The Birthday Of The World
(Gollancz SF, £9.99, 362 pages, paperback, January 2003.)
Ursula K. Le Guin is one of those The
Birthday Of The World, her new collection of short stories, I was
for the first time struck by a resemblance between her work and that
of Vance. The collection is a series of anthropological excursions,
an array of possible worlds, most of them set in Le Guin's Hainish milieu,
where different social, sexual, political and moral possibilities can
be explored. But these worlds do have a Vancian flavour, a kind of mischievous
exoticism, the main difference being that where Vance goes for wit and
humour, Le Guin is far more serious.
who--like Jack Vance--has an unmistakeable voice. In fact, reading
The first two stories exhibit her style perfectly. 'Coming Of Age In
Karhide' and 'The Matter Of Seggri' are delightful, ingenious tales,
both of which have didactic elements, both of which have little real
plot, yet both of which absorb and enthuse the reader. Equally successful
is the novella 'Paradise Lost', which is a stand-alone piece not set
in any previously described universe. A generation starship is travelling
from Earth, its expected arrival time generations in the future. Le
Guin says that she wanted to write about the time between departure
and arrival, and she spins an intriguing tale. The tale hots up when
the main characters realise that a computer error means they are going
to arrive two generations early... and many of the inhabitants of the
ship have become weary of talk of arrival, yearning only for perpetual
travel. It's an original and very effective tale, a perfect conclusion
to the book.
Some of the stories here are like essays, in particular the title story
'The Birthday Of The World' in which an Inca-esque society struggle
with their concept of God. Elsewhere, 'Solitude' is a peculiar meditation
on introversion whose contents make melancholy reading. 'Mountain Ways'
is in many respects the most difficult story of the book, covering the
complexities of four-person marriage. Tricky to write (the author admits
as much in her introduction) and tricky to read; difficult to enjoy
in the same way as the earlier stories, yet still intriguing.
This is a handsome looking novel with a sophisticated and attractive
cover to match the sophisticated and attractive content. Recommended
to anybody who has ever thought to themselves 'I must read Le Guin'
or 'I must read more Le Guin'.
Review by Stephen Palmer.
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