Fiction Reviews

The Birthday of the World

The Birthday of the World (2003) Ursula K. LeGuin, Gollancz, 9.99, trd pbk, 362 pp, ISBN 0-575-07479-5

Mostly a collection of Hainish shortsThe Birthday of the World sees LeGuin re-visiting some of her earlier canvases to paint in a little more detail and perhaps correct some oversights. The worlds of The Left Hand of Darkness, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea and all fall under LeGuin's re-appraisal, with two non-Hainish stories completing the volume. All have appeared in print previously with the exception of a new story, Paradises Lost

There is very little more to say. LeGuin continues to amaze with her sometimes sparse but always clear style. Using a distinctive mastery of understatement, she explores not only familiar worlds but also the familiar obsessions of sexuality and sexual politics. The best illustration of this for me is Mountain Ways, where two sexes and two moieties (Morning and Evening) are the basis for the allowable liaisons. (I have to confess; I checked up on moiety and it apparently means "a half" or "share".) Here more than anywhere LeGuin states her case for the stupidity of humans, but for their eventual redemption through understanding and tolerance.

This is probably not everyone's cup of tea. Quiet and thoughtful, LeGuin never reads as if written (as she puts it) "ray-gun in hand". I found the book a surprisingly easy read after some of the garish flashing lights and fireworks of most SF. Enjoy!

Graham Connor

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