Volume 16, Number 2, Spring, 1998

Kirinyaga,

By Mike Resnick

DelRey, 1998 393 pages, $25.00
Reviewed by Lynn Maners

What a difference a few years make! Back when there was a Soviet Union, this set of stories published in novel form would have been seen as an indictment of Stalinist Utopias. One could easily imagine it being translated and passed from hand to hand as samizdat.

Subtitled “A Fable of Utopia,” this novel originated in a request for a shared world anthology in which the basic premise was that any group could have its own utopia set up on a planetoid, under fairly simple conditions, i.e. anyone who wanted could leave simply by going to a landing area called Haven and be picked up by a Maintenance ship. “Kirinyaga, a Kikuyu Utopia,” was to be Resnick’s contribution, hence these linked stories, some with very little traditional s/f content.

Led by Koriba, at first glance a sympathetic Western educated mundumugu (medicine man), the stories show us how change and the thirst for knowledge affect this attempt to freeze a society in time, and the kind of terrorism and violence Koriba engages in to resist change, while fully justifying his actions ideologically as best for the Kikuyu Utopia. Finally recognizing that, even in a Utopia, change cannot be gainsaid, Koriba himself walks out to Haven and returns to Earth and an overpopulated, Europeanized Kenya. Retaining his ideological belief in his own correctness, he fails to adapt and, in the last story, kidnaps the only living elephant (a clone) and flees with it to the mountains, though not to his beloved Mt. Kirinyaga—upon which an elephant could no longer live.

Although this is not an explicity libertarian novel, or even one in which libertarian ideas are subtly back-grounded; Kirinyaga has tremendous resonance for libertarians. I’d go so far as to say that, like Animal Farm or 1984, it might be seen as an inadvertent libertarian classic. Considering the coercive power of the state which we find so offensive; here we find it writ small in a non-industrial society (as an anthropologist, I’m always disabusing undergraduates of the idea that pre-state level societies are somehow happy, co-operative, and non-coercive.) Koriba represents all those who’ve found the truth and, with power of magic or of the monopolized violence of the state, want to make sure that everyone else lives it.

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