Friday, December 13, 2013

More Ursula

I've been reading my way through the novels in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, her series of philosophical/anthropological musings about what happens when differing groups of hilfs (highly intelligent life forms) cross the stars and interact with native populations. I've taken Ian Watson's suggestion for the internal chronology of the cycle as a starting point. This is not, however, the order in which Le Guin wrote the novels.

What I have finished so far, in order:

The Dispossessed (published in 1974)
The Word for World is Forest (1976)
Rocannon's World (1966)

I had a revelation in reading this last one. As far as I have been to tell Rocannon's World was Le Guin's first published novel. And in reading this early work, I realized that up until then, I have thought of UKLG as She Who Can Do No Wrong. As the epitome of excellence in the craft of writing.

But Rocannon's World is a mess.   Let's go on an adventure! Ah, look here at this creature, what will happen in our interacting with it? Interaction. Conflict. Move on to another interesting creature or group of people. What will happen now? And on and on. And all these creatures, all these peoples, all these events, none of them feel fully tied together into a whole. There are some very beautiful passages, and some striking ideas that Le Guin carries on to explore in the later-written novels. But in those later novels every passage is right, is a piece of the whole, is said beautifully, correctly, just as the story needs it to be said.

For me this was an important discovery. Ursula herself learned her craft. She got better. She got fantastic. But she wasn't always fantastic, she seems to have practiced her way there.

Perhaps some of us are gifted with something like a natural talent for story-telling, but we aren't necessarily lost if we haven't been  born into it. We all can practice our way toward excellence.

That was a good thing to be reminded of.

Tonight I finish Planet of Exile. (Which interestingly, though published in the same year as Rocannon's World, is a much more integrated and so more engaging novel.) A quote by Le Guin, from the introduction to this novel, nicely captures what I've been trying to think through here: "I learn by going where I have to go."

Next up: City of Illusions.

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