherwise you may end up in an institution with the highlight of your day being an episode of Bob the Builder!

There are a lot more stories to tell about the people from Kokopu Waters – any plans for a follow-up?
A book to complete the trilogy is already written and I consider it a superior tale to the other two.

What writers and books have influenced you?
Stephen King/Peter Straub collaborations, Sth American magic realists (Jorge
Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lucius Shepherd) Russian SF writers like
the Strugatsky Bros (Roadside Picnic), Viktor Pelevin (Om On Ra), US and UK
SF shorts & novels, post-modern US fiction (Pynchon, Didion, E L Doctorow,
Don de Lillo (White Noise) Brett Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero) Maxine Hong
Kingston (China Men), Hunter S Thompson’s Fear & Loathing journalism, good
journalism wherever I can find it. My reading is wide, omnivorous and constant.


What critics said about the first book in the series; Kokopu Dreams

“Baker achieves a dreadful majesty with his laconic prose”
- Peter Hawes, NZ Books

"This is the earth claiming utu. Kokopu Dreams is an allegory about greed and technological “progress” with a local setting that’s contemporary and plausible. This debut is quite an achievement ... The reader can't resist accompanying Sean on his journey through a world gone wrong."
- Chris Bourke, North and South

" ... extraordinary debut novel of 51-year-old Otago writer Chris Baker ... Huia Publishers usually publishes works by Māori writers, but there are good reasons for making an exception in Baker's case. It's hard to think of any novel written in the last five years more steeped in Māori mythology than Kokopu Dreams."
- Iain Sharp, Sunday Star-Times

"Immensely readable ... carried by the strength of its storytelling and its open attempt at bringing a non-Māori view of biculturalism into our literature."
- Anne Kennedy, New Zealand Listener

"Kokopu Dreams is an old story. Just about everyone loves old stories, especially when they are as well told as this one. New Zealand is the setting, and what better place to set a story of legend and magic? Why else would that other Arthurian-derived story The Lord of the Rings be filmed here?"
- John Connor, New Zealand Herald

“refreshing, raw and thought provoking”
“a novel of emotional & spiritual depth in simple, uniquely kiwi language”
“Māori culture is an overwhelming factor in the regeneration of society. It is the principles of Māori culture that will ensure human survival – a re-embracement of the land and its treasures and a reconnection with humanity.”
“Quite simply, this is a fantastic read.”
- Megan Parish in Salient

“a landmark in reconciliation: a rare cross-over between Māori and European culture”
- Steve Packer in Spinach


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