REVIEW SUMMARY: These are the kinds of well-told stories that make reading such a pleasure.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A researcher is hired to track down the millennia-old tusks of the Kilimanjaro Elephant.
PROS: Masterful storytelling; realistic characters; wonderful dialogue.
CONS: I’ll have to get back to you on this one. I’m hard-pressed to find anything bad with this. The worst thing I could say (that the realistic-but-fleeting characters are not very memorable) doesn’t affect the reading experience.
BOTTOM LINE: A thoroughly engaging read, plain and simple.
I had been telling myself for too long that I would read one of Mike Resnick’s novel-length stories. I’ve read some of his short stories and, earlier this year, read even more in his New Dreams for Old collection. When I read a few of his stories that are collected in Kirinyaga, I liked them so much that I pulled that book out from the “archives” – what we biblioholics call the stacks of boxes we keep books in – and put it on a shelf within immediate reach. And there it sat, taunting me…while I devoured the pages of one of Resnick’s earlier works, Ivory: A Legend of Past and Future.
Ivory, a recent Pyr reprint first published in 1988 and a Nebula Award nomine, is the simple story of a researcher’s quest to find the millennia-old tusks of the famous Kilimanjaro Elephant. I could elaborate and mention how the researcher (Duncan Rojas) is hired by Bukoba Mandaka, the last living member of the Maasai tribe who took the responsibility to protect them. I could mention how Mandaka will stop at nothing to gain possession of the tusks. I could mention how Resnick has drawn on his extensive travels and experiences to recreate the African plains and realistic characters. I could mention all that, but it does not matter.
Ivory is a display of expert storytelling. I’m a science fiction fan and love all the things that means: I like sense of wonder; I like big ships and thought-provoking issues; time travel; asking “what if?” I like all that, but sf tropes are not what makes this book so much fun. Truthfully, the sf here is underplayed beyond the occasional floating chair and alien being. Put simply: What makes this book fun is the way the story is told, drawing the reader in to the mystery of the tusks. Resnick is a storytelling machine and Ivory is his well-crafted product.
The book has is constructed as if it were a fix-up novel, a series of stories glued together by interstitials. (I was so ready to say that this indeed was a fix-up novel, but I can find no record saying that was so.) Each story offers another piece of the puzzle that Rojas must solve to track down the tusks. So we get the story of the thief who tries to steal the tusks; the jealous archaeologist who wants to further his own career; the warlord who schemes to gain even more money and power; the gambler who dares wage his priceless possession in a game with unforgiving aliens; the ruler who seeks to enhance his own virility; the politician who uses the tusks to gain re-election; and so on.
Each story itself is a self-contained treat. Resnick uses twists, interesting (though not necessarily memorable) characters and well-written dialogue to spin these stories. Resnick’s prose is easily ingested and the stories seemed to fly by.
The book then uses the interstitials – the story of Mandaka hiring Rojas – to hold those stories together. Rojas, ever the dedicated museum researcher, utilizes all his skills, which basically amounts to the heavy use of the museum’s talking computer and some deduction, to track down the tusks. Eventually, Rojas’ search is overshadowed by his desire to know just why Mandaka wants them so badly. And the reader’s curiosity piques right along with that of Rojas.
What the reader sees in Ivory is a bunch of millennia-spanning, world-hopping glimpses in the travels of the tusks, but what he gets is a thoroughly engaging read.
(Note to Kirinyaga: I have you in my sights!)