rebel asked:

Do you have to read the other novels in the series first before this one? I got this book for free and started reading it (and am enjoying it), but then I found out that it's part of a series.

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Michael Murray No they are quite distinct books. They are just set in the same "universe" with races and planets having the same names.
Justin One interesting aspect of this book is that it, despite the political nature of it, is actually about the invention of the Ansible. Which is a popular device in other sci-fi universes such as Enders Game. Ursula K. LeGuin coined the idea of the ansible and its fascinating to imagine that this book may take place in any of these other universes as backdrop.
Nuno R. You can start with the book that captivates you the most, and then go on from there, to the one that makes a connection. The stories make sense as separate narratives, they are created that way. (If you ask my very personal opinion, this a perfect book to start). But this is a question that people have asked Ursula about many times. You can read her answer, from her site:
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