Ursula K. Le Guin
's The Birthday of the World
is a short story
collection (some previously published) in which Le Guin shows in each
story her mastery of weaving new universes.
This book collects in one place many of her stories that describe
truly alien societies. While the members of these societies may
be human (though their Hainish ancestry), and the emotions, desires,
and motivations may be very human, the structure of their society
is not familiar at all. These are stories of xenosociology, rather
Le Guin convincingly builds new worlds and societies to go in them,
starting with their
sexual underpinnings, continuing on to social relationships,
power plays, and hierarchal authority (or lack of), exploring
economic, political, and military constituents of the societies which are
in a state of stability,
instability, prosperity, decay, recovery, war, revolution, and rediscovery.
In each story, a we see the society a character lives in through their
eyes. Some stories are told by natives of those societies, others are
told by outside "observers"
who have become involved in or grow up in these societies.
Many of the stories are coming of age stories which may be ideal for
showing the differences between our society and theirs.
Le Guin is not satisfied with merely telling you about her foreign societies,
but involves you emotionally with each protagonist's problems, desires,
pain, love, lust, marriage, torture, xenophobia,
loneliness in a crowd, loneliness among family,
xenophilia, joy, despair, and hope.
Many of the stories are tender and touching.
Some also have their fair share of violence.
Each story in the book is a little more complex and involved than the previous,
with the final story (novella?) including all of the emotions and concepts
in the list above.
The short stories in this book are:
- Coming of Age in Karhide
- This story further explores aspects of the androgynous sexuality of the natives of Karhide, originally depicted in The Left Hand of Darkness.
- The Matter of Seggri
- excerpts from an observer's report on Seggri, a matriarchal world with a severe shortage of men, due to an apparent genetic deformity.
- Unchosen Love
- Mountain Ways
- These two stories deal with aspects of the "moiety" -- a marriage consisting of a set of 4 marriages between 4 people.
- Observer's report on a world where men and women live semi-separately, with the women living in villages surrounded by men practicing "natural selection" in solitude.
- Old Music and the Slave Women
- Old Music is the nickname of the protagonist (a Hainish Envoy) who
becomes involved in a civil war between slaves and masters.
- The Birthday of the World
- A stable and prosperous society falls into decay and barely averted
ruin through civil war and interference from the Gods.
- Paradises Lost
- story of a generation starship; while similar to Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky, and the
Star Trek (TOS) episode "For The World Is Hollow, And I Have Touched The Sky",
but digs deeper in both foundations, social structure, and results, giving a very believable and complete story.