This is a really amazing collection of short stories; would recommend to anyone with a philosophical bent. I really wish the rest of the series hadn't been caught up in licensing limbo, since I would buy more in a heartbeat. Wiki says there are 12 books total - so many more stories that I'd like to read. :-(
To reply to Katie's review: this is the original. The "Kino's Journey" anime was based on the light novels. I love both, myself. The anime is a good, relatively close adaptation and is one of my favorite anime series of all time.
If you've seen the anime series: the first light novel covers about half of the anime episodes (same stories). Stories are in a different order - I think the first story in this volume is episode 4 of the anime (i.e., Kino's past).
It's been a while since I've read/seen either, but I believe that the novel has many more details, fills in a few gaps, and gives you more info on Kino's thoughts and feelings. So it is definitely worth reading if you're a fan of the anime, even though the plot is pretty much the same. (I especially remember there being more to the story about Kino's past, and to the Coliseum story.)
If you've read this book but have not seen the anime series, I highly recommend it; the atmosphere is amazing, and it covers stories that were not published in this first novel. Plus, it's just cool to see the stories brought to life. It's also pretty cheap, nowadays.
The first line in this book, and a powerful one. How funny it is that the one thing everyone strives for is perfection, yet we all agree that a perfect world is impossible. Even if it was possible, would we really want it?
Kino doesn't remember what her original name was, only that it was the name of a flower. The first Kino came into the town she lived in when she was eleven, days before she was to have the operation to make her a grownup. The first Kino was a traveller, spending only three days in each new place.
While "curing" a junked and discarded motorcycle, the first Kino tells the young girl about other places and other lives. Places where you don't have to have an operation to be considered an adult. Places where you don't have to do a job that makes you unhappy, just because it's required. He sparks a light in this little girl, and inadvertently brings about his own death. A new Kino is born. She escapes on Hermes, the repaired and animated motorcycle.
Kino becomes a traveller, moving from place to place, staying only three days. Some places are nice, some strange, some scary, and some are downright dangerous. Kino and Hermes learn about life, themselves, and humanity as a whole.
This was not only a really great story, but a really interesting look at the nature of people and society. As well as an interesting take on the concept of "be careful what you wish for". It challenged my ideas of right and wrong, and what cost they come at. It's the first of a planned eight books, and I am extremely interested to see what Kino and Hermes get into next.