“The Telling” by Ursula K. Le Guin

“The Telling” reminds me a bit of Huxley’s “Brave New World” in the sense that the characters aren’t of much importance, but rather a lens through which to view the society that the novel portrays.

Sutty, the main character, is an observer from Earth (called Terra in the book) who is sent to study the culture of the planet Aka.  When she gets there, she finds that the planet has been taken over by a corporation-state bent on eliminating the Aka’s native culture.  However, outside of the cities, people still remember the old way of life, which focuses on “the telling,” a zen-like religion providing wisdom through an examination of the people’s history.  Sutty manages to study in a village, where she discovers that the people have been maintaining an underground network to preserve their stories, and comes to the realization that she is the only one who is able to protect that knowledge.

Meanwhile, Sutty must come to terms with her own past on Earth.  I found it interesting that Le Guin chose to make her a lesbian, largely because Sutty’s own story comes secondary to the descriptions of Akan society.

Le Guin’s writing is beautiful, although there isn’t much actual plot.  The book reads more as an anthropological study of a fictional planet, allowing Le Guin to examine the relationship between religion, politics, philosophy, and culture.  It’s certainly not for everyone, but I love anthropology and so found the book fascinating.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on ““The Telling” by Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. “so much of 60′s and 70′s sci-fi read more like anthropological and scientific studies”? Really? I mean, yes, a few but I read predominately sci-fi from that time which rarely feel like that — I also read primarily social sci-fi which often has to do with first contact….

  2. Have you read Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness? One of the best sci-fi works ever written. This one was also wonderful…. Nice review.

  3. it’s interesting how sci-fi has changed over the years. so much of 60’s and 70’s sci-fi read more like anthropological and scientific studies. that was also when anthropologists were fighting to get respect as followers of a hard science, so maybe a bunch of them got together thought if they wrote sci-fi novels people would respect them more. i guess ursula was channeling her younger years when she wrote this one.

    • It’s interesting to see novels written that way. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it quite as much if her prose wasn’t so poetic–she doesn’t just say what happens, but uses rather vivid language. I haven’t read any of Le Guin’s other novels, so I’d be curious to see if they are written in a similar style.

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