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Birthday of the World: And Other Stories

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Overview

"For more than four decades, Ursula K. Le Guin has enthralled readers with her imagination, clarity, and moral vision. The recipient of numerous literary prizes, including the National Book Award, the Kafka Award, and five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, this renowned writer has, in each story and novel, created a provocative, ever-evolving universe filled with diverse worlds and rich characters reminiscent of our earthly selves. Now, in The Birthday of the World, this artist returns to these worlds in eight brilliant short works, including a
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Overview

"For more than four decades, Ursula K. Le Guin has enthralled readers with her imagination, clarity, and moral vision. The recipient of numerous literary prizes, including the National Book Award, the Kafka Award, and five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, this renowned writer has, in each story and novel, created a provocative, ever-evolving universe filled with diverse worlds and rich characters reminiscent of our earthly selves. Now, in The Birthday of the World, this artist returns to these worlds in eight brilliant short works, including a never-before-published novella, each of which probes the essence of humanity." The first six tales in this volume are set in the author's signature world of the Ekumen, "my pseudocoherent universe with holes in the elbows," as Le Guin describes it - a world made familiar in her award-winning novel The Left Hand of Darkness. The seventh, title story was hailed by Publishers Weekly as "remarkable ... a standout." The final offering in the collection, Paradises Lost, is a mesmerizing novella of space exploration and the pursuit of happiness.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Deeply concerned with gender, these eight stories, although ostensibly about aliens, are all about ourselves: love, sex, life and alienation are all handled with illuminating grace. Le Guin's overarching theme, the journey, informs her characters as they struggle to come to terms with themselves or their worlds. The journey can be literal, as in "Paradises Lost," set on a generational ship, where the inhabitants, living in a utopia, learn they will land on the planet their ancestors set out to colonize 40 years earlier; and as in "Unchosen Love," where a young man falls in love with someone in another country and must decide if he can build a new life in a new place. Or the journey can be figurative, as in "Coming of Age in Karhide," in which an adolescent in a genderless society enters sexual maturity; and in "Solitude," as outsiders visit and study a planet where the men and women live apart and a young woman seeks to perfect her soul in the only place she knows as home. In "The Birthday of the World," the nature of God is considered as hereditary rulers, literal gods to their subjects, give up their power when new gods aliens come, throwing their culture into chaos. Gender is a constant concern: "The Matter of Seggri" takes place on a planet where women greatly outnumber men, and in "Unchosen Love" and "Mountain Ways," society is based on complex marriage relationships comprising four people. Le Guin handles these difficult topics through her richly drawn characters and her believable worlds. Evocative, richly textured and lyrically written, this collection is a must-read for Le Guin's fans. (Mar. 13) FYI: Winner of five Hugo and five Nebula awards as well as a National Book Award, Le Guin published two major books last year, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA
Le Guin's newest story suite is a collection of thought-provoking, lyrically written tales that further explore the worlds of her writings and the individuals who populate them. Anthropological in tone, these stories delve into relationships between lovers, friends, mothers, and fathers, and propose and answer questions of gender, sexual relations, and the journey through life. The effects of a gender imbalance on a world are contemplated and fascinatingly presented in The Matter of Seggri. The story, told in reports from Ekumen visitors and through the literature of the Seggri people themselves, focuses on the ramifications of a society in which women greatly outnumber the men and hold all the power. Gender plays an equally important role in the first story, Coming of Age in Karhide, which takes place on Gethen and chronicles a youth's first sexual experience. The remaining stories continue with the same themes and perfectly complete the collection. Exquisite examples of excellent storytelling, these tales will engage most mature readers. Although the frank sexual content might not fit in high school libraries or some public library young adult fiction collections, there is much to interest teens within these pages. Fans of Le Guin's other works will no doubt enjoy this book, as will sophisticated teens who appreciate well-written fiction. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, HarperCollins, 362p,
— Blayne Tuttle Borden
Library Journal
From a tale of a youth's sensual and bittersweet initiation into the world of adults on the planet Gethen ("Coming of Age in Karhide") to a story of a child's spiritual and political journey into womanhood ("The Birthday of the World"), this collection of eight short works, including a never-before-published novella, "Paradises Lost," reflects the storytelling expertise of one of the genre's most intelligent and courageous authors. Le Guin grapples with gender roles, religion, politics, and social concerns in prose at once luminous and graphic, tender and incisive, never backing down from difficult situations or selling her audience short. A good choice for sf collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/01.] Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
New Yorker
Le Guin made her name as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, but -- like John le Carré's spy novels, or Larry McMurtry's Westerns -- her work transcends the usual limitations of the genre, and this collection is no exception. Some of the imagined worlds here are ancient civilizations governed by sun or sea, and some are highly controlled, synthetic environments floating through space, but all of them offer a stimulating counterpoint to the way we live now. Le Guin appears to have the most fun with her investigations of sex and gender -- the ghettoization of men on Seggri, the elaborate marital quartets on the Planet O -- but the costs of revolution, religious bliss, and technology are also provocatively explored, and one returns to the current headlines with a fresh awareness of the exotic, provisional nature of human arrangements.
Kirkus Reviews
Eight stories, including seven reprints and a never-before-published novella, by the masterful Le Guin (The Telling, 2000, etc.), who has racked some SF and fantasy classics onto her shelf since receiving her first rejection slip, at age 11, from Amazing Stories. The first six tales take place on the world of Ekumen: "Coming of Age in Karhide" spells out societal differences among the androgynes that confused Le Guin 36 years ago when they arrived piecemeal into her imagination for The Left Hand of Darkness. "The Matter of Seggri" gathers documents by the Historians of Hain about Earth's Seggri society and turns on the killing of female fetuses and babies. The amusing "Unchosen Love" and "Mountain Ways" are set on a world near Hain. The standout, charmingly limpid title story tells of the daughters of God and the infant Tazu, who will be four tomorrow on "The Birthday of the World" (see The Year's Best Science Fiction 2001). In the wry "Solitude," an ethnologist's daughter discusses gender, sexuality, and the lack of marriages among introverted people of Hainish descent who survive a gigantic population crash. "Old Music and the Slave Women" connects with four stories in Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995), chronicling a revolution in the slave-based social economy on the planets Werel and Yeowe. Longest by far, the blissful novella "Paradises Lost," written for this collection, tells of a generation of 4,000 space-voyagers aboard the ship Discovery. Their parents, born earlier on that paradisiacal dirtball Earth, did not live to see New Earth, the planet the ship sails toward; perhaps only their grandchildren will. And these new Adams and Eves, upon arrival at New Earth, must of course startnaming things before innocence fades. Pure starlight.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615588824
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/4/2003
  • Pages: 384

