The Birthday of
the World & Other Stories
Ursula K. Le Guin
drew away from her. I had never been afraid of her before: she had
never used magic on me. A mother has great power, but there is nothing
unnatural in it, unless it is used against the child's soul."
Reviewed by M. Bobowski
did not plan these worlds and people.” Ursula Le Guin tells
us this in the foreword to The
Birthday of the World and Other Stories. “I
found them gradually, piecemeal, while writing stories. I'm still
are not about things that happened. They are not about deeds to do,
obstacles to overcome, or foes to vanquish. These people are not the
rebels, the reformers, the revolutionaries, the movers and shakers of
are about places and the people that live in them. They are the stories
of the factory workers, the farmers, the teachers, and the slaves. They
are the stories of people within their worlds, not people changing
They want what
we all want: to carve out a little bit of happiness for themselves.
Like Akal in Mountain
Ways, they want to be honest with the people they love.
Like Hadri and Duun in Unchosen
Love, they want to emerge from the shadow of their lovers.
They want to be themselves. They want to love. They want to be
The world is
not a static place. Not ours, and not the worlds within these stories.
On Seggri, through the collection-within-a-collection that is The Matter of Seggri,
the gradual reform of an oppressive and sexist culture emerges. On
Werel the change is abrupt and violent in Old Music and the Slave Women.
The slaves have risen and the Legitimate Government is crumbling. But
the people here are victims or beneficiaries of that change, not the
agents of it. The Hainish ambassador Old Music is caught equally
between the government and the rebels, as are the slaves of the
Yaramera estate where he is held prisoner.
These are the
stories of the people that do what they are supposed to. In The Birthday of the World,
God's Daughter fulfills her destiny, marrying her brother Tazu even
though her world has ended and they have been replaced by new gods. In Coming of Age in Karhide,
Sov goes to the kemmerhouse for the first time. The young Gethenian
says: “I wanted to die. But they all seemed so cheerful, so
happy about me, wishing me well; I wanted also to
ray-gun romance or full or sword-swinging barbarians out to overthrow
evil overlords. No planetary fates hang in the balance. There's lots of
sex, but it's not the kind that titillates.
The Birthday of the World and
Other Stories is achingly, heartbreakingly human. It's
tender and sometimes ugly, and if we can't see ourselves inside, it's
only because we aren't looking. That, as much as Le Guin's sublime
prose and sterling craftsmanship, is reason to fall in love with this
Bobowski lives with her much-suffering cat and extremely
patient boyfriend in northern Sweden. She is currently working on
either an extremely disjointed novel or an exceptionally cohesive short
K Le Guin is the author of over twenty novels and scores of short stories. Best known for her science-fiction masterpiece The Left Hand of Darkness,
she has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and the recipient of multiple
awards including the Pushcart Prize and the PEN/Malamud Award.
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other reviewers thought:
New York Review of Books