nowReading: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard to assign a star rating to this one. On one hand, “it was amazing” is an understatement. On the other, “I liked it” is accurate.

The Dispossessed features sprawling moments of brilliance, pure genius word after word, big ideas delivered one after another. The book doesn’t preach; the characters and even some of the ideas are wrong or don’t pan out at times, it’s as critical of itself as everything it else it criticizes, which is quite a lot. It’s easy to say some of my favorite quotes going forward will have been discovered here. My mind was blown again and again.

It’s not a philosophy book but a work of fiction, and Le Guin has, as always, done a good job keeping the story in front of its moral. As far as her Hain books go, however, this one isn’t all that physically exciting. The page-turning comes from a yearning to take in all of the ideas happening, while the actions of the characters are sometimes downright boring. There are (in my copy at least) an unfortunate amount of typos, and certain areas where the writing itself feels like a rough draft. Some things read more as a summary of events than actual events, there are a lot of lists given, and the chapters are too long for their own good. The decision to split each chapter between past and present is smart, but the chapters are so long it can be difficult to remember where the last time frame left off. Shorter chapters would’ve been easily accomplished without breaking the pattern. Too often things are explained as soon as or even right after they’re relevant to a conversation or action; Chekhov’s gun kept firing before it was hung on the wall or, sometimes, even assembled. More things are placed exactly as they should be than not, but the ones that weren’t are noticeable.

It’s a long read, and sometimes a hard one. There’s a lot to take in. Lots of philosophy, lots of symbolism (the last line blew me away). Less physical action yet more lore than any other Ekumen book, it’s possibly the most important in the series, as well as being an important work of American literature.

It’s amazing. I love the book, even if I only like the story.

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Small Update, and a Review of Three Hainish Novels

Since the last few posts have been reviews of other people’s work, and that isn’t what my blog is meant to be about, I thought I’d give a quick update before posting my latest review.

I’ve finished the second draft of my latest manuscript, a scifi/cyberpunk-ish novel called The Foreland. Thanks to the wonderful people at QueryTracker’s forums, I think my query letter is ready to go. I’m not querying agents yet (though I am making a list of them); I’m worried my manuscript might be a little too short. I’m currently exploring ways to lengthen the story without adding fluff or nonsense. I only need to add a few thousand words to get it to the “ideal word count” I’ve read about on so many other blogs, but if I can’t do it well, I won’t do it at all. I think I’d rather have a good story be a little short than have a fluffy story be the ideal length.

I am, as always, working on writing my next big project. I have a few ideas in the works, but few far enough along to talk about right now.

I’ve also picked up an older project for another round of editing, this one more likely to be self-published. Depending on how much of that I get done in the next few weeks, you’ll probably hear a lot more about it very soon.

On to the review:

Three Hainish Novels is, as the title suggests, a collection of three of Ursula K. Le Guin’s books, these ones set in her science fiction Hainish Cycle.

Rocannon’s World is Le Guin’s first novel, and the first in this collection. A lovely tale, science fiction at its finest, and wonderfully told. Some of the paragraphs run on a little long and the story begins to feel exhausted toward the end, but it doesn’t wear itself out and instead comes to a clean, beautiful close. 4/5 stars.

I’m not usually a fan of flowery prose, but in Planet of Exile it’s done so well and in such moderation that it only adds to the story. The story and the writing are both beautiful. Le Guin perfectly captures imagery and poetry in prose form, and this builds up to some moments later that gave me chills and could put most of the horror novels I’ve read to shame. The first few chapters were slow but very much enjoyable, and once I got to the last third or so of the book, I couldn’t put it down. 5/5

The final book, City of Illusions, is the longest, though still not a very long book. I had a little bit more trouble with this one; it’s very wordy, and I had to read over a few sentences a few times to get their meaning, especially when they were full of mythos and things from other Hainish Cycle books that weren’t immediately clear to me. Just as it begins to feel like it’s dragging on, the story takes a sharp turn, and all of that journey leading up to that point becomes clearer, more important. The moral dilemma faced by the main character, Falk, is astounding; page after page I dreaded what would become of him.

This is possibly the first of the three books in which it becomes clear that while the stories in the Hainish cycle take place billions of miles and hundreds of years apart, they are very much a part of one story. It was interesting to see a pebble cast by a character in one book lead to ripples the size of species in another, and there was a very strong thread of emotion connecting characters hundreds of years apart, never knowing each other or their stories, but somehow working toward the same end.

Each book in the Hainish Cycle is like a snapshot, a capture of one moment, one story, only a glimmer of the whole, expansive tale of mankind throughout the millenia. It excites me that there are more Hainish Cycle books to get to, and I can’t wait to see how they fit in. The series being written in one order and taking place in another means that once I’ve finished reading them in the order they were written, I can go back and read them in the order in which they take place, and start to see things new again.

Overall: 4/5 stars. Be sure to check out more reviews on my Goodreads page.

Review: The Wind’s Twelve Quarters by Ursula K. Le Guin

In April I finished the first draft of my latest manuscript, and almost immediately after, a friend asked me to look over one he had recently finished, which I was happy to do, as I like to put some time between drafts of my work. After finishing his and starting on mine, I started to feel like reading something else. I don’t tend to read a lot while revising my own work, but I had spent too long away from the pile of books beside my bed. It was around that time I decided to pick up The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, thinking a short story collection might make for easier reading while I worked on my own writing. This proved to be a miscalculation, as I had trouble putting the book down.

