Review: Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick

Yes, yet another Resnick review from me. Before I get to the actual review, let me answer the inevitable resounding “Whys?” echoing from my many readers (2, 3? I’ve lost count, time for another census). I started reading Resnick for two reasons: 1) because after hearing he was a huge Africa fan who used his African experiences in his stories, I looked him up, noted our mutual interest in Africa and crosscultural writing, and I got an email a few days later with a buttload (yes, that is an actual unit of measurement) of attachments of his Africa short stories, all of which were featured in major publications and all of which were either nominated for or had won awards. 2) because he is the most published and awarded SF writer ever. 3) because once I read one of his books, I got hooked. His prose style is similar to mine (yeah, right, as if mine were this good), and I love the way he writes powerful characters and situations and lets the questions fly out of what develops. Also, whether or not they are answered is up to the reader.

So, that’s why more Resnick, and I am not done yet, but will be taking at least a one book pause to read my buddy Ken Scholes’ “Antiphon,” a) because I have a copy a month ahead of its actual publication date; b) because I promised to not only review it but participate in discussions with a readers’ group; and c) because I have been begging him for an early copy for a year since finishing the second in the series because the series is so freaking awesome, it’s painful to have to wait. In fact, sidebar, if he could have just had the decency to put those twins off until he finished the series, he could have taken a nice break from writing without so cruelly abandoning his fans.

Okay, enough Resnick-Scholes ranting. Here’s the review:

is the most award-winning science fiction novel ever. Some call it a collection of stories, because Resnick wrote the chapters as short stories, sold them, won awards on them, and then assembled the book, but since together they create a coherent whole, I disagree with that assessment. This is a novel, and no one story would truly be complete without the others.

tells the story of Koriba, a well intentioned Kikuyu man from Kenya who sets about to lead his people to set up their own traditional Utopia, a planet named Kirinyaga after the holy mountain of their god, Ngai, on Kenya. The goal of the settlers is to live the way their ancient ancestors lived with no European influence or niceties. They will hunt and farm for their food, live off the land in traditional bomas (huts) and rule their society with the traditional councils of Elders advised by the mundumugu, Koriba.

The story is really one of the best of intentions gone awry. Koriba’s desire is to preserve the sanctity of his people’s ways, but as time goes on and the original settlers die or age, the new minds begin asking questions not easily answered. Things become even worse as his chosen successor is exposed to ideas through Koriba’s own computer and begins questions Koriba’s ideas and the ways of his people publicly, which leads others to do the same.

Watching his utopia unravel along with his influence, Koriba faces tough decisions and challenges about the future.

That’s all I’ll say to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t actually discovered this yet, but I will make some comments on Resnick’s Africa stuff in general.

Of the African works by him I’ve read, this is the most blatant in adhering and examining their cultural traditions. In books like Inferno, Paradise, and Purgatory, Resnick used African history and a mix of traditions like metaphors to tell science fiction stories examining the larger human condition and particularly Westerner’s attitudes and approaches to those of other cultures or worlds. In other stories and books, he has examined this from different angles, but in this case, he delves into African’s own attitudes about their own worlds and traditions. The same questions and ideas which led to the real erosion of traditional African cultures arise again through these stories and lead the reader to examine why the erosion occurs in every culture and ask whether it’s good or bad. The answers are never black and white, nor are they simple, but they are worth asking.

Resnick’s prose is simple enough for even a ten-year-old to grasp, but the questions and ideas he posits with it are deeply rich and complex and may require several readings even for adults to unravel and fully fathom. I know I have been reading and rereading and plan to do so again, and if you want scifi that challenges your world view, asks questions, and teaches you while still entertaining, I highly recommend this stuff, because it will reward you greatly for the effort.

For what its worth…