The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

by Ursula K. Le Guin

The recipient of numerous literary prizes, including the National Book Award, the Kafka Award, five Hugo Awards and five Nebula Awards, the renowned writer Ursula K. Le Guin has, in each story and novel, created a provocative, ever-evolving universe filled with diverse worlds and rich characters reminiscent of our earthly selves. Now, in The Birthday of the World, this gifted artist returns to these worlds in eight brilliant short works, including a never-before-published novella, each of which probes the essence of humanity.

  • Series: Hainish Cycle
  • Language: English
  • Category: Science Fiction
  • Rating: 4.29
  • Pages: 362
  • Publish Date: March 4th 2003 by Harper Perennial
  • Isbn10: 0060509066
  • Isbn13: 9780060509064

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LeGuin is a beautifully written collection of stories crafted by an artist whose ability to create deeply meaningful speculative fiction has placed her high among peers. Creating a panorama of humanity with frank sexuality and sincere emotion, LeGuin again creates a speculative fiction work that transcends that genre and bridges the gap with works that evoke human behavior, group dynamics, cultural and social foundations. LeGuin uses this setting as a further exploration of that creation and also as a transcendent means of expressing a uniquely human experience either from a man or womans perspective. LeGuin uses this unusual arrangement to examine cultural and group dynamics and also to demonstrate that human nature does not change, regardless of social convention. "Mountain Ways" another story from the planet O and about the strange institution of the sedoretu, this complicated but charming story of love in the face of cultural prohibitions serves as a vehicle for LeGuin to subtly but demonstrably shine a revealing light on arbitrary and senseless barriers to individuality and genuine human emotion.

I liked all the stories here, but Paradises Lost I loved. This novella is about a generational ship travelling from Earth to a new, distant planet, to study it and see whether or not it can be colonized. Towards the end, I had this dark, nervous feeling inside me that went something like "Will the remnants of of the clear, scientific, sensible minds that first left Earth still be strong enough to win out over the crazies?" The power struggle and political/religious scheming, based on manipulating people's world view, really got to me. This story shows the struggle between different sides of the human mind, and that made it profound in a way few authors can manage.

For that reason alone, The Birthday of the World is a spectacular book: each of these stories is set in a society where an alien biology or social/cultural stricture dramatizes some pretty fundamental aspects of the human condition, mainly gender roles, relationships, sex, and sexuality (because whats more fundamental, really?). Coming of Age in Karhide, which is set in the same world as Left Hand of Darkness, is the first person reminiscence of a Gethenians first time in kemmer. The men sell themselves to the women for sex, and apart from those brief commercial encounters, and from the public games where the woman watch the men compete, men and women lead wholly separate lives. Solitude is another, very different, story where the sexes lead wholly separate lives. Apart from being an illustration of how spirituality evolves in societies as something of a coping mechanism, Paradise Lost is also one of the more believable stories of the generation ship sub-genre.

My favorite story is "Paradise Lost", a story about the culture and mythology that are created in a space vessel of humans travelling for generations towards a destination set by people who have been long dead.

This is a book about sexuality and its social meaning - about what it's like for a society to be composed of members who go into heat once a month and only grow sexual organs then. This is also a book about a society of introverts who meditate, building their souls, not caring about science and the outside world.

She gives us a world where marriages are made in sets of four people, two men and two women (each member has one male lover, one female lover, and one taboo opposite-sex partner), and delicately explores the complications of such an arrangement. LeGuin's writing is notable for both its deep and humane compassion and its unflinching clarity of vision.

TOC and publishing histories of the stories: I'll add stories as I read them, so this will take awhile Coming of Age in Karhide (1995) novelette. It must be what the Aliens look like, Sether said with revulsion. In the story, the Seggri people are contacted by the Ekumen, and eventually the extreme segregation of women and men begins to break down. The story is a series of vignettes of variously-damaged people, especially men. Excerpt from story: You have sex, marry, have children only with Evening people. Marriage on O is a foursome, the sedoretu a man and a woman from the Morning moiety and a man and a woman from the Evening moiety. It's just as complicated as it sounds, but aren't most marriages?" Akal is a woman pretending to be a man, so that she can marry her girlfriend and true love Shahe in the moiety four-way marriage (sedoretu) favored in Ki'O society. She & Shahe conspire to hide Akal's deception until after the marriage, especially from Otorra, the man she/he would be required by convention to have sex with, planning to tell him (later!) that he/she doesn't like sex with men. If you know Le Guin, you can probably sense her setup, but it's still fun: Otorra is hesitant about the marriage, because (view spoiler) he doesn't like sex with men, either!

However, when the Ekumen arrive, the world has to decide whether the way they've always done things will continue. "Unchosen Love" and "Mountain Ways" take place on the planet O, where, in addition to genders, the people also have moieties and enter into marriages in groups of four, two of each gender and two of each moiety. The planet was first featured in the title story of A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, and LeGuin writes in the forward of this book that she did so much work in hashing out the system of relationships that she had to revisit it and explore the complications further. "Unchosen Love" explores what happens when the foursome is made up of two strong twosomes that have to learn to love each other's partners as well in order to make the relationship work. "Old Music and the Slave Woman" In her book Four Ways to Forgiveness, LeGuin brought us to the joint worlds of Werel and Yeowe who were going through a slave revolution. This is a commentary on how people seem to need something to believe in, even though their ancestors were the most logical and intelligent the world had to offer at the time, and the ship's governing body was formed with a strict attention to the separation of church and state.

That's now already two stories that really hit me emotionally, and I haven't even read all of them yet!(view spoiler) My heart really went out to the men of Seggri and the further I read, the sadder I went. (In hindsight, this story may not have been the best thing to read before going to sleep :D). The story of a man and a woman in love and how she betrayed her heart. They are in a fundamentally different situation to the men on Seggri, but the do share some pivotal things.

Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc.