I’ve already written about two of the stories that form a part of this book, and I’ve also linked to what I consider an excellent review, except that it gives a bit much of the story away for my taste. But I want to make a couple of additional comments because this book is really exceptional.
I have stated before that I don’t really have standards for some kind of universal “good” or “bad” literature. Rather, there is literature that I like and some that I don’t. I’m quite happy with this being subjective. One of the things I like in literature is engaging characters, folks that you actually care about. If it doesn’t matter when a character dies, or narrowly escapes death, then I’m probably not enjoying the book very much.
There are quite a number of engaging characters in literature, and most of them are characters that I like. There’s something about them that attracts me. But there’s something special about presenting a character that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like and making me root for him as the story goes on.
That’s the case with Koriba, the mundumugu (witch doctor) who serves as the repository for tribal knowledge and tradition on the terraformed world of Kirinyaga. He is, in fact, everything I wouldn’t like in reality. I personally embrace the advance of technology, and am at worst amused by the social changes that tend to go with it. I object strongly when someone can’t pursue their goals and dreams because of tradition. I’m ready to toss out the tradition and let people do what they can.
Koriba is in love with a set of traditions, and wants to freeze everything at that point, and yet he is so clear about his desires, and expresses himself so well, that I found myself in great sympathy with him, all the while realizing that if I were encountering him in real life, I would almost certainly be one of his enemies.
I could use every story in this book as the basis for teaching and discussing some concept or another. The story overall points to stress points in the way we handle change and the interaction of very different cultures. The world is full of less extreme examples, but sometimes it takes the extremes to get us thinking.
This book is certainly deserving of all the awards it has received, and I rate it a 5 myself.