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Kilimanjaro: A Fable of Utopia
Mike Resnick
Subterranean Press, 104 pages

Kilimanjaro: A Fable of Utopia
Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick sold his first book in 1962 and went on to sell more than 200 novels, 300 short stories and 2,000 articles, almost all of them under pseudonyms. He turned to SF with the sale of The Soul Eater, his first under his own name. Since 1989, Mike has won Hugo Awards (for Kirinyaga; The Manamouki; Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge; The 43 Antarean Dynasties; Travels With My Cats) and a Nebula Award (for Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge).

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

When many authors want to explore how different decisions would have played out, they turn their attention to alternate history. Mike Resnick has taken a different tack with Kilimanjaro, the follow-up to Kirinyaga. Set in the same universe a century later, Kilimanjaro has studied the errors of Kirinyaga so they can avoid the pitfalls Koriba led his society through. Despite their close study, the Kilimanjarans find themselves facing many of the same issues without a plan of action.

Drawing not only on the traditions of the Maasai, who settled Kilimanjaro, but also on other tribes and peoples, Resnick institutes alternative solutions to the ones mandated by Koriba. Rather than provide the point of view of a mundumugu who wants to return to pre-colonized Kenya, Kilimanjaro has a professional historian who wants to mine the past for pointers to the future. While Koriba was the leader of Kirinyaga, David ole Saitoti is merely an unofficial advisor on Kilimanjaro.

The Maasai find they must deal with problems stemming from a conflict between tradition an change. There are arguments over gender roles, ethnic identity, immigration policy, and other issues. While Koriba of Kirinyaga would have always sided with traditional values, the Maasai of Kilimanjaro tend to embrace change, although always paying lip service to the idea of living with tradition.

One of the most problematic decisions Resnick made was his selection of a leader for Kilimanjaro. Although William Blumlein is presented as the perfect person for the job, the fact of his European ancestry, even while it frees him from the interclan rivalries, carries with it a sense of paternalism. The Maasai can advise on their future, but they must be led by a European.

Resnick's puzzles for the Maasai all come to rational solutions, moreso than the solutions offered by Koriba in Kirinyaga. However, the situations are gamed by auctorial fiat in order to make them appear as the only reasonable answer to the problem. Resnick, himself points this out when Blumlein is careful to only present one side of an argument, knowing that there is another solution, but dismissing it as a not worthwhile solution.

Although the characters in the book are looking to create a utopia, the definition of a utopia is fluid and different characters hold differing points of view as to what it means. While the term is bandied about, however, for the most part, it is used in the background as a nebulous concept when David, William, and the other characters are trying to resolve the questions they face about the sort of society that will evolve on Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro is a short work, but it provides several different shorter pieces with interesting questions about the ways societies cope with change. Although set in a science fictional venue, the questions can easily be applied to modern society, with the Maasai traditions standing in for the traditional points of view in the United States, Britain, or elsewhere, which are having to face innovations, and alternative points of view in a more global world.

Copyright © 2009 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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