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The Telling

(Hainish Cycle #8)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  5,787 ratings  ·  532 reviews
Once a culturally rich world, the planet Aka has been utterly transformed by technology. Records of the past have been destroyed, and citizens are strictly monitored. But an official observer from Earth named Sutty has learned of a group of outcasts who live in the wilderness. They still believe in the ancient ways and still practice its lost religion - the Telling.

Mass Market Paperback, 231 pages
Published August 1st 2003 by Ace (first published September 11th 2000)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  5,787 ratings  ·  532 reviews

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Aug 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Ursula K. LeGuin returns to her Hainsih cycle in The Telling but begins on dear old Terra.

First published in 2000, The Telling has as LeGuin’s outside-looking-in observer / narrator the Ekumen trained Sutty. In LeGuin’s Hainish universe, the Ekumen is an alliance of like-minded worlds who seek to re-unite humanity form the galaxy wide and eons old diaspora of the original Hain colonizers.

LeGuin first wrote about the Hain as the original source of humanity. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, pe
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
When reading Le Guin's books, I'm often fooled into thinking that the story is only reaching my brain. I realize too late that it's worked its way into my heart and will demand tears by the end.

Back when I did my 2015 wrap-up, I mentioned two seemingly unrelated categories of books that I had enjoyed: 1) science fiction by women, and 2) stories about self-reflection in the countryside. To my surprise, one of my first reads of 2016 was both of those things.

Sutty was born on a future Earth overr
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, fiction, scifi, american
“We're not outside the world... We are the world. We're its language. So we live and it lives. You see? If we don't say the words, what is their in our world?”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Telling


Le Guin, so far, for me, has yet to disappoint. This is one of her more Eastern-influenced books. There are elements of Buddhism (and a real feeling of Tibet) that runs throughout this novel. It is a book about a world (Aka) where the corporation/government has outlawed history, culture and writing. Books ha
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This story is very true. Some parts gave me a weird, deep emotional ache. It's fiction, but it's not.

Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and beca
I'm going to use an arguably banal and trite metaphor here: that of a love affair. Okay, maybe not so arguable. It is a banal and trite metaphor. But that’s okay, I think, because the “relationship” many of us experience with our books and our authors is like a love affair, is it not? So forget that the metaphor is worn or hackneyed, because it’s apt, and it’s something to which many of you will relate, and it’s the best way I can think of to communicate how this book affected me.

To be more prec
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
This book, like all of those by Ms. Le Guin, was thought-provoking and focused on sociological elements of an alien culture that was not quite so alien at its core, after all. This time around, the main character, Sutty, was a female, a departure from some of the more male-centric stories I’ve read in this series. Sutty, a representative of the Ekumen, traveled far from Terra to learn what happened on the planet Aka to have it go from housing a primitive society that was diverse and culturally r ...more
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a Le Guin book I'd ever heard much about, but I really enjoyed it. Sutty is one of my favorite Le Guin protagonists, in part because her perspective on religious authoritarianism is so relatable. The idea of story as a vehicle for telling truths about the world is a very common theme in Le Guin's writing, and the way that is expressed here in the system of The Telling is lovely. I know that the parallel she is drawing with Aka is to China's recent history, but I think that the story ...more
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

It’s been a long time since I read this — longer than I thought, in fact, and I’ve come to the conclusion I must have read it originally as a very young teen. I’m not sure how well I really took it on board, then: I wasn’t as much into the kind of cerebral, considering, anthropological fiction that Ursula Le Guin did so beautifully. Granted, I was excited about Sutty being a lesbian, and I found aspects of the world interesting, but I really wasn’t ready to enter i
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hardcover
This is the final Hainish Universe novel. It was on par as far as being a story of a team investigating, discovering and studying a cultural norm of another world, but this one, in particular, was heavy on description over plot and action,which made it interesting but somewhat less enjoyable than the previous ones. Liked it enough, it was poetic from the start, and based in Vancouver BC Canada of all places, but wish it had been just a little more dynamic somehow. Still worth the read, overall, ...more
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy-horror, scifi
At her best, Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the most inventive of writers. In The Telling, she writes about a world, called Aka, which has received fragmentary information from Earth and interpreted it the wrong way, creating a corporation state which attempted to create a Stalinist bureaucracy and destroy the old ways that prevailed before first contact.

