Friday, July 31, 2015

Kirinyaga, Mike Resnick Mother of Arthur Clarke, I loved this book. I've kept recommending it to friends as a "best kept secret" or "hidden treasure" since I've read it. It is a stunning, intelligent, profound, and unique collection of short stories, even though it reads more like a novel because each story is set more or less in the same location and with similar characters.

Kirinyaga is the "most honored book in the history of science fiction", based on the fact that each story was nominated and won many prestigious awards. And deservedly so.

The novel / collection is based on a simple but powerful concept: an elderly Kenyan rich man, Koriba, leaves Earth to live on a chartered, terraformed planetoid called Kirinyaga, where he reverts to the old ways of the Kikuyu, after realizing that the old Kikuyu culture in real Kenya has been fatally contaminated by modernity. 

As their mundumugu, he’s the repository of the collected wisdom and customs of the tribe, living alone and apart from the rest but participating daily in their lives, the most feared and venerated among them, feared even by Koinnage, the paramount chief. Only Koriba possesses the technology (a computer) that allows him to communicate with Maintenance, which can change the orbit of Kirinyaga to maintain or alter climatic conditions. Koriba uses this facility, unknown to his people, to his own advantage, bringing rain or drought as he sees fit, often to fulfill his own prophecies and prayers to Ngai.
Each chapter presents Koriba with a new problem that threatens the Utopia he and the others have created. Invoking tribal laws with a fanatical stringency, he tries to find solutions. 
Koriba is a megalomaniac visionary, in love with the Kikuyu but cruel in the strict execution of his dream, in a way that the reader is simultaneously repelled by and sympathetic to him.

I found that Kirinyaga reflects a lot of today's reality, especially our world's constant changes, and its many anachronisms and contradictions. This fast-changing background brings great new things but also a lot of pain and nostalgia. Koriba's adventures will stay with you for a long, long time. His ambivalence will haunt you until the end of the book.

Resnick loves Africa and has a great knowledge of East Africa, and it shows in that the stories are infused with a lot of real Kikuyu traditions, sayings and fables.

A must read. One of the few truly great science fiction books.

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