- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Ursula K. Le Guin's The Telling is the latest in the series of independent, loosely connected novels known as the Hainish cycle. The cycle began in 1966 with Rocannon's World and includes at least two undisputed classics: The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. The Telling manages to hold its own in this distinguished company, and I can't offer prospective readers a more meaningful recommendation than that.
The central figure of this idea-driven, gently didactic novel is Sutty, a young, Terran-born woman who works as an Observer for the Ekumen, a sort of benign, intergalactic League of Nations. Sutty came to maturity on an Earth dominated by Unists, religious fundamentalists whose totalitarian insistence on "one Word, one Book, one Belief" very nearly devastated the planet. In The Telling, Sutty has just been assigned to the planet Aka, an ironically similar world, wholly dedicated to scientific advancement — a world in which all belief systems not related to technological progress have been driven underground.
Aka, like the Earth of Sutty's childhood, is a place in which the past, with all its color and variety, has been buried, crushed beneath the weight of a drab, monolithic political system. This situation (which, Le Guin notes, directly reflects the repressive conditions of Communist China under Chairman Mao) provides the novel with its moral and intellectual framework, and serves as the basis for the spiritual quest which dominates the narrative.
Thisquest takes the form of Sutty's pursuit of a forbidden, centrally important Akan tradition: the Telling. The Telling is an ancient, all-inclusive method of cultural exchange that encompasses history, literature, philosophy, science, medicine, and myth. Sutty defines the act of Telling as "teaching whatever's known to whoever will listen," and it still survives through the clandestine efforts of renegade teachers and a buried cache of forbidden books that lie hidden in a cave in the provincial backwaters of Aka.
This primal conflict between the proponents of the Telling and the forces of cultural repression is classic Ursula Le Guin, and it is rendered with subtlety, passion, and understated eloquence. Le Guin's fiction has frequently concerned itself with conflicting ideologies and with the need for balance, harmony, and the peaceful reconciliation of opposites. The Telling offers, among many other things, a moving, memorable restatement of that recurring concern. It is one of those all too rare books in which fiction and philosophy, art and ideas come together in a seamlessly integrated whole.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).