Earthling Sutty has been living a solitary, well-protected life in Dovza City on the planet Aka as an official Observer for the interstellar Ekumen. Insisting on all citizens being pure "producer-consumers," the tightly controlled capitalist government of Aka--the Corporation--is systematically destroying all vestiges of the ancient ways: "The Time of Cleansing" is the chilling term used to describe this era. Books are burned, the old language and calligraphy are outlawed, and those caught trying to keep any part of the past alive are punished and then reeducated. Frustrated in her attempts to study the linguistics and literature of Aka's cultural past, Sutty is sent upriver to the backwoods town of Okzat-Ozkat. Here she is slowly charmed by the old-world mountain people, whose still waters, she gradually realizes, run very deep. But whether their ways constitute a religion, ancient traditions, philosophy, or passive, political resistance, Sutty is not sure. Delving ever deeper into her hosts' culture, Sutty finds herself on a parallel spiritual quest, as well.
With quiet linguistic humor (Dovza citizens are passionate about their hot bitter beverage, akakafi--the ubiquitous Corporation brand is called Starbrew), dark references to the dangers of restricted cultural, political, and social freedom, and beautifully visualized worlds, award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin pens her latest in the Hainish cycle, which includes The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. Le Guin explores her characters and societies with such care, such thoughtfulness, her novels call out for slow, deep attention. --Emilie Coulter
From Publishers Weekly
In this virtually flawless new tale set in her Hainish universe, Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness; Four Ways to Forgiveness) sends a young woman from Earth on her first mission, to the planet Aka as an Observer for the Ekumen. Although well prepared for her role, Sutty has been horribly scarred by her past. She grew up gay in a North America badly damaged by ecological stupidity and the excesses of a fundamentalist state religion called Unism. Traveling to Aka, she expected (and had been trained) to deal with a peaceful, essentially static culture based on an ancient, all-encompassing belief system akin to Taoism and known as the Telling. When she arrived, however, she discovered that during the decades it took her to reach the planet, Aka's culture has been radically transformed. The Telling has been all but banned, replaced by a soulless form of corporate communism. It becomes Sutty's task to take a harrowing journey into the high mountains, searching for the last, priceless depository of Akan traditional culture before it can be destroyed. As Le Guin notes in her preface, similarities to China during the Great Leap Forward are not entirely coincidental. Although this is a political and philosophical novel of the purest sort, it is anything but dry. With an anthropologist's eye, Le Guin develops her Akan culture in great detail, as she does her characters. Sutty is an entirely successful viewpoint character, a quirky mixture of competence and intense emotion. The Monitor, her primary nemesis on Aka, is nearly as compelling. This is a novel that aficionados of morally serious SF won't want to miss. (Sept.) FYI: Le Guin is the winner of several Nebula and Hugo awards for outstanding SF, as well as of a National Book Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Newbery Honor and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.
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