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Hainish Novels and Stories, Volume One: Rocannon's World / Planet of Exile…

af Ursula K. Le Guin

Andre forfattere: Brian Attebery (Redaktør)

Serier: Hainish Cycle (Omnibus 1-4, 6, stories)

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1653128,717 (4.63)2
"For the first time, all of Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels and stories are brought together in a single edition, complete and with new introductions by the author. Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, these remarkable works redrew the map of modern science fiction. In such visionary masterworks as the Nebula and Hugo Award winners The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, Le Guin imagined a galactic confederation of human colonies founded by the planet Hain--an array of worlds whose divergent societies was the result of both evolution and genetic engineering."--… (mere)
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(This review is for The Dispossessed.)

Touching and hope-filled social sci-fi on how an anarcho-syndicalist society would work. Every bit as relevant today as when it was published decades ago. One of the few stories where I couldn't stop crying for a minute or two--and it wasn't at a death but at love and commitment to it.

(Chomsky's On Anarchism is next.) ( )
  quantum.alex | May 31, 2021 |
This beefy tome collects about half of Ursula Le Guin's so-called "Hainish cycle," less a series and more a setting that she set most, but not all, of her space-based sf in. It's one of two from Library of America, and it collects all of what I would call her "phase one" Hainish stories (1964-67), and about half of her second phase (1969-74), along with one short story from the third phase (1990-2000). Before launching into this (the first of a two-volume set), I had read all six of the Hainish books but none of the short fiction; my original read (back in 2005-07) was in internal chronological order, but I did this one in publication order. So I was coming at this material from a slightly different angle than before, with older eyes.

Rocannon's World / Planet of Exile / City of Illusions
These three novels were the first Hainish stories written, but a couple slot in earlier chronologically. That makes me glad I read them in chronological order before, actually, because they are a rough beginning. They're not bad... but they're also nothing special. Together they make up what I see as the first phase of Hainish stories, all action-adventure stories about war. It's Le Guin, so they're deeper than they need to be, but what she would accomplish later is largely nascent here. I've seen some reviewers say each book is better than the one before it, but I disagree: I find Rocannon's World the most interesting. It's a good exploration of something Le Guin was handle a lot in her writing, encounters between different cultures and worldviews. Semley goes from her society to a more advanced one on her own planet, and then to the stars; Rocannon comes from the stars to a "primitive" planet and then treks across it, encountering a number of different societies. There's some beautiful writing, especially in the prologue, where Le Guin cleverly retells an ancient myth in the trappings of sf so well you could be convinced the myth was meant to be about space travel to begin with! Rocannon is a thoughtful protagonist, one of many in the Hainish stories. But I find the end unsatisfying on a number of levels.

Planet of Exile seems to me to be doing something interesting in pairing a war narrative with a more female-focused one, and indeed, its co-lead is the only female protagonist of a Hainish book (there are some in the short fiction) until 1995! But to be honest, I find it boring. Le Guin never really makes one care about the invaders on this distant colony world. City of Illusions starts strong, with a trek across a dangerous landscape combined with a coming of age-- putting those two things together is arguably what she's best at-- but once action moves to the eponymous city, I find everything gets dull fast and there's a little too much psychobabble. I can see why the Shing were quietly written out of the Hainish continuity.

The Left Hand of Darkness
I've always loved The Left Hand of Darkness. (This was my third time.) Reading in publication order, it's even more impressive, though. It's published just two years after City of Illusions, but represents such a massive step up in Le Guin's skill as a writer in general, and a writer of science fiction in particular. Just within the first chapter, you notice a depth of character, a depth of world, and a depth of theme that were absent in the three League of Worlds novels.Everyone always talks about the gender stuff, something Le Guin herself actually complained about ("the real subject of the book is not feminism or sex or gender or anything of the sort; as far as I can see, it is a book about betrayal and fidelity"), but what always gets me is the relationship between Genly and Estraven. Two people from vastly different world initially unable to comprehend each other who eventually-- I would argue-- fall in love. The climax gets me emotionally every time, utterly heartrending. This is full of acutely observed detail in terms of both character and culture, which would define most of Le Guin's later Hainish work.

The Dispossessed
This was also my third time reading The Dispossessed. I've always liked it, but this was my first time loving it; I think it resonates with me at age 35 in a way it did not at ages 17 and 20. Yes, it's an exploration of anarchist utopia, but it's also an excellent bildungsroman: how do you position yourself in society in a way that's ethical and consistent with your values? This is no less difficult than a utopia, and I found myself moved as I followed each stage of Shevek's journey. The structure is quite clever, too. The image of the wall is very potent.

