by Mike Resnick
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Since 1962, when Brian W. Aldiss's "Hothouse" Cycle of short stories was granted the Hugo Award for Best Short Story, the awards have become more or less set with a much more strictly defined set of rules. Now, however, there is a cycle of short stories which deserves to win an award as a whole as much as the Aldiss series does. In his series of ten Kirinyaga fables, Mike Resnick examines tradition and change in our world.
The specific tradition Resnick elected to examine was that of the Kikuyu people of Africa, who live in what is now Kenya. In fact, he might just as easily have chosen to examine the Native American, the Chassidic Jew, the aboriginal Australian, or any of a number of groups which do not move whole-heartedly into the future. For that matter, Resnick could probably have looked at a group of Science Fiction readers and found similar problems the onslaught of change will bring about.
Resnick takes his Kikuyu and places them on an artificial habitat, Kirinyaga, named after the Kenyan mountain which is holy to them as the home of their chief god. Although Kirinyaga has a maintained habitat, when the cycle opened in "Kirinyaga", only Kikuyu were permitted on Kirinyaga and only their holy man, or mundumugu, Koriba, could contact the technicians who saw that Kirinyaga ran smoothly.
In each of the stories, Koriba must try to lead his people on the traditional path of the Kikuyu people. However, even on the Utopian habitat of Kirinyaga, temptation finds its way to lure the Kikuyu towards a more European civilization. Told from Koriba's point of view, the European civilization is not necessarily evil in and of itself, only when it is subverting the Kikuyu. Unfortunately, as the habitat ages, the original Kikuyu begin dying out and their descendants, who did not ask to be part of the Kirinyaga experiment, begin to yearn for a more modern lifestyle. By the end of the cycle, although Koriba is still revered as a wise man, although his decisions are no longer the ones his people desire to hear. He begins to feel like an outcast in the society which he has worked to shape from its very beginning.
The fables which make up the Kirinyaga cycle are written in a fluid style which makes them extremely readable. More importantly, they are more than simply a good story. Each one examines the growth of culture and civilization. No matter how hard Koriba tries to maintain the society which he desires, the society refuses to remain stagnant. It is Koriba's refusal to bend to th ways of society which make him a tragic figure. Koriba yearns for a time before the European invaded Kenya, yet one can't help wondering if Koriba would have been any happier in the "pure" Kikuyu culture.
The first story in the cycle, "Kirinyaga" was set with the habitat already functioning. It wasn't until one of the later stories, "One Perfect Morning, With Jackals," that Resnick elected to back up and tell the story of Koriba's final day on Earth before going up to the habitat. The final story, "The Land of Nod" is the final chapter of Koriba's attempt to lead his people into a Kikuyu utopia. When he acknowledges himself as an anachronism, Koriba feels it is necessary to leave the Kikuyu behind him to return to the Europeanized Kenya he claims to despise and his son who understands him no more than the Kirinyagans.
One aspect of the habitat which Resnick never explained was what, exactly, it was. Kirinyaga (and similar habitats) seem to have been terraformed asteroids, although at other times they almost seemed like the interior of a large space station. In point of fact, the exact physicality of the habitat doesn't matter. It, along with the zebras, lions and antelopes which populate it are simply the background of the fables of modern culture Resnick is portraying. One thing the habitat definitely is, is a European construction. The entire time Koriba is teaching his people the ways of the Kikuyu and to shun the European, they are living on an European artifact. Koriba is relying on his Oxbridge education and using an European computer. When these contradictions are pointed out to Koriba, he replies that the Kikuyu as a whole must be shielded. Koriba, therefore, comes across as something of an hypocrite. He has been contaminated by the Europeans, so he must make sure the other Kikuyu are not contaminated, whether or not they see their interaction in those terms.
Resnick's depiction of Koriba in the two stories set on earth show that although Koriba is a traditionalist, there is also something of the rebel in him. Not necessarily the James Dean type of rebel who fights against any and all authority, but rather the type of rebel who always fights the "good fight" according to their ideology, even if that ideology is at odds with the world as everyone else sees it. Although you might disagree with Koriba's desires and his techniques, he has a goal very firmly in mind and his aim at that goal never wavers, even as he sees it is fruitless to pursue it along the lines he once thought possible.
|One Perfect Morning, With Jackals||IASFM 3/91|
|Blue Period||F&SF 12/89|
|The Manamouki||IASFM 7/90|
|Song of a Dry River||IASFM 3/92|
|The Lotus and the Spear||IASFM 8/92|
|A Little Knowledge||Asimov's 4/94|
|When the Old Gods Die||Asimov's 4/95|
|The Land of Nod||Asimov's 6/96|
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