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The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories

The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories

3.5 4
by Ursula K. Le Guin

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


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 gifted artist returns to these worlds in eight brilliant short works, including a never-before-published novella, each of which probes the essence of humanity.

Here are stories that explore complex social interactions and troublesome issues of gender and sex; that define and defy notions of personal relationships and of society itself; that examine loyalty, survival, and introversion; that bring to light the vicissitudes of slavery and the meaning of transformation, religion, and history.

The first six tales in this spectacular volume are set in the author's signature world of the Ekumen, "my pseudo-coherent 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.

In her foreword, Ursula K. Le Guin writes, "to create difference-to establish strangeness-then to let the fiery arc of human emotion leap and close the gap: this acrobatics of the imagination fascinates and satisfies me as no other." In The Birthday of the World, this gifted literary acrobat exhibits a dazzling array of skills that will fascinate and satisfy us all.

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.
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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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.

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

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

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Birthday of the World 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Le Guin may be a great fantasy writer and all these stories seem to be "aliens" discovering human type people who live like they are in the middle ages with strange sexual and moral behaviour. However, I find "looking" at our culture throught different eyes the way it might have been a thousand years ago rather boring as a story. And what is with authors having to give their aliens the longest and most convoluted names possible? Not recommended.
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