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BL0RF - LeGuin Rocks: core dump. - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Aug. 1st, 2003

02:32 am - BL0RF - LeGuin Rocks: core dump.

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Everyone needs to go out to the store and buy LeGuin's Birthday of the World. Skip right to the end of the book and read the story Paradises Lost.

This story embodies everything I love about LeGuin and it contains in it SO MANY important ideas. It starts out as a glimpse of growing up in the sustainable utopian society of a generation ship, by the end it explores the hidden intrigue and politics that come with knowledge and skills and division of labor even in a seeming utopia (an issue often explored by LeGuin, see also The Dispossessed), the role of trust and truth and power in relationships (both intimate and social...there's an incredible parallel going on between this girl's relationship with her mentor/husband and her mentor/husband's relationship to the larger society...and her best friend sits at the hinge of both), loss and creation and evolution of cultural information over generations (as always you can tell just how much of a Anthropology geek LeGuin is...she has so much insight into just how cultures work and change and how culture affects individuals).

But most of all the real theme of the story (as if you could say any LeGuin work has a _single_ theme) is Church and State. Particularly there's an important lesson in this story about how dangerous and insidious it is when the Church claims to be entirely allied with the goals of the State, when the Church claims to effectively be a natural partner of the State, when the Church has so infiltrated the State's leadership that the State accepts this doctrine unquestioningly. Does all this sound familiar? You know, although we have separation of Church and State, the US is a Christian Nation, right? Anyway this story gets to the heart of how this kind of thing happens, how quickly people forget that there was any other way, and what the consequences may be.

The story gets at the complex grittiness of real societies, even of the super simple very small, seemingly closed system of this generation ship. Ain't nothing simple when it comes to humans. But Love and Struggle and doing the right thing are what it's all about....even if there is no such thing as stable equilibrium.

I get the feeling LeGuin was thinking about some game theory when she wrote this as well. Factionalization, cooperation, competition, allocation of resources, compromise, adaptation, survival, steady states, imbalance. It's all in there large and small.

I have this problem, as evidenced above, where every time I try to talk about LeGuin I've got so many ideas all at once and I try to express them all and I'm afraid no one else knows what I'm talking about because so few other people have read ALL THE LEGUIN and I don't want to overexplain or oversimplify. So anyway, go read the story and let's talk about it! (But then of course my opposite fear is that her stories are so good that once you've read them you don't need to talk about it because she explains everything so clearly, and if I want to talk about it maybe it means I'm just being a dork and saying things everyone already got when they read it the first time). I need a book group.

I think I need to go reread all her books and write reviews/analysis one by here. I could start a fan site and a LJ community. It'd be awesome. Because, you know, I have so much free time.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

Comments:

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From:soulsong
Date:August 1st, 2003 02:37 am (UTC)
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Birthday of the World has been in my wishlist/basket for months now. I just have so much other stuff to read. I'm still struggling through "Always Coming Home" which hasn't really gripped me. Instead I've ended up reading Anne Rice, which is more about escaping outside of society than rebuilding it... guess you can see what kind of mood I'm in right now ;)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 1st, 2003 07:08 am (UTC)
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Always Coming Home is definitely one of the slowest books. I suggest skipping around when you read it. It took me years to read the whole thing. I've since read most of it 3 or 4 times but always in a pretty random order. I find it deliciously slow like most of my favorite movies.

But if it's frustrating, definitely put it down and pick up some others! :)

Eye of the Heron has some good rebuild vs. escape stuff in it. And for a quickie there's Omelas Heck even Paradises Lost explores that conflict/theme a little bit.


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From:soulsong
Date:August 1st, 2003 07:20 am (UTC)
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Mmm! Eye of the Heron looks like just the ticket! Of course it's not yet published in the UK - just have to wait till September....
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 1st, 2003 07:41 am (UTC)
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Huh. Weird. Eye of the Heron is actually a pretty old book. I don't even think it's in print here. Check used book stores.

"See that, its like what we call the whiteberry, but it's not the same. I never saw it until yesterday."

Presently he said, "There's no name for the animal I saw."

Luz nodded.

Between her and Sasha was silence, the bond of silence. He did not speak of the animal to others, nor did she. They knew nothing of this world, their world, only that they must walk in it in silence, until they had learned a language fitting to be spoken here. He was one who was willing to wait.
-- Ursula K. LeGuin (The Eye of the Heron)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 1st, 2003 07:31 am (UTC)
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The thing about Birthday of the World though, except for the story I'm talking about, is that it is a very good idea to read some of her Hainish books first. Two stories in Birthday are reexplorations of worlds she'd previously created. These stories do for Four Ways to Forgiveness and Left Hand of Darkness what The Other Wind did for Earthsea. What is adolescense like for a person who basically prefers to be a lesbian on Gethen (the world where people have no gender except during sex when their bodies choose a random one that previously LeGuin had describes in (by our standards) pretty cautiously heteronormative terms)? What was the revolution like on Yeowe when it eventually came? Revolutions, even when neccessary, destroy and distrupt lives and create factionalism. What about the slaves who didn't/couldn't revolt?

And several other stories are stand alone stories but they are told within the Ekumen paradigm of Mobiles and Envoys and such. I never know what the right way people should get introduced to the Ekumen is though because she has no single book that really explains it all. She just gives you bits and pieces here and there because really it isn't that important to understand it all for any given book. So maybe it doesn't matter.

But anyway, I enjoyed some of the stories particularly because of their relationship to other stories. I'm sure the stories can be enjoyed on their own merits too, I just wouldn't know not being able to erase my memories.
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From:soulsong
Date:August 1st, 2003 07:49 am (UTC)
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I've read a lot of the Hainish stories so I'd probably get along with them just fine.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 1st, 2003 07:51 am (UTC)
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Cool! The get it for sure!
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 1st, 2003 11:45 am (UTC)
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Definitely read the whole series again! Most people I know who love Earthsea, read it in their 20s. After the trilogy there are 2 new books. Tehanu, the fourth book was released in the 80s and The Other Wind, the fifth book was released in 2001. There is also a book of prequel type short stories released in 2001 called Tales of Earthsea.

If you want epic, these 6 books sure give you epic.

Great stories about power and morality and relationships and coming of age. About losing power. About humility. About false dichotomies. About responsibility. About love.

I read the first book in Junior High and thought it was a good fun story but didn't get into it nearly as much as when I reread in college.
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