Valerie's Reviews > Rocannon's World

Rocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Apr 05, 12

I own a copy

This is the edition I own; and, unaccountably, I have two copies of this edition.

If I didn't know this was LeGuin, I wouldn't have figured it. The descriptions of the societies are not very good. For example, you'd think someone like LeGuin would see past the traditional authoritarian stereotypes of pirates and outlaws, and recognize that archaeological research shows that many pirate societies were quite egalitarian, and not particularly violent, especially for their times. The presentation of the outlaw 'castle' is simply a repetition of the worst stereotypes of feudal and imperialist societies.

I flatly refuse to believe in the supposed winged, human-sized (or larger) colonial insect types. It's just not on. I'm not saying that there's no such thing as reversion to simpler forms. Just not on that level.

The viewpoint character, who becomes what amounts to an avenging angel, is not likable. WHY would he devote himself obsessively to revenge against people he can't even identify? One would like to hope that an emissary from a League of Worlds would be at least a LITTLE capable of recognizing the destructive elements of vengefulness: not only for the 'enemies', but also for the 'avenger': and for the friends and societies on the land.

But come to that, why would the attackers have come? They're separated from their own societies by light-years and land-years. What would make such a journey worthwhile? Or what if they were in fact NOT from offworld?

I don't remember how this book ends. I'll have to finish it to see if any of the questions are answered. But there's no doubt it's disappointing so far.

No, no improvement. If anything, it gets worse. I don't believe the motives of the 'invaders'. Indeed, though it's stated that Rocannon can sense the motives (emotions more than thoughts) of the invasion force, only once are the 'invaders' identified AS A PEOPLE, but not as persons. Two of them are playing chess: but they're not named, or even their faces seen. Over a thousand people (it's argued) murdered ruthlessly in revenge for fewer than a hundred, in a case of 'collective punishment' if I've ever seen one. Disproportionate? Most surely. If there were any other victims of the 'invaders', nobody identifies them. But worse, Rocannon is depicted as being in empathic contact with the victims when they die...and can feel no grief or guilt for the emptiness. after the first shock. The killers of the 'invaders' themselves have no contact WHATEVER with their victims--they're light years away, and until they're advised, they literally don't even know where their victims are.

And what means was used to kill a thousand people at one blow? It's not said, but it most likely was nuclear. If so, 'Rocannon's' World is not only the site of a mass murder. It must also be contaminated, at least in that location.

This is 'wonderful' in the older sense: that is, appalling. Exactly what was so urgent that dealing with the rebels couldn't wait another eight years? What was the reason behind the original rebellion? Who came on a journey that was essentially permanent, because they couldn't get home for at least 16 years? At one point the pilots of ships whose operation invariably kills everybody aboard are described as 'fanatics'. Even leaving aside the question of how they became so (and that shouldn't be left aside), this clearly does NOT make them inhuman. So what caused them to decide that they had to abandon home and family to come to a world they knew nothing about and pointlessly kill people? There's no indication that they gain anything thereby.

But Rocannon's own behavior is equally pointless. If what he was looking for was rescue (and he evidently has no hope of it), why not just infiltrate the base and send a message? If not, what DID he want? To increase the number of dead? For what?

My basic problem with this book was that there was no need whatever to introduce the invaders. If the book had been nothing more than a description of a complex and interesting world, it would have been worthwhile, although the meddling by the League has already upset old balances by the time Rocannon arrives.

Again, I have to object to the term 'Bronze Age' as applied to (many of) the natives of Rocannon's World. They're not. Very little is known about Bronze Age peoples on Earth. But these societies are not consistent with what is known about any of them. One of the hazards of catchall categories, probably.

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message 1: by Thom (last edited Apr 07, 2012 08:26AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Thom Dunn LeGuin grew in every way after this series. Her more mature "Hainish" fiction holds together as the anthropology of a human diaspora some 2 million years established, with genetic engineering, on planets within a 200 light-year radius. You might find in her story, "Semley's Necklace" the visionary kernal which would become the more believable Ekumen of Known Worlds. A magnificent stand-alone tale is "Winter's King", another microcosm of her overall vision.


message 2: by Valerie (new) - added it

Valerie I have actually met LeGuin once or twice (she lives in Portland OR, and has been known to come up once or twice a year to Seattle for readings and such). I got her to sign a few of her books.

I'm mostly doing these early novels in the interest of completeness. LeGuin herself has commented on their flaws, and I'm mostly going after issues she did NOT raise in later commentary, because I figure there's no point in raking over already extinguished coals.

Not that she'll probably read critical comments. She's on record as saying she mostly doesn't read other people's critical commentary, for more or less the same reason Oliver Sacks got self-conscious about his gestures after Awakenings came out. He said he was afraid people would think he was imitating Robin Williams, who in fact was imitating HIM. LeGuin also fears becoming self-conscious as a result of reading other people's comments, I think, and worries about externally imposed self-censorship.

But she might read comments on older stuff, to check whether other people noted the same flaws and successes that she did, and if not, whether the different perspectives are also valid.


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