Thursday, June 11, 2009

Early Le Guinn science fiction

Just finished Ursula Le Guinn's Rocannon's World, which was thrust upon me by a friend.

It was a fairly easy read; I found out afterwards that it was her first, published in 1966. Yet that belies the facility of language that Le Guinn already possessed, and a literacy that was rather less common in science fiction, even up to the 1960s.

Certainly in the 1950s and beyond, science fiction was largely devoid of literary pretensions: it was the novelty of ideas that mattered. To my mind there were more raw ideas presented in 1950s science fiction (my particular interest) than all other genres put together.

Rocannon's World has more of interest in the quotidian prose than the plot. That plot largely consists of a heroic quest to save a world populated with a variety of fabulous beasts and sentient creatures. That could be given as a description of Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings, and that might not be a coincidence. (It should also be noted that the depicted cultures in this book present a somewhat idealised feudal class structure, possibly more pronounced than that of Tolkein, but which Le Guinn undoubtedly drew back from in later work.)

In this case, the epic journey is pretty much the entirety of the book. The denouement is almost an afterthought, consisting of little more than a very late deus ex machina, plus a hurried mission fulfillment.

Yet it is a pleasant read, as much for its slightness as for its language and ideas.

Le Guinn was later to win the two main science fiction awards (Hugo and Nebula) for a 1969 novel, The Left Hand Of Darkness. That book was set in the same universe Le Guinn created in Rocannon's World (and, coincidentally, that was another novel that was thrust upon me - so many years ago that I barely remember it). The stories of that universe, dubbed the Hainish cycle, are an admixture of science fiction and fantasy. By contrast, the Earthsea stories, for which Le Guinn is arguably better remembered, are a more pure fantasy genre.


Sharon E. Dreyer said...

Didn't Le Guinn also write Ice People? Read it so many year ago that I could be wrong. I enjoy her novels a lot. Great article.

bloggeratf said...

I just finished reading The Left Hand of Darkness, and it is still clearly a reaction against the pop sci-fi of the time, at least in my opinion. Honestly though, it is almost too heavy on the intellectual aspects for my liking; it left me feeling like I just went to the gym :P

S Simmonds said...

Ice People was a novel by Maggie Gee - you might well be thinking of Left Hand Of Darkness, Sharon.

And I have to agree with you, Bloggeratf - I do rather remember Left Hand being about as heavy as this one was light.