Sunday 12 February 2023

Roccanon's World by Ursula K. LeGuin

Another year, another reading and blogging project likely doomed to fail. I have a hard time keeping either up. I'm notorious for starting a book and jumping to another book before finishing. That isn't to say I don't finish books. I finish several books per year and yet I also seem to have a slowly growing pile of books that I have started and temporarily abandoned. I plan on finishing them, I swear, even if I have to start again from the first page. I don't hang on to books I started and intentionally didn't finish. Those books go back to the library or exchanged for credit on my next visit to the used book store.

As for any accompanying blogging meant to follow my reading, you need only look at the archives to see how well I've kept that up. 

Past failures won't stop me from setting up new projects to fail. My reading project for 2023 is one that has been gestating for all of last year: Only read books by woman authors.

I have plenty of books on my shelves by women authors that have waited patiently for me. Waited years in some cases. There are also plenty of authors that are still new to me that I want to check out. Tallying them up quickly left me I learned that I have a few dozens already in my home waiting to be read. The local library has physical or ebook copies of many others that I'm interested in checking out. I could easily spend several years doing this, but I'll start with one year and see if I can do at least that.

I will try to keep a monthly record of what I've read along with some commentary or small reviews. I'm more worried about the blogging portion of the project than the reading part. I know I'll read throughout the year. It's a question of staying on target with my authors. The blogging part requires actual effort.

Rocannon's World by Ursula K. LeGuin 

I wanted to start with an author I love. Rocannon's World  is part of a series called the Hainish Cycle, which includes the classics The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, this is LeGuin's first published novel. It's short, even by 1966 standards when it was published as an Ace Double. The published released novels printed back-to-back, each with a cover. The pairing up of novels in this way was usually reserved for shorter works.

The book opens up with a short story here called "Semley's Necklace" but previously titled "The Dowry of Angyar" when it was first published two years earlier. It introduces the reader to the planet on which the story will take place as well as the different species inhabiting the planet. The story's main character is a native of the planet and goes on an otherworldly journey that is hard to fully grasp until later when the main narrative begins. This is mostly due to the character's point of view making things that are common place and easily understood to any reader of science fiction appear strange and incomprehensible by being viewed through Semley's perspective. I first read it in the collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters and I think it works better here, followed by the novel, than it did standing on its own.

The rest of the book focuses on Rocannon, an ethnologist working for the League of Worlds and his time on the planet  Fomalhaut II. Due to his efforts the planet has been placed in an exploration embargo to protect the development of the native species. He discovers that there are enemies of the League of Worlds based somewhere on the planet. This discovery is made when Rocannon and his companions are shot out of the sky, leaving him the lone survivor. He goes on a quest to find the enemy base in order to use their ansible (an interplanetary communication device that is not subject to relativistic time dilation) to call in an airstrike to end the threat to all the inhabitants of Fomalhaut II.

While science fiction is the foundation of the setting, kicks off the plot, and is swiftly used at the story's climax, Rocannon's World has a smuch of a fantasy feel as a sci-fi feel. The races on the planet fit nicely with the human, dwarf, and elvish traditions of fantasy setting. The various races lives in settlements that more closely resemble Western European fantasy settings than technologically advanced cities of the future. Rocannon has to travel from Point A to Point B and the reader follows along as he deals with setbacks and unforeseen circumstances. It's impressive what LeGuin does with this basic plot, using it to explore themes of companionship, resourcefulness, loss, and redemption. I particularly enjoyed seeing what Rocannon chooses to let go of himself during his trial, each time allowing him to keep going on his journey.  

At times it's a little undeveloped and LeGuin's mastery of prose isn't up to what it would be with later books, but her voice is here. It reads like a LeGuin story. A good example of that is the layered and somewhat dense quality of the prose. Add to that her signature anthropological bent and you have a narrative that comfortably fits within her larger oeuvre. Despite all this, it's probably the lesser of her works that I've read because while recognizably LeGuin, it's not the best or clearest version of what she will later create. That only means I wouldn't introduce someone to LeGuin with it, but for those who have enjoyed a few of her works and are curious as to her development as an author Rocannon's World is worth reading.

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