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Kirinyaga Paperback – May 25, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Kirinyaga: A Fable of Utopia collects Mike Resnick's famous Kirinyaga stories and ties them together in a thematic arc that has novel-like continuity. The story focuses on Koriba, a mundumugu (sort of like a witch doctor and a wise man rolled into one) of the Kikuyu tribe. Koriba feels that his tribe has been corrupted by "European" technology, so he helps to establish a small, utopian planetoid named Kirinyaga where the Kikuyu can return to their roots, farming the land and worshipping the god Ngai without technological or cultural interference. As utopias go, Kirinyaga experiences its fair share of problems--both from within and without--each of which is detailed in the individual chapters and stories. The writing is not stylish but the stories are all excellent, and Resnick does a good job of integrating the traditional Kikuyu way of life into tales that any culture can appreciate. Readers looking for a novel may come away a bit disappointed because this book is really a collection of stories, but as far as collections go, few are better than Kirinyaga. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-Set in the 22nd century, this stunning sci-fi allegory describes the struggles and ultimate failure of a utopian colony on a terraformed planetoid. In the African nation of Kenya, polluted cities crawl up the side of Mount Kirinyaga. The magnificent animal herds of the past are but distant memories and native crops have been supplanted by European imports. Koriba, a well-educated man, is determined to reinstate the ancient customs and strict laws of his Kikuyu ancestors and invites others to join him in a new society named for their sacred mountain. As the mundumugu-witch doctor-Koriba faces numerous challenges to the utopian society's survival. He must deny a brilliant young woman an education because it is not the ancient way of his people. He watches helplessly as his charges insist on bringing in a white hunter with a gun to kill marauding hyenas when the colony's primitive weapons prove insufficient. With the technology comes subservience to white men's ways. But, in an ultimate irony, Koriba maintains his pure society with a computer link to the rest of humanity, even adjusting weather patterns by communicating his needs to an outside "Maintenance" group. It is the thirst for knowledge that this computer represents that becomes the ultimate threat to the colony. Young adults will love this provocative tale that examines the need for an orderly society, the rights of the individual, and the siren's lure of knowledge.
Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; 1st Ballantine Books Trade Pbk. Ed edition (May 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034541702X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345417022
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #713,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It's a good--maybe even great--story cycle, but good lord, do yourself a favour and assiduously avoid reading the horribly arrogant and obnoxious afterward, in which Resnick basically lists all the awards the stories have won, along with fairly unpleasant commentary--this story WOULD have won the hugo, except that it was disqualified on a technicality. This one, too, would have won, except that another story of mine did instead. And the only thing capable of defeating a Resnick story is another Resnick story! God, I made the mistake of looking through this drivel before finishing the stories, and it really colored my whole perception of them. Oh well.
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My wife, my ultra-bright 13 year old daughter, and myself all read this book many years ago. Six months later, when the subject of books came up, we all said Kirinyaga was our favorite book! We told a lot of people about it, and let several borrow it and at some point, it never came back. I do not believe it is in print anymore, so I was thrilled to find copies on the used market. I'm pleased that it now again resides in our library and I look forward to reading it again.

It's an interesting book in that this community of people live as a primitive tribe, just as they did in Africa, only they have been transplanted to a planetoid. But the science fiction aspect of it is very slight - we almost felt tricked into reading a more literate and meaningful book than we set out to read, but what a reward.

The structure of the book is that it is a series of short stories that all weave together to make a cohesive novel. One of the stories "For I Have Touched the Sky" stands on its own and was the unanimous favorite pick of our family and those with whom we shared it. Heartbreaking in its emotional power.

Do yourself a favor and buy this book while you can. Just be careful whom you lend it to!
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Format: Paperback
Overall I liked this book. I found it entertaining and though-provoking. The author notes explicitly where you should be stopping to think so you don't have to work too hard. The underlying philosophy of the book comes from Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael", and those readers who are familiar with Quinn's work will get more out of it than those who aren't.

Now for some observations/criticisms:

First of all, the book fails to stop at the end. The epilogue contributes nothing at all to the story, although it does satisfy our curiosity about the fate of the narrator. I'll spoil it for you now: he never learns. Skip the epilogue; it's a waste.

Second, very little of the credit for this book can go to Resnick. As I mentioned, the philosophical underpinnings of this book are those of Daniel Quinn, and the basic premise of the narrative was issued as a challenge to the author by Orson Scott Card. Resnick's role here was not that of architect, but merely assembler of other's thoughts. The parables that the narrator/protagonist tells are very clever, and Resnick deserves credit if they are his own. However, I would be surprised if they were not traditional African fables.

My third issue is about the author's afterword, not the book itself, but it cannot be ignored. In it Resnick proclaims this book 'the most honored science-fiction book in history'. To back this up he gives an individual account of each chapter (they were originally published separately over serveral years) and the various awards. In the telling he counts 'Hugo Award winner' and 'Hugo Award nominee' as two different awards. ?? Same goes for 'Nebula nominee' and 'Nebula preliminary ballot'. Please. All this bragging simply points my attention to one fact: the book as a whole has not won any awards.
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Format: Paperback
Mike Resnick has an incredible understanding of tribal african thinking. I am a South African and I was absolutely positive that this had been written by a fellow White (South) African. If you read these stories you will understand the tribal thinking of the African culture which still holds sway over most of the older generation and some of the younger ones. Wonderful writing. Anthea Tarica Johannesburg South African.
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A highly educated man tries to, in effect, stop time for the Kikuyu tribe, on their own planetoid, where he can isolate them from the outside world (so-called "western" influences) and propagate their ancient customs.
This is a remarkable book, written with so much wisdom and insight. The dialogue and prose is sharp and controlled. Resnick presents both sides of the arguments with such clarity and humanity, it's sometimes heartbreaking. Koriba's well-intentioned but ultimately misguided crusade against change is challenged again and again, not necessarily by the "outside", but by the "inside" - the minds and hearts of his villagers. It's fascinating to see how he resolves these challenges to his authority and his hopes for the Kikuyu ... and sometimes downright scary.
The book also shows us the erroneous assumption of multiculturalism - that everything in every culture is worth saving and perpetuating. The modern myths of the Kikuyu - and indeed of many peoples on this planet - that "the West" is to blame for their condition and/or corruption (and everything "Western" should therefore be anathema) is not spared. It's tempting to carry on here about the general public's overwhelming ignorance of Africa's booming slave trade, because it's all in the same vein.
The stories show that for all our differences in time and space, people are the same everywhere - and that is the "problem" that cannot be controlled by isolation.
The reality is that every culture is always changing.
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