Saturday, March 5, 2011

Review: Ursula Le Guin's Hainish Cycle

Ursula K Le Guin: 5 Complete NovelsUrsula Le Guin is considered one of the best authors in science fiction and her Hainish series clearly shows why she is celebrated. Every story in this volume is a chapter in the history of different worlds in the galaxy where Earth is just one of the planets and space ships can make journeys to planets light-years away with passengers not aging in the process. It is not immediately obvious that they are connected because every story takes place on a different planet with generations worth of time in between the "chapters" but once I figured it out the series took on a more wholesome feel and became more satisfying.
It was interesting to see different themes dominate every story underneath the general theme of being an alien in a strange world and finding a place in it. For example for Planet of Exile it was belonging, for The Left Hand of Darkness - patriotism and friendship and for The Word for World is Forest - acceptance, tolerance and respect for what is different as well as preserving the environment.
The Left Hand of Darkness was my favorite in the series, so I'll tell you about it and leave the rest for you to discover on your own. At first I didn't enjoy it very much, it read as a report without much insight into the people of Winter, which in retrospect is what it was meant to be, but as the story progressed and protagonist changed from the Terran Genly Ai to the Karhidish Therem Harth and the format changed from report to  diary I became increasingly invested in the story. With protagonists alternating it became something of a dialogue and then the real adventures started and I was hooked. A very nice addition was the lore of the land with legends interspersed between chapters, it helped create an impression of a culture, a history of this planet and gave it a more human aspect. Don't want to give anything away, but I almost cried towards the end and even now, a week and two books later, I'm still thinking about it, the characters and the societies that shaped them. I have a feeling I'll always remember it and will re-read it many times.

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