Archive for Ursula Le Guin

record of a spaceborn few [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2019 by xi'an

As in the previous two volumes, the cover of this Becky Chambers’ book is quite alluring. As is the title. The story is a medley of intermingled individual stories revolving (!) around the Exodus Fleet, the massive spaceship that humans boarded to escape a dying Earth. The universe of this third volume in the Wayfarer trilogy is both the same and not the same as in the earlier books, as it almost uniquely takes place on that ship and plays on the “us versus ’em” theme, unlike the other books, which were both tales of travel and of reaching a destination. Here the only (!) destination is finding one’s place in this finite and claustrophobic environment, with utopian dreams of a truly communist or anarchist society, although there are, as always, cracks in the system. The story is not “going anywhere”, in the sense that the natural order of things has not changed by the end of the book, which some readers may find disappointing, but the individuals therein have definitely moved to other planes of consciousness. In that sense, it is a more profound book than the previous two as the focus gets more and more psychological [and less space-operatic!]. Rereading my earlier book reviews, I was already noticing the first book as being homey (in that most of the long way to a small angry planet takes place in a confined tunneler ship)  and the second being more homey. Already revolving on a closed and common orbit indeed. I also find it quite significant that record of a spaceborn few stands as a finalist for the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novel. As it indeed carries a deeper message than an action packed novel or a book overfilling with boundless evil. If there was such a thing as an Ursula Le Guin prize, it would definitely deserve it. There was something of an Hainish feeling to record of a spaceborn few

the Hainish novels [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2018 by xi'an

 

When Ursula le Guin passed away earlier this year, I realised I had not read anything for her except for the Earthsea series. I thus ordered the two volume collection of the Hainish novels and short stories beautifully published by The Library of America. This boxed set has been at my bedside for the past six months and I completed reading the first volume while on Vancouver Island. The short novels (Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions) and both novels (The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed) are not part of a coherent cycle but relate to the same Universe, run by the mysterious Hains. Ursula le Guin herself describes the collection as a forest rather than a tree. There is nonetheless a strong common theme of displacement and of confrontation of one character with another culture, this character being often turned into the representative of his native culture. While the stories involve faster-than-light interstellar travel and mind reading and genetic engineering, their major thread is more of sociology or anthropology fiction than of science fiction. I enjoyed all these novels, both for their underlying common thread and for the massive diversity in the stories reported in the novels. If I had to pick only one, it would be The Dispossessed, as it merges a deeply realistic description of an anarchy run planet with the moving story of a top physicist faced with the individual doubts of pursuing research and the societal constraints imposed by a harsh arid planet and the pressure of the entire society. Albeit anarchist in principle, it still produces power structures and pressures, while being nationalistic at the planetary level by refusing any entry from another planet. In particular, I found most interesting the realisation by a group of friends that the society was no longer revolutionary and mostly replicating traditions and patterns. The reflections about scientific creativity and bareness in this novel as well as the power structures within academia are also most meaningful and should appeal to most researchers (and beyond!). Before the end of the Canadian trip, I was further able to read The Word for World is Forest in the second volume,  which is about the threat of destruction for a planet and its native humanoids, by Terrans seeking wood as the new gold. This theme has been reproduced in the subsequent sci’ fi’ literature, as in Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, but the short novel remains striking (and in line with the permanent theme in Le Guin’s books of conflicting cultures and the difficulty to apprehend the fullness of the other culture(s)… Le Guin notes in the introduction to the second volume of the box that strong similarities have been pointed out about “a high-budget, highly successful film [which] resembles the book in so mamny ways that people have often assumed that I had some part in making it.  Since the film completely reverses the book’s moral premise, presenting the central and unsolved problem of the book, mass violence, as a solution, I’m glad I have nothing at all to do with it”. The film is Avatar, James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster.

death of a giant [Ursula K Le Guin, 1929-2018]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on January 27, 2018 by xi'an

Heard this early morning that Ursula Le Guin had died last evening. Sad to see this major writer departing for one of the magnificent universes she created, like Earthsea or Gethen… (Not a major science-fiction writer. Not a major fantasy writer. A major writer, full stop!) Much to my sorrow, I have not [yet] read the highly celebrated Left Hand of Darkness. With its original reflection on an a-sexual society, reproduced by later authors like Ann Lecke’s great Ancilary trilogy. But I enjoyed immensely the Earthsea cycle, which is made of beautiful and moving stories with central characters that are multiple and complex and imperfect. I also love the philosophy that runs behind these books, with a less conflictual approach to human interactions than in traditional fantasy. As indicated on her Wikipedia page, Ursula  Le Guin had a personal philosophy that was a mix of Taoism and anarchism (Proudhon’s anarchism), reflected in the stateless organisations of some of her fictional universes.

 “[anarchism] is a necessary ideal at the very least. It is an ideal without which we couldn’t go on. If you are asking me is anarchism at this point a practical movement, well, then you get in the question of where you try to do it and who’s living on your boundary?”

As a linguistic aside, I have always wondered about Le Guin name as it sounded quite Breton to me, but never checked before. This is in fact the name of her Breton husband, Charles Le Guin, a historian, whom she met on the Queen Mary bound to France, when they were both on Fulbright Fellowships, in 1953. (Sounds like so so far away, times when travelling to France was done by boat! I still have this wish or dream I could once board a freighter to cross the Atlantic…)

the fifth season [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 14, 2017 by xi'an

When in Oxford two months ago, I dropped by the original Blackwell bookstore on my way to the station and rather hurriedly grabbed a few books from the science-fiction and fantasy section! One of them was The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, which sounded exciting [enough] from the back cover and gave a sort of reassurance from the Hugo Award label on the front cover.

While I end up being rather disappointed with the whole book, there are redeeming features, from the universe conception, where massive earthquakes destroy civilisations now and then and where some races can locally control or unravel telluric forces, to the multifaceted conception of the story, with three women blessed or plagued with this ability, to the exposition of the exploitation of those women by the ruling class and the rejection by most of their society. This ends up however too much of a ping-pong game, when moving from one character to another character is more and more of a nuisance, with a predictable reunification of the three viewpoints at the end and just too many deus ex machina moments, even for people controlling earthquakes.

Coincidentally [not really!], the author, N.K. Jemisin, also happens to be the science-fiction and fantasy book editor for The New York Times, with a compilation of her favourite titles every trimester or so. And a tendency towards short stories, anthologies and graphic novels that makes the entries mildly appealing to me. But still managed to signal to me a recent publishing of some short stories by Ursula Le Guin.