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.