Arriving on the scene is an Anglo-Indian representative, named Sutty, who task it is to investigate what remained of the old ways and report back
Dawn C
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: media-audible
I’m running out of positive superlatives I can describe Le Guin’s work with. I could happily spend the rest of my life listening to her anthropological observations. This story is an intellectual exercise in listening but also in storytelling, and while our Terran main character functions mainly as a vessel through whom we explore the culture and language on the planet she has been sent to by the Hain, it does not prevent us from caring about her or the people she interacts with, and it’s always ...more
Sep 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: awards, award-locus
Le Guin‘s reckoning of China‘s Great Leap Forward, transported to her Hainish Universe.
Too much an analogy for my taste.
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Telling once more proves to me why UKL is one of my favorite writers. With themes concerning freedom of religion and the nature of religion, capitalism, cultural dissonance and appropriation, The Telling feels both absolutely contemporary and timeless.

Sutty crosses space to study Aka culture as an anthropologist, yet by the time she arrives (space travel takes decades), Aka culture has completely shifted from a literate society to an intentionally illiterate society of producer-consumers, w
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've never wanted to review a book here before but for some reason this one makes me want to.

I should start by saying this is the only Ursula K. Le Guin novel I've read so I can't compare it to any others but I really really liked this novel. I bought it on a whim because it had a queer woman of colour as the main character and so many of the books I read about white straight men and I thought this would be a change. Which it definitely was. I thought the treatment of Sutty's relationships throu
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I don't know what it is with Ursula Le Guin, but every one of her books, whatever the rate I end up giving the whole, have at least one instance where she emotionally wreaks me, and it's always exquisite. It's like looking at the page and feel like telling her "Damn, that's one beautiful dagger you are stabbing me with"*

I feel like pointing it out just because in this case, since it happens to clear my 3stars Le Guin base bar with ease to nestle by World is Forest, Forgiveness, and Left Hand. Ma
Danni Green
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spaaaaaace
I've struggled through a few other of LeGuin's books and was debating whether I wanted to try to read any more of them. A friend of mine who is really into LeGuin recommended that I read this one, telling me that if I liked this one then I would probably like other books of hers, and that if I didn't, I should give it up. Well, my friend is very wise, and I liked this book a lot. The story has many layers, and each layer shone through with a richness that made it a very enjoyable read, emotional ...more
Septimus Brown
Dec 24, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm sad to give anything by Le Guin a 3/5, but this book just didn't do it for me. I simply didn't fall in love with the protagonist. This was my low point in the Hainish Cycle... but the only low point! We've moved quite far from planets with flying cats (Rocannon's World), anti-colonial revolution (The Word for World is Forest), epic adventures into the unknown (City of Illusions, Planet of Exile), and touching portrayals of human struggle (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and Four ...more
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
third read – 7 May 2020 - ***** Ursula LeGuin should need no introduction, even to readers outside of speculative fiction. She set a number of her science fiction stories (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, etc.) in a consistent universe, usually identified by the name of the peaceful confederation of worlds known as the Ekumen, or by the name of humanity’s original home planet Hain. There are eight novels and numerous shorter pieces set there. There are a few chronological dependencie ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As usual, LeGuin’s clear prose and deeply developed world invites the reader to explore human society from a different perspective. Even though this story is supposed to echo China’s Cultural Revolution, the ideas are very much relevant to current events where belief outweighs fact and progress is synonymous with oppression. I especially enjoyed how the backstory of the main character folded into the overall narrative and shed light on Terran history.
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When Le Guin died early in 2018, I had never read any of her work. But artists and activists I follow and respect on Twitter began to say things about her that intrigued me, how she addressed herself to political and social themes in her work. So as I wandered the stacks of my local public library I picked up the only novel of hers they had, The Telling.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It tells the story of an alien observer, Sutty, to the planet of Aka. There is an intriguing interplay of colonial/explo
Valentina Salvatierra
A wonderful, neat little book. Circular in the best possible sense of the term, in its exploration of the absurd extremes that both secularism and religion can reach, ultimately asserting that, as the motto goes, “Opinion ends reception” (51) and it’s crucial to always remain open to other individuals, other stories, and other ways of life.