Stories
There are four pieces of short fiction included in this volume: two sequels to The Left Hand of Darkness ("Winter's King" and "Coming of Age in Karhide"), one prequel to The Dispossessed ("The Day Before the Revolution"), and one other story that I assume is here because all the short fiction in volume two is from the 1990s, and so it would be out of place there ("Vaster Than Empires and More Slow"). I don't think any of these are Le Guin's greatest work, to be honest. "Winter's King" seemed to me to scratch the surface of its theme, one of Le Guin's favorites (the traveller who misses out on years because of NAFAL travel, depicted also in Rocannon's World and volume two's "Another Story"). "Vaster Than Empires and More Slow" was interesting and probably the best of them; its twist is an old theme but I think Le Guin handles it better than most. "The Day Before the Revolution" is a quiet meditative piece that I did really enjoy. "Coming of Age in Karhide" is typically of Le Guin's third-phase Hainish work, and it really belongs in volume two despite its links to The Left Hand of Darkness. It explores an alien biology and culture in a very straightforward coming-of-age story, giving new depth to the Gethenians (and handling their sexual ambiguity better than either Left Hand or "Winter's King" did).

Appendix
Four introduction Le Guin wrote are collected here, alongside a couple other essays and a version of "Winter's King" written before she came up with Gethenian sexuality. The best is "Is Gender Necessary? Redux"; it was an essay originally written in 1976 as a defense of Left Hand, and then rewritten in 1987 to admit she could have done it better after all. The discussion of pronouns is particularly interesting, and strengthens my belief that Ann Leckie was responding to Left Hand when she wrote Ancillary Justice (a novel where people from a gender-ambiguous culture go on a dangerous sledge trip and learn something about each other).

Notes
Overall, I think Brian Attebery's apparatus is good, the notes being minimal and unobtrusive. Two things stuck out at me. One was just amusing: there's a note that explains "Fomalhaut II" means the second planet out from the star Fomalhaut, a thing no sf fan would ever need explained. Clearly a Library of America volume has a very different audience! The other did bother me: volume two end notes "thick description" almost every time Le Guin uses it, explaining the meaning and crediting Geertz. But The Dispossessed frequently uses "mutual aid" and yet Attebery never mentions Kropotkin. (Le Guin mentions him in an essay, but if you didn't already know Kropotkin popularized the term, you wouldn't make the connection.)

* * *

This is a great volume for anyone who thinks they might like Le Guin, or thinks they would. I'll talk more about the Hainish stories overall when I get around to finishing and reviewing volume two.
  Stevil2001 | Sep 5, 2020 |
Rocannon's World

Le Guin's first Hainish novel is as much fantasy as science fiction and as much derived from Norse myth as anything contemporary. It's slight but distinctive, more fun than profound. It saved my interest in Le Guin's SF, though, after I was heavily put off by The Dispossessed, which I found slow, dull and obvious - in sharp contrast to seemingly everybody else who's read it.

Planet of Exile
Probably the most conventional SF adventure tale Le Guin ever wrote and yet it shows glimmers of the concerns that would become trade-mark Le Guin themes; clash of cultures, reconciliation of differences, anthropology. Surprisingly violent.

City of Illusions
I liked this much more first time round, I think because it was the best Le Guin SF novel I had read at the time. Since then, Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven have completely overshadowed all these early works about the League of All Worlds. I'm not sure Le Guin has ever been all that comfortable with the technological trappings of SF or the pew! pew! of simplistic adventure/space opera stories. Her strengths lie in character and culture. The opportunity to imagine completely different societies is what SF&F gave her and when she shifted to play to her strengths her great works began to flow. Nevertheless, our protagonist's struggles when he arrives in the City of Illusions are still psychologically compelling to me and the description of a heavily depopulated North America are fun.

The Left Hand of Darkness
My re-reading of this was heavily disrupted by having to focus on other books as a matter of urgency. Nevertheless I enjoyed it greatly, as previously. This time I was struck by how everything goes wrong through mis-communication. Genli Ai can't understand the rules of the alien culture he's been dropped in, alone and with no immediate help to hand. On Gethen people can only communicate obliquely and this compounds the political shenanigans surrounding Genli's arrival. The confusion ultimately causes death. Nothing goes right until people start talking to each other openly and honestly.

It's nothing to do with gender, but it's what I took from this reading.

Winter's King
OK, now I want to talk about gender. The original version of this story was written prior to Left Hand of Darkness and is re-printed in the appendix of this volume. This version was re-written after Left Hand was published and it switches from referring to everybody on Gethen as "he" to referring to everybody as "she." Immediately I switched from thinking of the characters as male to thinking of them as female. But they are both and neither.

I've never come across a better illustration of why we need gender-neutral pronouns in English. It's looking like "they" is going to win out despite the consequent singular-plural ambiguity.

Also, good story about the effects of special relativity!

Winter's King
1969 (original) version. Not as good as the later revision. ( )
  Arbieroo | Jul 17, 2020 |
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"For the first time, all of Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels and stories are brought together in a single edition, complete and with new introductions by the author. Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, these remarkable works redrew the map of modern science fiction. In such visionary masterworks as the Nebula and Hugo Award winners The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, Le Guin imagined a galactic confederation of human colonies founded by the planet Hain--an array of worlds whose divergent societies was the result of both evolution and genetic engineering."--

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