The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories

The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories

by Ursula K. Le Guin


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060509064
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/04/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 844,661
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.86(d)

About 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.


Portland, Oregon

Date of Birth:

October 21, 1929

Place of Birth:

Berkeley, California


B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952

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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Birthday of the World: And Other Stories 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fans of deep science fiction that stars aliens in order to dig into the human condition will want to read Ursula K. Le Guin¿s powerful anthology. The eight stories are all excellent as each one looks into a ¿excursion¿ of sorts with some actuality occurring and others happening inside the minds of the key cast members. Each tale is different with unique perspectives. The characters in each tale are so complete the audience will think they are reading a short novel especially since the action is not neglected as the plots are filled with energy. Six of the stories occur on Ekumen, but still share in common with the other two tales problems with relationships complicated by emotion. THE BIRTHDAY OF THE WORLD shows why the award winning Ms. Le Guin remains at the top not just for her highly regarded Earthsea novels, but also for some of the best short stories and novellas of the last couple of decades.

Harriet Klausner

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.
melannen on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I've been using "The Birthday of the World" as my bed-time reading for the past week, and that was probably a very bad idea. Firstly, because these are more novellettes than short stories (there are only eight stories in the collection). Secondly, because after finishing one of the stories, I had to lie there awake for a couple of hours just *thinking* about it.This are gloriously written stories with very deep themes, exploring race and gender and belief, each one set in a wonderfully evocative culture. The first six stories are explicitly set in Le Guin's loose Ekumen universe, the others not quite, and they are mostly in the nature of worldbuilding experiments - set up initial conditions, and see what humanity builds on them. And while I loved this book, and loved how much it made me think, some of these stories do fall into the "uncanny valley" for me - while I can happily read the most kitschy Golden Age sf, where characterization is non-existent, the hard science is ludicrous, and the social sciences are ignored - I start having problems when the author gets it *almost* right, but there's one or two things I just can't accept. Most of my issue with this book fall into that category. That said, there's a bit on each story (possible spoilers):"Coming of Age in Karhide" is essentially a plot-what-plot fanfic set on the world of Gethen, from The Left Hand of Darkness. It's the story of the sexual initiation of a young Gethenian androgyne, and it's mostly sex. I liked it a lot! What I found most intriguing about it is the contrast with the original Gethen stories from the '70s - while she doesn't contradict the other stories, in this one, suddenly sex is so much more open, homosexuality is present, gender becomes less gendered. That's something that continues in all these stories - in every one of the worlds she explores here, bisexuality is taken as the norm."The Matter of Seggri": This is the story of a world where men are rare and valued, and so given "all of the privilege and none of the power", kept protected and separated while the women live on their own and run the society. It's set up as a collection of papers by different authors, which give you a good variety perspectives on the society. I found it fascinating and immersive and compelling, and while many of the characters you only meet for a small time (the duration of their contribution to the archive) they become very convincing as people. The moral of this story is about the ways in which a segregated society leads to injustice both from the top down, and among the subordinated people. I would have like to see, however, some hints of the way in which it also creates inhumanity among the ruling class itself. While there are small hints, in places, of less-than-friendly relationships withn the women's world, that part of it reads far too much like a lesbian utopia to me, and leaves the story oddly unbalanced."Unchosen Love" and "Mountain Ways" are both lovely, short romances set on the world of O, in which marriages all have four people, and gender is less important than other dualities. They're probably the lightest stories in the volume, but also probably the two that I enjoyed most, and they made me want to go find the novel (Fisherman of the Inland Sea) which she wrote about O."Solitude" is another story, like Seggri, of first contact; on the planet where it takes place, cultural transmission is only given to children, so the first aliens who learn about the culture are a brother and sister who were raised there. I liked this story- -there were places where it approached sheer beauty, and the concept of making your soul, to become a person but never a people; and the way their concept of magic is slowly defined really stayed with me, It feels truly like a foreign but still human culture, the way anthropological accounts often do but SF stories don't, nearly enough. I had issues with this story which I didn't manage to articulate until I went back to th
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Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
LeGuin is SUCH a brilliant writer that on the one hand she inspires me to write, to reach for the stars, on the other hand I despair of ever getting close to her AMAZING, lyrical prose. Her work is filed in Science Fiction, but truly, she is all about who WE are, now. This is a collection of eight short stories/novellas, what she calls a "story suite," that is, worlds/stories set in the same mythical universe. Her stories simultaneously pose the question, "What would life/society be like if: All beings were hermaphroditic, neuter, and became male or female periodically for short periods of time, either siring or bearing children? Females born live and healthy outnumbered males 16:1? Marriages are a complicated mix of foursomes: two males, two females, and two moieties? The rulers of the world are considered Gods, much like the early Egyptians? People travel on a multi-generation starship to discover and colonize another planet - what would the 5th generation be like? She explores these questions, and more, in incredible tales that draw us fully into these make-believe worlds, while at the same time, holding up a mirror to the society in which we live, without ever getting preachy, lecturing, or wordy. I am a long-time fan of LeGuin's work, but even the stories that introduced me to worlds new to me, such as Paradises Lost, felt fully realized within a few pages. For those who proclaim that "I never read science fiction;" if you skip Ursula LeGuin you are cheating yourself of some of the most original, imaginative, skillful, downright beautiful writing there is, in any genre.
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