Cat's Reviews > The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin
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's review
May 26, 2010

it was amazing
Read from May 26 to 30, 2010

I was utterly absorbed in all of the stories in this book. Le Guin is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers, and I look forward to reading more. She approaches science fiction like anthropology or ancient history, considering the cultural bases for our identities, inhibitions, and expectations. By inventing, with meticulous and compelling detail, cultures and bodies, she makes the reader reexamine her own frameworks for understanding the world.

Le Guin is also a master of characterization, so the stories are psychologically absorbing as well as conceptually rich. Her prose style is gorgeous and profound. She grapples with imperialism, sexuality, Other-ing, gender roles, and power dynamics without lapsing into didacticism or losing the immediacy of the worlds she creates. I love the way she shapes the language of the characters, not just the proper names they use, but the idioms, metaphors, and patterns of speech, after the cultures they inhabit, reflecting the societies' deepest held priorities and cherished rituals.

I feel like I could read these stories over and over and still get more out of them. One of my favorite lines, describing the apocalyptic experience of modernity breaking history and tradition: "Maybe there would be no more time--no time coming behind our backs, only what lay before us, only what we could see with mortal eyes. Only our own lives and nothing else."
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Did you already read LeGuin's Lavinia? I thought that was great, and had some of the same themes you mentioned (psychologically rich characterization, empire and its discontents, Other-ness, gender roles), but in the context of ancient Italy rather than a sci-fi future. In short, she reimagines the second half of the Aeneid from the perspective of Lavinia, Aeneas' fated wife, who is voiceless in Vergil's epic.

My review:

message 2: by Cat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cat This sounds wonderful, Dick! Thanks for sharing your review; I haven't read the novel, and I think I would love it. Much of Le Guin's sci-fi plays with the feel of the ancient, so I can see how she would carry off shifting the epic realm into the social details of the novel. And your review implies that I don't need to reread the Aeneid to have a rich reading experience. I almost bought this last week, and then I worried that I might miss a lot of the allusions, since I haven't read the Aeneid since college. Thanks, Dick!

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