Sunday, November 22, 2009

I have recently made a significant breakthrough in my relationship with the writings of Ursula K. Leguin. I have always felt a deep respect for her as a writer and a fellow Portlander. I think she is a great writer that Portland can claim as their own. Her work despite most of it taking place on other planets is rooted here in the Pacific NW and its  values, a place which at times can seem like another planet.  More unique then weird. I was never really able to become absorbed in her work and always felt I was really missing something.  I loved The Left Hand of Darkness, sort of liked Lathe of Heavan, and her short story April in Paris was a wonderful little dessert of a story but I was that juvenile picky eater when it came to what she dished up. I like this, I can tolerate that, I'll hide whatever this is in my napkin and dispose of later.

I was first introduced to her in a science fiction class at PSU back in 1975.  I was accustomned to reading the work of people like Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clark.  Serious scientific work told in a straight forward narrative.  I was totally lost in my first reading of Leguin.  She just seemed to drop you into an Alien environment and leave you on your own to figure it all out. No straight forward narrative,  distorted time, multiple perspectives.  Despite always being an "advanced reader" I was lost in her books and usually turned around and headed for familiar territory.  It was my loss at the time.

It's taken 30 years but I believe now I have reached a point where I can begin to appreciate the way she presents her stories.  I am presently reading what has been called the Hainish Cycle.  She refers to this body of work as the Ekumen, a unique spelling of the greek word oikumene meaning household.  Her definition in her words is "I needed a word that might imply a still wider humanity spread out from one original hearth."

The orginal hearth is the Planet Hain but the stories take place long after their migration to other Solar systems where like Darwins finches they have evolved in to variations on a common human theme.  The planet Hain so far in what I have read is never visited, and for the most part the Hainish people are secondary characters.  The stories deal more with the hainish descendents and the Hainish peoples attempts to try and bring about the occaisional reunion and organization of their progeny who do not always get along.

The "Hainish Cycle" or stories of the Ekumen are a collection of novels and short stories written in no particular order and with quite a few gaps as Leguin refers to it them like the fabric of a worn out but still comfortable old sweater.  Some of the short stories are embroidery of a particular novel and some novels are patches over the gaps of  a particular short story and vice versa.  Most of the novels; Rocannons World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, are more like Novelettes then true Novels but the plots have an epic scope and yet told in a distilled, a refined form that is a wonder to appreciate in its economy of beautiful language.


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