on November 19, 2007
I've been a LeGuin fan for many years, so I've long been skeptical about reading this, a collection of her first three novels. (They form a loosely-connected trilogy and should be read in order for best effect.) I was worried that they might not live up to the standard of her later works, that they might somehow spoil my appreciation of what I've come to regard as one of the greatest bodies of work of any author.
My hesitation was misplaced. These stories bring LeGuin's anthropologist's eye; deft hand for character; and talent to create unknown, fully detailed worlds together as well as any of her other novels. The opener, Rocannon's World, shows what happens when an anthropological expedition to a new planet gets tangled in bureaucracy before going suddenly wrong. Planet in Exile, set 600 years later, follows a tale of two cultures - one alien, one human - forced to meld into one. Finally, World of Illusion closes the circle, showing us the final confrontation between humankind and the mysterious race variously known as the Shing, the Lords of Es Toch, the Enemy, and the Liars of Earth.
Like all LeGuin's work, the thrill-ride is subtle; some of the themes hit you late, sort of like the heat from a chipotle pepper that's been simmering in soup for a couple hours. The reward of reading LeGuin is a pleasure not to be missed and I'd recommend this book for any SF fan.
on March 30, 2000
There were these 3 books, Ursula Leguin's first science fiction novels. They are all set at different times in the same far distant future as her best known work, "The Left Hand of Darkness". Leguin's skill as a writer is evident in these books, and while they may lack some of the weight of the "Left Hand", they also are more concise and exciting. Leguin is a rarity in the sci-fi field, she is such a good writer that you are drawn into the worlds she creates. It is easy to forget that you are reading works of fiction when reading these books; the narratives and characterizations have the force of non-fiction. Another highly recommended, hard to find book by Leguin, again set in the distant future, is "The Word for World is Forest".
on August 11, 2010
I have a different take on these novels from most of the other reviewers. First, the publisher's subtitle, Three Complete Novels of the Hainish Series, is a bit misleading. These early novels are set in a very different universe from the Hainish Ekumen--the League of All Worlds, formed to resist the inevitable onslaught of The Enemy, and the aftermath of that onslaught. Hain is barely mentioned in these novels (twice, by my count), and the League is completely different in character from the non-interventionist Ekumen which Le Guin develops in detail in her later work. A key theme of these three novels is telepathy (mindspeech, mindhearing), which plays a very minor role in The Left Hand of Darkness and pretty much drops out of her later Hainish writings, as does the Enemy (the Shing), who are never mentioned again.
Second, as an anthropologist, I feel that these novels lack the deep understanding of anthropological fieldwork and the stunning ability to create believable non-Terran societies that characterize her later work, in particular The Left Hand of Darkness, The Telling, and many of her short story collections. These novels are much closer to traditional SF, strong on action and conflict. The "enemies" in Rocannon's World (the Faradayan rebels) and Planet of Exile (the Gaal) are barely sketched, and even in City of Illusions the Shing are portrayed as simply evil; this is very different from the subtle, complex descriptions of Orgoreyn in The Left Hand of Darkness or the Monitor in The Telling.
These novels are "good reads" for those who like traditional SF, and fascinating as precursors to her later work, but to really appreciate LeGuin's genius, read her later work.
35 years on, Planet of Exile hasn't aged a bit. As I just rediscovered -- my copy (with an evocative Josh Kirby cover) dates from the early 70's, and I don't recall rereading it since then. I was prompted to do so by a recent reread of her stunning "Semley's Necklace" (1964), another story in Le Guin's Hainish universe, which she recycled as the prologue to Rocannon's World.
While Planet of Exile doesn't have the depth or complexity of her best work, this is a grand, mythic story of love and death; fear of the stranger, and the sad consequences; a bitter battle to save one's home; the joys and ashes of victory. And the grey, grinding cold of Great Winter: 5,000-some days of darkness, cold and ice (UKL does winters really well). Strong stuff. My God, this was her apprentice work!
The rest of Rocannon's World, after "Semley's Necklace", isn't up to Rocannon's World, but is very readable. I haven't reread City of Illusions recently, but recall enjoying it way back then.
