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The Birthday of the World & Other Stories

Ursula K. Le Guin

" I 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

“I 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 finding them.” 

These stories 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 their worlds. 

These stories 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 them. 

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 loved. 

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the World, God's Daughter fulfills her destiny, marrying her brother Tazu even though her world has ended and they have been replaced by new gods.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 live.” 

It's not 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 book.

M. 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 story collection.



Publication Date:2002

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?NO

Author bio: Ursula 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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