Mentioning Le Guin’s work will most often draw to mind her fantasy, namely the Earthsea Cycle, which would pave the road for the likes of Neil Gaiman, Hayao Miyazaki, and J.K. Rowling. Perhaps less famous (but equally as influential, not to mention good) is her science fiction work, most of which falls under the Hainish Cycle. What most people won’t think of, however, is horror, which is a pity because she is perhaps the best writer at it. I’ve read books and found them disturbing, perhaps creepy, but never have I seen them as more than words on a page, which are not inherently horrific. Some of the stories in this book changed that for me. I would be hard-pressed to argue that the point of any story on the book is to be a work of horror, but there’s no doubt that Le Guin has managed to capture fear. I’m not talking about the gruesome and grisly, or the idea of some grotesque creature coming to “get” you, but the real horrors: Madness, isolation. The realization that you are not alone in a dark room, the comprehension of that which renders us infinitesimal.

“Semley’s Necklace” opens the collection. A short story on its own, it also happens to be the first chapter of Le Guin’s first novel, Rocannon’s World. Reading that novel was probably my first experience with the horror Le Guin is capable of writing: At first a mild science fiction work, it slowly works its way toward a terrifying realization. It was the perfect way to open both books.

“April in Paris” offers an immediate change of tone, being a more light-hearted fantasy work. “The Masters” presents the idea of persecution of the scientific, a theme that will recur in many of the author’s works, and contains one of my favorite passages in the book. “Darkness Box” is another fantasy piece, and one I enjoyed. Only a few pages long, it presents a world more rich than ones I’ve visited for entire novels.

“The Word of Unbinding” and “The Rule of Names” are both part of the Earthsea Cycle. The latter has elements of dark comedy, and in the last sentence returns the horror theme present throughout the collection. “Winter’s King” takes us back to the Hainish Cycle, and while a strong story, I thought it might have been better if it were extended into a full novel. Entire revolutions are passed over in a paragraph, which I assume is because they are perhaps not directly related to the central character’s internal story, but seeing years go by in a sentence was inescapably jarring.

“The Good Trip” provided a nice change of pace, being a short speculative work between two larger science fiction pieces. Following this is “Nine Lives”, one of my favorite stories in the collection. After this is “Things”, another short but very rich piece, and another favorite of mine. “A Trip to the Head” is a much less “conventional” story, being speculative through and through, and I appreciated the story it had to tell and the way it was told.

“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” marks the point at which I couldn’t stay away from the book for more than a few hours. Another science fiction piece and part of the Hainish Cycle, this one stands perfectly well on its own. In this story were passages that gave me chills; perhaps for the first time, reading a book terrified me. Yet the story is not gloomy; it is beautiful even at its darkest, perhaps when it is darkest. This is not only my favorite in this collection, but easily one of my favorite short stories.

“The Stars Below” runs parallel to “The Masters” but is perhaps more enjoyable. “The Field of Vision” is one of the most terrifying stories I’ve ever read, and one of the most interesting. “Direction of the Road” offers a change of pace, another dark comedy and one of the most imaginative things I’ve read.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” was the first of Le Guin’s works I read. After a few years, it holds all the power it did when I first read it, and I was glad to re-visit it. I could write at great length about this story, but for now I’ll just say that I hold this one close to my heart.

“The Day Before the Revolution” solidly closes the collection. It might make more sense to me once I read The Dispossessed, but I did enjoy the story.

Nearly every story left me wanting to start the same story again, so this is a collection I look forward to coming back to time and again. It only grows more relevant with time, and I hope to read it over every few years, noticing things I hadn’t before, taking away lessons that passed me by the previous time. I can tell already that it has a lot to teach.

For more book reviews, be sure to check out my Goodreads page.

Update 1/26

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Writing

I’m working on a fantasy novel I started last summer. It’s progressing very well, I’m over 20,000 words in.

I’ve also started working on a new project based on an old idea. I won’t say much about it yet because I’m not too certain of it, but if I finish this it will probably be very soon and I’ll probably release it for free.

Speaking of writing, I’ve been taking part in Word Wars on the Shut Up and Write subreddit. It’s a lot of fun. More info here: http://www.reddit.com/r/shutupandwrite/

Editing

I finished editing Six and Seven a while ago. I’m working on finding a home for it.

Reading

I’ve been reading Planet of Exile by Ursula K. Le Guin. I’m not normally a fan of poetic prose, but in this book it works very well. It’s written gorgeously.

I’ve also been reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I’m very early in, and so far it seems like things I normally wouldn’t care about. I figure it’s been roughly seven pages (I’m reading an e-book so I’m not sure) of information I’m indifferent to involving one character, now and then sprinkled with very exciting and interesting things about another character. Somehow, all of it has me hooked, even the parts that I would normally find useless or even stop reading because of. Gaiman has a very strong voice, I think that’s holding it together and making even the boring parts worth reading.

For more info on my reading activities, feel free to follow me on Goodreads.