Meet the Author

Ursula K.  Le Guin

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, and lives in Portland, Oregon. As of 2014, she has published twenty-one 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 honors and awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, and PEN/Malamud. Her most recent publications are Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems and The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories.

Biography

Speculative fiction, magic realism, "slipstream" fiction -- all these terms could apply to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. Unfortunately, none was in common use when she started writing in the early 1960s. As a young writer, Le Guin weathered seven years of rejections from editors who praised her novels' elegant prose but were puzzled by their content. At a time when the only literary fiction was realistic fiction, as Le Guin later told an interviewer for The Register-Guard in Portland, Oregon, "There just wasn't a pigeonhole for what I write."

At long last, two of her stories were accepted for publication, one at a literary journal and one at a science-fiction magazine. The literary journal paid her in copies of the journal; the science-fiction magazine paid $30. She told The Register-Guard, "I thought: 'Oooohhh! They'll call what I write science fiction, will they? And they'll pay me for it? Well, here we go!' "

Le Guin continued to write and publish stories, but her breakthrough success came with the publication of The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969. The novel, which tells of a human ambassador's encounters with the gender-changing inhabitants of a distant planet, was unusual for science fiction in that it owed more to anthropology and sociology than to the hard sciences of physics or biology. The book was lauded for its intellectual and psychological depth, as well as for its fascinating premise. "What got to me was the quality of the story-telling," wrote Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. "She's taken the mythology, psychology -- the entire creative surround -- and woven it into a jewel of a story."

Since then, Le Guin has published many novels, several volumes of short stories, and numerous poems, essays, translations, and children's books. She's won an arm's-length list of awards, including both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and a National Book Award for The Farthest Shore. Over the years, she has created and sustained two fictional universes, populating each with dozens of characters and stories. The first universe, Ekumen, more or less fits into the science-fiction mode, with its aliens and interplanetary travel; the second, Earthsea, is a fantasy world, complete with wizards and dragons. As Margaret Atwood wrote in The New York Review of Books, "Either one would have been sufficient to establish Le Guin's reputation as a mistress of its genre; both together make one suspect that the writer has the benefit of arcane drugs or creative double-jointedness or ambidexterity."

More impressive still is the way Le Guin's books have garnered such tremendous crossover appeal. Unlike many writers of science fiction, she is regularly reviewed in mainstream publications, where her work has been praised by the likes of John Updike and Harold Bloom. But then, Le Guin has never fit comfortably into a single genre. As she said in a Science Fiction Weekly interview, "I know that I'm always called 'the sci-fi writer.' Everybody wants to stick me into that one box, while I really live in several boxes. It's probably hurt the sales of my realistic books like Searoad, because it tended to get stuck into science fiction, where browsing readers that didn't read science fiction would never see it."

Le Guin has also published a translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, a book that has influenced her life and writing since she was a teenager; she has translated fiction by Angelica Gorodischer and a volume of poems by Gabriela Mistral; and, perhaps most gratifyingly for her fans, she has returned to the imaginary realm of Earthsea. Tehanu, which appeared in 1990, was subtitled "The Last Book of Earthsea," but Le Guin found she had more to tell, and she continued with Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. "I thought after 'Tehanu' the story was finished, but I was wrong," she told Salon interviewer Faith L. Justice. "I've learned never to say 'never.' "

Good To Know

The "K" in Ursula K. Le Guin stands for Le Guin's maiden name, Kroeber. Her father was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber; her mother, the writer Theodora Kroeber, is best known for the biography Ishi in Two Worlds.

