(2007) Mike Resnick, Pyr, £?, pbk, 323pp, ISBN 978-1-591-02546-7
I have never actually read Resnick's work before and am impressed by his output and awards - he is actually fourth in the major SF awards, ahead of Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury and Heinlein, which is a bit of a shock, but he does have a reputation for intelligent, character-driven SF. It seems he has a fascination with Africa, hence this particularly well-researched novel. The twelve chapters have titles such as 'The Gambler', 'The Thief', 'The Hunter', etc, and move to and fro across a huge timespan, following the fate of a pair of elephant tusks. The chapters begin with words from the elephant, which may sound a bit 'Disney' but is far from it. Actually these pieces form an important part of the story and are essential to give the elephant an actual identity, as opposed to the tusks just being artifacts.
The chapter-titled characters appear to be stereotypes, but only up to a point as Resnick fully realises each of them, no doubt enabled by his experience at short story writing. In fact, it could be said that the book is almost a collection of short stories with the ivory as the link between them. The main character, Duncan Rojas, is into puzzles and mysteries and when Bukoba Mandaka, the last Masai, employs him to find the tusks of the Kilimanjaro elephant he quickly becomes obsessed with the quest. Each chapter is a slice of history relating to the tusks, featuring their owner at that point, and is revealed to us via Duncan Rojas's computer research. Mandaka, the initiator of the quest, himself becomes a mystery which also intrigues Rojas.
There were touches of humour which I enjoyed, not jokes as such, although some of the situations are amusing, but observations on the 'ways of the world' (or should I say 'multi-verse'?). I found the book to be enjoyable and entertaining, certainly unlike any other SF I have read. It would have been a great story regardless, but to give it an SF context is a most interesting way to make something more of it. Rojas is likeable and, like him, you get caught up in the quest. Not being familiar with the author, I cannot place the book in any context with the rest of his work, though Resnick's qualities as a writer, particularly of short stories, are impressive and make me curious enough to want to read more of his work.
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