Ursula LeGuin: The Wind’s Twelve Quarters

October 19, 2014

51CTnN8CWPL._AA160_I’ve enjoyed Ursula LeGuin’s science fiction for many years, The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness being among my all-time favourites. Something recently prompted me to look her up on the internet, and part from discovering that she will be eighty-five in a few days, the bibliography suggested several volumes of short stories that I immediately wanted to read.

Her imagined worlds are carefully constructed, starting from the premise that, many thousands of years ago, lots of worlds (Earth-type planets) were ‘seeded’ with different types of hominid races by one highly developed species; these races and planets are gradually reaching a level of development where they are discovering each other and coming into contact. There is a loose federation of worlds. What this very clever set-up does is allow LeGuin to put our specific Earth humans (us) under a microscope by comparing them with other possible tracks of the development of a similar species. I’ll make this a bit clearer by referring to The Left Hand of Darkness as a particularly good example: it is set on a planet where the humans are both male and female – androgynous – and at certain times, depending on a range of factors, temporarily ‘become’ one or other gender. Sex, sexuality, gender and relationships are clearly going to be rather different from what we are familiar with, and if you add a visitor from our Earth, then you have the possibility to explore many aspects of our own lives and conditioning…

Similarly, in The Dispossessed (you will find an entire post devoted to this fascinating novel somewhere on this blog if you search for it) LeGuin imagines a society run along truly anarchist lines: it is hard work, but appealing in many ways, especially when contrasted with a society like our own.

Anyway, I discovered that, along with the several novels I was familiar with that are set in the Hainish worlds, there are also many short stories that look at various aspects of those worlds, vignettes, if you like, rather than complex narratives. And they are a wonderful addition, that I was previously unaware of. LeGuin is obviously a highly political (with a small ‘p’) writer; she is also able to touch the reader (this reader) very powerfully through the worlds, the peoples and the complex relationships that she sets up in a few pages: I like the characters and their worlds and was drawn in and involved very rapidly. She moves beyond the narrower confines of more traditional science fiction very quickly, and, for me, does what a good writer in any genre should do: she makes me think.

So, this was a very enjoyable collection of stories, whether you are familiar with either of the two novels I’ve mentioned above or not. I’m already onto the next collection…

One Response to “Ursula LeGuin: The Wind’s Twelve Quarters”

  1. […] read several volumes of stories over the last few months (posts here, here and here), all part of her Hainish cycle, and I think this is the last volume (if you know different, please […]


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