The last Friday of the month means it’s time to think about the latest title in the #LoveHain readalong. This is The Word for World is Forest, a novella length Hainish story with definite moral intent.
Published in an anthology in 1972 and only later in book form in 1976, the novella is set on the planet Athshe where logging companies from Terra are devastating the environment and violently disrupting the lives and culture of the forest people.
Below you’ll find the usual three general questions to get the discussion started, and after that there’ll be a reminder of the next Hainish novel up for consideration at the end of June.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. Orbit Books, 1992 (1969).
Karhide is not a nation but a family quarrel. Early on in Le Guin’s famous speculative novel Estraven characterises his home nation as a place of potentially internecine conflict, but it proves to be universally applicable on the planet Gethen as Genly Ai, the Envoy from the Ekumen, discovers, to his cost.
Genly’s task as Envoy is to encourage first the rulers of Karhide, and then of Orgoreyn, to consider joining the Ekumen – a kind of United Nations of many worlds – for mutual benefit; but he has to contend with in-fighting, with claims that it’s all a hoax, even with his own imprisonment.
And then there’s the question of trust: he tries to be as open as possible, to persuade the powers that be of his own peaceable intentions, but as time goes on he doesn’t know who to put his faith in. On a chilly planet justifiably known as Winter he has, paradoxically, to judge whether he’s going from a frying pan into a fire.
It’s the last Friday of the month and time for a consideration of the next title in our read of Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish fiction, #LoveHain. We now come to one of her more famous – or possibly more notorious – titles, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969).
Below will appear the customary three prompts to encourage you to discuss your response to this novel, just in case you don’t know where to start; but the chances are you will have no need of them, this being a very thought-provoking narrative!
Afterwards I’ll remind you of the next novel up for conversation and the date the next three prompts will appear.
Worlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K Le Guin. Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions. Orb Books, 1996.
Jungians such as Joseph Campbell have generalized such journeys into a set of archetypal events and images. Though these generalities can be useful in criticism, I mistrust them as fatally reductive. “Ah, the Night Sea Voyage!” we cry, feeling that we have understood something important—but we’ve merely recognized it. Until we are actually on that voyage, we have understood nothing.
A decade or so after the publication of Rocannon’s World – the first novel in a series which has variously had attached to it the name Hainish or Ekumen – it and the two following titles (published in relatively quick succession in 1966 and 1967) appeared in a compendium first entitled Three Hainish Novels(1978). When, two decades later, it appeared as Worlds of Exile and Illusion it cunningly combed key words from the titles of Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions; under whatever name the collection demonstrated a loose unity in that it (a) referred to a League of All Worlds, and (b) shared some concepts and referred to some names in common.
There are also several themes, patterns and approaches in the trio of novels, though that’s not to say that Le Guin worked to any kind of formula: each title has its own musical notes and influences, landscape and personages, its own character. But at the risk of being, in her words, “fatally reductive” I do want to look a little at the “archetypal events and images” that form a large part of the journeys in these novels (and not a few of her other later ones, such as 1968’s A Wizard of Earthsea and 1969’s The Left Hand of Darkness) so, as it were, to praise and not bury them.
Why? Because, despite superficial appearances, she doesn’t trade in fantasy clichés.
City of Illusions (1967) by Ursula K Le Guin, in Worlds of Exile and Illusion, Orb Books, 1996.
“They let us be, here, in the cage of our ignorance.”
In this novel Ursula Le Guin does what many a good author does by revealing how matters stand bit by bit. For example, if familiar with her previous two speculative novels – Rocannon’s World and Planet of Exile – we might be conditioned to expect City of Illusions to be set on some faraway world; but it may take us a while to fathom where exactly we are and, a little less exactly, when the story takes place.
But the illusions don’t stop there. The famous Epimenides paradox centres on his reported statement that “All Cretans are liars.” The paradox arises from the fact that Epimenides was himself from Crete, making arrival at the exact truth of the matter an impossible task.
In City of Illusions the protagonist – and we the readers too – have to confront that paradox because upon its solution, or more specifically a resolution, will depend how we confront our individual selves. When dealing with liars do we as it were fight fire with fire, however distasteful that may seem? Or do we maintain our integrity and refuse to play their game, whatever the cost?
It’s the last Friday of the month and the time to pose three general questions for those who are participating in #LoveHain, my readalong event to visit or revisit most of Ursula K Le Guin’s Hainish fiction.
This month it’s City of Illusions, the third title in her early speculative fiction, first published in 1967 and now often republished, as the last in a trio with her two previously published Hainish novels, in a compendium entitled Worlds of Exile and Illusion.
April’s title for consideration will be one of her more famous SF offerings, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and the discussion post for that will be scheduled for Friday 28th April – I do hope you’ll feel able to join in the conversation.
Planet of Exile (1966) by Ursula K Le Guin, in Worlds of Exile and Illusion. Orb Books, 1996.
Five thousand nights of Winter, five thousand days of it: the rest of their youth and maybe the rest of their lives.
Stranded for six centuries on a planet circling the star Gamma Draconis – Eltanin, ‘the serpent’s head’ – a community of humans live isolated in their coastal town called Landin, near a promontory rock to which it’s linked by a high causeway. They are known to their indigenous neighbours as ‘farborn’, and because they’re dark-skinned are visually distinct from the pale-skinned, golden-eyed inhabitants of the planet.
A further difference is that the highly intelligent life-forms (called ‘hilfs’ here) have a stone-age subsistence as well as culture – having no concept of the wheel, windows, or books – and in keeping with their ethical principles of non-interference with a less technologically advanced culture the farborns are careful to limit the reach of any innovations.
But two factors are coming together to upset the fragile standoff between the farborns in Landin and the hilfs in their incomplete settlement of Tevar. The severe planetary winter is coming, a season which lasts fifteen earth-years; and news is emerging of a mass migration south by the marauding Gaal, inimical to both communities. On a personal level a relationship is forming which will threaten any concerted action to counter the coming storms.
Following Rocannon’s World, the second of Ursula K Le Guin’s published Hainish novels was Planet of Exile (1966), and it’s the second title up for discussion in the series of posts with the #LoveHain tag.
You may well know the drill by now: three questions follow which you’re free to answer but which you can also ignore and go freestyle with your commentary on the novel.
And when you’ve commented, and maybe linked to your own (or somebody else’s!) review or discussion, remember the third of the trio of early Hainish novels, City of Illusions, is the read for March, with a discussion post up on Friday 31st March.
Rocannon’s World (1966) by Ursula K Le Guin, in Worlds of Exile and Illusion. Orb Books, 1996.
“I ride with Olhor, who seeks to hear his enemy’s voice, who has traveled through the great dark, who has seen the World hang like a blue jewel in the darkness.” — Chapter VII
An ethnologist from the League of All Worlds is studying one of the hominid species on an unnamed planet, formally known as Fomalhaut II, when his returning team are killed by a bomb. It appears that the League’s opponents, the inhabitants of the planet Faraday, have established a secret base on this uncharted world from which to launch a preemptive strike against the League. This is the major inciting incident that propels the novel forward.
But before this scenario establishes that we are in science fiction territory a prologue (based on a short story from 1964) places us firmly in a fantasy setting with an account of an heirloom being retrieved from underground troglodytes: we are introduced to a pseudo-medieval society, living in castles, mounted on flying steeds, treating with elvish and dwarvish beings, and a heroine who visits and journeys from a subterranean kingdom, only to return home to find everyone she knew has either died or grown old.
The author’s first published novel, Rocannon’s World was also the first title set in the author’s Hainish universe; as a work we could justifiably term a science fantasy it lays out many of Le Guin’s principal concerns — balanced and sustainable living, environmentalism, psychology and anthropology, morality, human imagination, and much more — all contained within a rarely predictable narrative framework.
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin “redrew the map of modern science fiction, imagining a galactic confederation of human colonies founded by the planet Hain, an array of worlds whose divergent societies—the result of both evolution and genetic engineering—allow her to speculate on what is intrinsic in human nature.”
Incorporating ‘The Dowry of Angyar’ – a short story from 1964, here retitled as ‘Semley’s Necklace’ – Rocannon’s World (1966) was Ursula Le Guin’s first published novel and the first work to be considered in our #LoveHain readalong starting today, as 22nd January is the fifth anniversary of the author’s passing in 2018.
As I indicated in the introductory post, ‘Reading UKLG’s sf: #LoveHain’, for each of the eight published Hainish/Ekumen titles I shall pose three general questions (which you may either answer or ignore) to get discussion started in the comments; and here too is where you can link to your own discussions and/or reviews.
(Incidentally, you don’t have to sign up to join in the chat. And no need to commit to reading all the titles – dip in and out as and when it suits you!)
“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.
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.