We follow the footsteps of Sutty (named for the hindu goddess that also gives the name to the practice of widow burning that Spivak so lucidly discusses in "C
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt, sf
Sutty is a lesbian of Indian descent who is from a future Earth that has been racked by a terrible war between those who believe in monotheist religion and those who believe in scientific progress. Sutty trains to become an ambassador to the world Aka, a world of humans which has only just been given access to technology such as computers and aeroplanes. Le Guin writes an elusive narrative about conflict and nuance. On the world of Aka, scientific progress is everything, and the government has b ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
I was given this book as part of a book chain I've joined. I was honestly glad to have it because I've heard so much about Ursula K Le Guin and I've always felt that I should give her a try at least once. And I tried. I really tried. I acknowledge that her writing can be quite beautiful, but this was way too slow moving with far too many banal details for me. The characters were flat and I felt nothing for any of them. It feels like this was not written with a plot in mind, but rather intended t ...more
Michael Gray
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Reading this excellent novel by Ursula LeGuin highlights a question about literary form. Why does the form of science fiction include so many profound explorations of what it means to be human, of what is fragile and at risk in the world in which we live, while raising our awareness of what is most worth preserving. Well, perhaps there are not that many profound works, but Ursula Leguin, as well as Stanislaw Lem and Philip Dick, come quickly to mind as writers who shine a light on the human expe ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
When I first started listening to The Telling, I didn't realize it was in the same universe as The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, in fact I didn't know those two books were related either. So this story takes place in a loosely related world, but on a new planet. Sutty has been sent to collect the printed historical record, but arrives to discover most of it has been destroyed. Her own life on Terra was destroyed when her lover was killed by drones, and being sent to Aka may or may ...more
Joel  Werley
“I know who you are," she said. "You're my enemy. The true believer. The righteous man with the righteous mission. The one that jails people for reading and burns the books. That persecutes people who do exercises the wrong way. That dumps out the medicine and pisses on it. That pushes the button that sends the drones to drop the bombs. And hides behind a bunker and doesn't get hurt. Shielded by God. Or the state. Or whatever lie he uses to hide his envy and self-interest and cowardice and lust ...more
Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sutty is a Terran envoy of the Ekumen to the world of Aka. The Aka have suppressed and criminalized their ancient “religion” (it isn’t, but that’s the most expedient way to describe it. Think Buddhist.) in order to become Consumer-Producers of the Corporation State and bring their technology up to date with that of Earth and Hain. Sutty’s mission is to learn and preserve The Telling, which is made difficult by the Monitors of the Corporation State (thought police).
I feel like LeGuin conceived of
A nicely narrated book with beautiful, memorable language and a fascinating protagonist, this tale suffers from having almost no action and very little plot. It isn't a long book but often felt like it was one. But for the central character and her opponent, it often felt as though the people populating it were replicants, too. I.e. if you like characters who resonate this isn't the novel for you. Two stars off for the s l o o o w pace and mostly flat characters.
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Le Guin's last Hainish cycle novel is as powerful as ever, and feels a bit like a cultural anthropologist's accounting of Fahrenheit 451 on an alien planet. The theme, about the valuable pieces of our past and ourselves that we sacrifice in the relentless push towards the future, is one that resonates I think in all cultures and becomes more central the farther we push ahead. Le Guin reminds us that all knowledge has a price.
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Does the midbook infodump ever end? 6 26 Feb 16, 2013 08:37PM  

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Ursula K. Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. She lived in Portland, Orego ...more

Other books in the series

Hainish Cycle (6 books)
  • Rocannon's World (Hainish Cycle, #1)
  • Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle, #2)
  • City of Illusions (Hainish Cycle, #3)
  • The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4)
  • The Word for World is Forest (Hainish Cycle, #5)
  • The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #6)

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