#LoveHain: Reading UKLG’s sf

Ursula K Le Guin 1929-2018

“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 […]”


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.

The Schedule

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.

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Publication chronology

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).

Gollancz edition 2015

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):
‘Forgiveness Day’,
‘A Man of the People’,
‘A Woman’s Liberation’,
‘Notes on Werel and Yeowe’.

‘The Matter of Seggri’ (1994),
‘Unchosen Love’ (1994),
‘Solitude’ (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

#LoveHain #UKLGsf

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)

36 thoughts on “#LoveHain: Reading UKLG’s sf

  1. I am so very excited for this! Thank you, Chris! Le Guin is my favorite writer of all time and I’m thrilled to revisit these in excellent company. What a delightful project for 2023 – Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And a Happy New Year to you as well, Hilary! I’m excited too, not just to revisit or read for the first time but also to share responses to Le Guin’s particular take on this genre and discover what readers especially like about her writing. 2023 is looking brighter already! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Karen, and Happy New Year to you too! Watching from the sidelines is perfectly acceptable and who knows, perhaps you might be persuaded to try one or two of Le Guin’s titles…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, lucky you! I’m guessing that’s the Library of America set. I’m making do with individual copies but it comes to the same thing, doesn’t it? Thanks for thinking of joining in, Marie – I hope it proves rewarding!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s an old joke that UK schoolkids claim they didn’t have their homework in school because their dog ate it. Nothing like your excuse that your kids stole your hardcopies, of course, Alicia … 😁 But you’re very welcome to join in whenever you like!


      1. Where’s the praise I should get as a parent who hooked her kids on reading, to the point that they took favorites along to college (without asking) and ‘forgot’ to return them?

        I will get replacements as needed. The effect on the kids, I hope, is lifelong.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Thank you. I feel much better now. I homeschooled the little darlings, and am rather happy at how they turned out. Having kids be good readers from three on was very handy – and I only had to goose one of them lightly with some phonics.

            For a parent with zero energy doing what I did, those bags and bags of library books were a godsend.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Absolute star, Alicia, and clearly an unsung heroine. We had three neurodivergent kids, one of whom has a master’s and is working towards a doctorate, another who has a beautiful way with words and is multi-talented, and a third who despite not being diagnosed as dyslexic till he went to uni is now an avid reader. I can’t claim much credit for the way they turned out though …

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Have one neurodivergent, and all three are ADD. Individualized instruction – which was more instinctive than anything else, as they were 3 years apart and growing like weeds – just sort of happened. And the reason I say we homeschooled accidentally is because it was either spend my energy on coping with three in school – or use my limited energy directly, and there was all that science PhD-ness going to waste. Husband took leap of faith, bless him. And took them skiing – I couldn’t – with the local homeschool group. And did Scouts.

              I didn’t have many choices. I like to think they got the best of what I had left. They keep patting me on the head and saying they’re fine.

              PS We tried the school route a couple of times – it was as exhausting and not good for OUR three as I thought it would. Many long, some wild, stories. And I’m STILL sick, courtesy of lack of research.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. If it helps, Mallika, there’s a compendium of the first three books called Worlds of Exile and Illusion published recently by Gollancz in their SF Masterworks series, as well as a North American compendium published in the late 1990s which seems generally available secondhand online. It would be lovely to have you join in so that would be a start anyway!


  2. This looks like a great endeavor — I have my eyes on the April, May and June books. My fear is that these books will be relentlessly painful but it’s always good to have company through the message.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read those three titles you identify by month but only The Word for World is Forest in the last couple of years, with its pre-Avatar eco message and plot; the other two are hazier but I’m looking forward to revisiting them. Do feel free to add any insightful comments when we come to those three!


    1. That is the one book by UKL that I didn’t enjoy … I can understand not wanting to try again, but if you did it’s possible you might find something else more to your taste.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. To clarify, I have not read everything by UKL yet, especially these Hainish books … and I did appreciate some things about Left Hand, but I could not love it as some seem to. The Dispossessed is my favorite of her SF novels that I’ve read so far.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I realised quite soon on that The Dispossessed was political in scope but fear I never cottoned onto many of the nuances at the time – hopefully this time I will!


  3. Good luck with your project!

    I like scifi, but for some reason, the synopsis of the first book in this cycle doesn’t attract me. Maybe because it’s some type of scifi too close to fantasy?

    I enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea (I know I’m illogical here), though never dared launch into book 2

    But I do plan to read The Lathe of Heaven one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Emma, I have high hopes for it! This first Hainish novel is, as you point out, really science fantasy, a strange hybrid beast which doesn’t appeal to everyone (and doesn’t usually grab my wholehearted attention), so no worries if you’re passing on it!

      The Lathe of Heaven isn’t part of this notional universe but I definitely enjoyed my recent reread of it so worth your glance. As for Earthsea, each book in that series, though linked by the protagonist Sparrowhawk and roughly chronological, takes a different approach; the second one is particularly claustrophobic I found!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Looks like a great plan, and I certainly want to read the parts of my LOA volume that I have not read, while I will follow others’ posts with great interest for all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Any comments you could contribute would be gratefully received, Lory, and if my very limited experience of the LoA edition of Le Guin’s Malafrena tales applies here you’ll be well informed!

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. A quick romp through some of the stuff on the web for City of Illusions brought up a lot of the plot, so thanks. Not one of my favorites, but it made an impression as a story and as imaginative – enough to stick, as I read it back in the 1960s and still remembered a lot.

    The concept of wiping memory vs. removal of the rememberer was new at the time, but I was used to letting the story ‘what ifs’ have their way. And the aliens were obviously lying all the time – but it wasn’t clear how to get around that though that was the point. I didn’t realize it was one of her earliest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read City of Illusions so long ago (though not as far back as you) that I’d either forgotten the details you mention, Alicia, or else they never registered with me in the first place! I’m looking forward to revisiting it, obviously, but in the meantime it’s Planet of Exile I’m moving to. Do come back please and comment on the post for City of Illusions in March though! 🙂


      1. Planet of Exile is my favourite of all the Hainish novels, even over The Left Hand of Darkness (which is amazing), because it felt so absolutely real. The concept of the girlchild born out of season, only fitting to be a third or fourth wife because the seasonal timing is so important, must come from cultures here on Earth.

        The alliance between the native culture, and the visitors who are stuck there, when it is critical – each honouring, in the end, the deaths of the other in the common cause. The old chief using his last great influence. Given the situation – and winter as described IS relentless – all the pieces had the feel of inevitability.

        The pity for those who looked for shelter in the walled city – and found arrows and lances – and eventually just left, late, behind their compatriots – because they had no choice, is still with me.

        The need for special adjustments and food having slowly disappeared. The distinction between those who would keep themselves apart and those who would join despite keeping to their non-interference principles. Even the love possible between Jakob and the girl, and the awkward melding of possibilities. Everything is still clear, and that doesn’t happen with many books. The ability to hear others’ minds.

        It was – and is – so believable in LeGuin’s telling. The images stuck. The people – the friendships – the rough edges – the legitimate differences of opinion. I read it so many times because I wanted to be part of it. She made the highly improbable real.

        Liked by 1 person

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