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    1. Hometown:
      Portland, Oregon
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 21, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Coming of Age in Karhide



By Sov Thade Tage em Ereb, of Rer, in Karhide, on Gethen.


I live in the oldest city in the world. Long before there were kings in Karhide, Rer was a city, the marketplace and meeting ground for all the Northeast, the Plains, and Kerm Land. The Fastness of Rer was a center of learning, a refuge, a judgment seat fifteen thousand years ago. Karhide became a nation here, under the Geger kings, who ruled for a thousand years. In the thousandth year Sedern Geger, the Unking, cast the crown into the River Arre from the palace towers, proclaiming an end to dominion. The time they call the Flowering of Rer, the Summer Century, began then. It ended when the Hearth of Harge took power and moved their capital across the mountains to Erhenrang. The Old Palace has been empty for centuries. But it stands. Nothing in Rer falls down.The Arre floods through the street-tunnels every year in the Thaw, winter blizzards may bring thirty feet of snow, but the city stands.Nobody knows how old the houses are, because they have been rebuilt forever. Each one sits in its gardens without respect to the position of any of the others, as vast and random and ancient as hills. The roofed streets and canals angle about among them. Rer is all corners. We say that the Harges left because they were afraid of what might be around the corner.

Time is different here. I learned in school how the Orgota, the Ekumen, and most other people count years. They call the year of some portentous event Year One and number forward from it.Here it's always Year One. On Getheny Thern, New Year's Day, the Year One becomes one-ago, one-to-come becomes One, and so on. It's like Rer, everything always changing but the city never changing.

When I was fourteen (in the Year One, or fifty-ago) I came of age. I have been thinking about that a good deal recently.

It was a different world. Most of us had never seen an Alien, as we called them then. We might have heard the Mobile talk on the radio, and at school we saw pictures of Aliens — the ones with hair around their mouths were the most pleasingly savage and repulsive. Most of the pictures were disappointing. They looked too much like us. You couldn't even tell that they were always in kemmer. The female Aliens were supposed to have enormous breasts, but my mothersib Dory had bigger breasts than the ones in the pictures.

When the Defenders of the Faith kicked them out of Orgoreyn, when King Emran got into the Border War and lost Erhenrang, even when their Mobiles were outlawed and forced into hiding at Estre in Kerm, the Ekumen did nothing much but wait. They had waited for two hundred years, as patient as Handdara. They did one thing: they took our young king offworld to foil a plot, and then brought the same king back sixty years later to end her wombchild's disastrous reign. Argaven XVII is the only king who ever ruled four years before her heir and forty years after.

The year I was born (the Year One, or sixty-four-ago) was the year Argaven's second reign began.By the time I was noticing anything beyond my own toes, the war was over, the West Fall was part of Karhide again, the capital was back in Erhenrang, and most of the damage done to Rer during the Overthrow of Emran had been repaired.The old houses had been rebuilt again. The Old Palace had been patched again. Argaven XVII was miraculously back on the throne again. Everything was the way it used to be, ought to be, back to normal, just like the old days — everybody said so.

Indeed those were quiet years, an interval of recovery before Argaven, the first Gethenian who ever left our planet, brought us at last fully into the Ekumen; before we, not they, became the Aliens; before we came of age. When I was a child we lived the way people had lived in Rer forever. It is that way, that timeless world, that world around the corner, I have been thinking about, and trying to describe for people who never knew it. Yet as I write I see how also nothing changes, that it is truly the Year One always, for each child that comes of age, each lover who falls in love.

There were a couple of thousand people in the Ereb Hearths, and a hundred and forty of them lived in my Hearth, Ereb Tage. My name is Sov Thade Tage em Ereb, after the old way of naming we still use in Rer. The first thing I remember is a huge dark place full of shouting and shadows, and I am falling upward through a golden light into the darkness. In thrilling terror, I scream. I am caught in my fall, held, held close; I weep; a voice so close to me that it seems to speak through my body says softly, “Sov, Sov, Sov.” And then I am given something wonderful to eat, something so sweet, so delicate that never again will I eat anything quite so good....

I imagine that some of my wild elder hearthsibs had been throwing me about, and that my mother comforted me with a bit of festival cake.Later on when I was a wild elder sib we used to play catch with babies for balls; they always screamed, with terror or with delight, or both. It's the nearest to flying anyone of my generation knew. We had dozens of different words for the way snow falls,descends, glides, blows, for the way clouds move, the way ice floats, the way boats sail; but not that word. Not yet. And so I don't remember “flying.” I remember...

The Birthday of the World. Copyright © by Ursula K. Leguin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Foreword
Coming of Age in Karhide 1
The Matter of Seggri 23
Unchosen Love 69
Mountain Ways 91
Solitude 119
Old Music and the Slave Women 153
The Birthday of the World 213
Paradises Lost 249
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