“People write me nice letters asking what order they ought to read my science fiction books in — the ones that are called the Hainish or Ekumen cycle or saga or something. The thing is, they aren’t a cycle or a saga. They do not form a coherent history. There are some clear connections among them, yes, but also some extremely murky ones. And some great discontinuities […]”UKLG
The late lamented writer Ursula K Le Guin died five years ago this month, on 22nd January 2018. A prolific author of novels, essays and poetry, she is deservedly best known for her Earthsea novels, but equally she has a loyal following of fans for her science fiction series, variously known as the Hainish or Ekumen series. To those allergic to the very notion of science fiction I can only say that, as with the best of this genre, the narratives – for all that they’re set in other worlds – are essentially about what it means to be human.
With this new year comes new projects, does it not? So throughout 2023 I’m planning to read (or, in a few cases, reread) the principal novels in the Hainish series in the order they were published, on a month by month basis, starting this month. If you’d like to join me you’d be very welcome – I shall be using the (hash)tags #LoveHain and #UKLGsf – and after the novels you may like to continue with the short story collections as an additional option.
As I did with #Narniathon21 I shall post three questions for readers’ consideration on the last Friday of each month (except for this month when it will be on the anniversary of Le Guin’s death, Sunday 22nd January). Please feel free to join in with any discussion in the comments, post links to your reviews or thoughts on social media. Below is my proposed schedule, plus – for completists among you! – the sequence of novels and stories as they were published and the collections they appear in.
January. Rocannon’s World.
February. Planet of Exile.
March. City of Illusions.
April. The Left Hand of Darkness.
May. The Word for World is Forest.
June. The Dispossessed.
July. The Eye of the Heron.
August. The Telling.
September. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters.*
October. A Fisherman of the Inland Sea.*
November. Four Ways to Forgiveness.*
December. The Birthday of the World.*
The titles marked with an asterisk (*) are collections of short stories (though not all are part of the Hainish universe); like the novels they’re available in various US and UK editions so I’ve not been prescriptive. As the author herself indicated, to read all the stories as a chronological saga sort of defeats the object of reading them – enjoyment, principally – so I’ll leave that to those with encyclopaedic minds; the links below include online discussion of the worth of such endeavours.
I also include below all the Hainish tales – novels and short stories – I’ve so far identified by the date they first appeared in print, including the handful I don’t currently have in hard copy.
Rocannon’s World (1964-6),
Planet of Exile (1966),
City of Illusions (1967)
— also published in an omnibus edition as Worlds of Exile and Illusion (1996).
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
‘Winter’s King’ (1969),
‘Vaster Than Empires and More Slow’ (1971),
‘The Day Before the Revolution’ (1974)
— included in the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975).
The Word for World is Forest (1972).
The Dispossessed (1974).
The Eye of the Heron (1978).
‘The Shobies’ Story’ (1990),
‘Dancing to Ganam’ (1993),
‘Another Story, or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea’ (1994)
— included in the collection A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994).
Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995):
‘A Man of the People’,
‘A Woman’s Liberation’,
‘Notes on Werel and Yeowe’.
‘The Matter of Seggri’ (1994),
‘Unchosen Love’ (1994),
‘Coming of Age in Karhide’ (1995),
‘Mountain Ways’ (1996),
‘Old Music and the Slave Women’ (1999)
— included in the collection The Birthday of the World (2002).
The Telling (2000).
Links of interest
‘The Hainish Novels and Stories’, including a note from Ursula Le Guin. https://www.ursulakleguin.com/hainish-novels-and-stories
Charlie Jane Anders. 2019. ‘Unlocking the Full Brilliance of Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle’. https://www.tor.com/2019/02/25/unlocking-the-full-brilliance-of-ursula-le-guins-hainish-cycle/
Steve Mollmann. ‘Hainish Cycle Timelines: Reading Order and Chronology’: two potential ways of reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s so-called Hainish Cycle. https://lessaccurategrandmother.blogspot.com/p/hainish-cycle-chronology.html
Library of America‘s Hainish Novels & Stories.
Volume One: https://www.loa.org/books/552-hainish-novels-stories-volume-one
Volume Two: https://www.loa.org/books/553-hainish-novels-stories-volume-two
Feel free to use the above image, or devise your own, but don’t forget to use the tags #LoveHain and/or #UKLGsf (though not all of Le Guin’s speculative fiction is Hainish-related)