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The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories Hardcover – March 5, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From 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)National Book Award, Le Guin published two major books last year, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Fans will love these eight new stories.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (March 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066212537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066212531
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By James D. DeWitt VINE VOICE on August 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In 1969, LeGuin shattered the standards of science fiction with "The Left Hand of Darkness," an accessible, amazing story set in a universe she had developed in earlier romances. "Left Hand" explored the meaning of sexuality and its implications in an entirely new way. If you haven't read "Left Hand," you should.
She has returned to that universe many times since, most recently in "The Telling," but only in "Birthday of the World" does she approach issues of humanity and sexuality and its implications with the brilliance and sheer elegance that she brought to "Left Hand." The short stories of "Birthday" are as good as short science fiction gets.
One of LeGuin's many gifts is to tell a fine story, while at the same time holding a mirror to our own world. By creating relationships that are different from our own - sedoretu, a complex marriage system, for example - she allows us to see from a new viewpoint, and more clearly, the express and implied values in our own culture. Don't misunderstand; there is no preaching or lecturing, only a very fine set of stories very well told.
Another of her gifts is to take an intellectual structure and wrap a marvellous story around it. In her fantasy novel "Wizard of Earthsea," it was Jungian psychology. Here she takes her background in cultural anthropology to explore the modalities of human relationships. Her storytelling is so deft that you can read these stories for the superb writing that they are and enjoy them immensely. But they work at other levels, too, and seeing the intellectual structure cleverly crafted into the narrative gives the perceptive reader additional pleasure.
LeGuin's brilliant characters, her spare writing and her eloquence are as evident here as in her longer writing.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Peter Hentges on August 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
To coin a term for a form of prose that's lacked one, Ursula K. Le Guin as chosen "story-suite" for a collection of short stories that are connected by theme, location, or events. This book mirrors her last SF story-suite, Four Ways to Forgiveness, in connectivity by theme but diverges from connectivity by place. At least, it makes wide ranges 'round the setting of many of her SF stories, called her "Hainish Universe." (Le Guin, typical of her self-deprecating humor, talks of her laziness in re-using this setting in her forward.)
The theme of these stories is relationships. With ourselves. With our lovers. With our society. They use various tools to explore this topic and reveal the complexities of being human. Stories range from a first-contact tale with a deeply anthropological tone to a "comedy of manners" among some of the most complicated relationships in the universe. Along the way, we touch on some familiar settings (the world of Left Hand of Darkness, that of Four Ways) and get a look at some new.
The final tale in this collection, a novella entitled Paradises Lost, is a bit of a divergence from the rest. It does not reside in the Hainish universe setting but upon a ship bound for a distant planet. Generations are born and die upon the ship as it crosses the vastness of space towards its destination. We watch one of those generations grow up and deal with a crisis of faith. In the end, we are presented with the answer chosen by the characters through whom we see the story. Typical of her skill, however, Le Guin does not present this solution as an absolute. That these people are protagonists does not make them absolutely right; other choices remain valid and are not demonized.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Greta on August 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In this collection of short stories, Le Guin returns to her fictional universe of the classics "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Disposessed." The stories in this volume equal the power of her best works. Le Guin discusses superstition and religion in the title story; however, it is surpassed by the novella "Paradises Lost," in which she portrays human nature, sexuality, and deontology vs. teleology in a stunning way. Although this book is not appropriate for young children, all other Le Guin fans and newcomers to her work will certainly enjoy it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. Daly on January 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
I tend to prefer novels to short story collections. I find short stories to largely be less satisfying and engrossing than novels. However, as a great fan of Ursula K. Le Guin, I could not help but pick up this collection. I recommend this book for fans of Le Guin's novels set in the Hainish universe. 6 of the 8 stories are set in different planets of the universe, some of which have been visted in previous works. If you haven't read Le Guin before, I recommend you pick up some of her earlier works, particularly The Left Hand of Darkness, before reading this one, to familarize yourself with the concepts, because she doesn't fully explain them here.

I like to term Le Guin's work as "creative anthropology." Ever since I read some of her nonfiction works about her life, particulary growing up with an anthropologist father, her fiction has made more and more sense to me. Instead of writing about actual societies, she invents societies and gets us inside of them, exposes to us essentialities of human nature via the alienness of different cultures. The stories are not plot-focused; instead you spend a great deal of time just getting to know these different places and people.

"Coming of Age in Karhide"

This story is a perfect complement to fans of The Left Hand of Darkness, as it takes place on the same planet of Gethen, where no one is either male or female; instead they take on male or female characteristics during "kemmer," 3 days of the month during which they mate. The rest of the time they are genderless and do not have sex. The story concerns the first kemmer of a young child on Gethen. The story is mainly a lighthearted look into Gethenian society, a somewhat different perspective than The Left Hand of Darkness.
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