The review you should read is Jo Walton's -- link at first comment. One of her better ones.
Peter D. Tillman
on March 25, 2000
Having battled for months just to find LeGuin's City of Illusions, this three-in one edition was a real find! LeGuin is a rare breed in sf, the poetry in her narrative and her powers of description add a compelling truth and depth to her stories. They also make her an accessible author for mainstream readers; particularly as the issues she explores in this book are very human and relevant today, but set in beautifully crafted worlds of splendour or depravity which magnify the topics she explores. I read City of Illusions as a kid and was entranced- this book gives the next generation a chance to enjoy her earlier works, and has pride of place in my collection.
on February 4, 2000
Having read the Earth-sea Trilogy, I couldn't get enough of U.K. LE Guin. She displays how even early in her career, she could spin facinating stories. Rocannon's World was great fun with trogs, knights, and flying felines. Planet of Exile seems like a place not unlike Mongolia in the time of Ghengis Khan--which just happens to have a village of aliens living near by. Of course the barbarians think the aliens are witches. City of Illusions begins with an alien from the Planet of Exile who is suffering from amnesia and must walk across the USA from the Eastern Hardwood Forrest to a canyon-edged city (Grand Canyon?) to find his lost identity. Well written but this last is the most frustrating because it just stops--there is no conclusion. Did Ursula run out of paper? or typewriter ribbon? What is the 4th book in this series? What ever happened to the characters in City of Illusion? All three are a great read--just a dumb ending. Was that writers' block or is there a 4th book? Definitely worth the time, I'm glad I bought the book, but feel like I was watching a miniseries and the "To Be Coninued" sign comes on but I can't find the listing for the final episode. Try it, you'll like it.
on April 22, 2014
Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the very top writers in science fiction, and would be a top writer in any field. Left Hand of Darkness will surely go down as one of the great books of the 20th century. However, these three early works are far from her best. Rocannon's World is incredibly weak. It begins in an interesting fashion with a medieval air, but she seems not to have really given her mind to the rest of the novel. Plotting is weak, characterization is weak, the story rambles and the reader has a hard time caring about what happens to the characters. I felt that anyone could have written it. Planet of Exile is much better. It appears to have been well thought out in advance, and it is an interesting study of how a planet's weather can direct cultural development. In that respect, it is a foreshadowing of what Le Guin did in Left Hand of Darkness. However, I found it a bit dreary. City of Illusions is actually quite good for more than half the book. However, there is no continuity from the early part of the book to the end. The Enemy is poorly drawn and unpleasant. The world drawn is excellent, though, and the continuity with another of her books is a nice touch. Characterization and description are much stronger than in the other two novels in this book.
I recommend these three novels to anyone who wants to explore Le Guin's development as a writer, but for the reader who just wants to try Le Guin for the first time, I recommend skipping these books and going straight to Left Hand of Darkness.
on December 19, 2003
In their efforts to defend themselves against the oncoming fleets of the Shing, the Hainish peoples (all humanoids in this area, for the Hainish were an old race that had long spread out from their home world) had banded together in defence.
But not all wanted to part of the Hainish Alliance.
In _Rocannon's Word_ Rocannon was an ethnologist investigating Fomalhault when his team was killed by such a band, but Rocannon found a secret in Fomalhaut's hinterlands that would give the Alliance an edge.
Sent out from Terra centuries ago in order to raise the tech level of a primitive world, the expedition were informed of the arrival of the Shing and from the ensuing silence deduced defeat. Now this planet had to be made into a home, but it couldn't be untill the expedition accepted their exile! (_Planet of Exile_)
In _City of Illusion_, an all too fallible member of an off world team is discarded by those who had taken his ship when it arrived in Earth orbit and left to die in the primitive culture that was all that was allowed by the alien overlords. Taken to be one of those overlords by the suspicious villagers, only the belief of a young woman enables him to carry on to find out the truth behind Earth's long silence.
on March 15, 2014
I'm one of those who love Ursula LeGuin's early work and not much enthralled by what came later. These three early novels, set in the Hainish universe, display those qualities her fiction had at least through much of the 1970s: Inventive naming, compelling alien cultures, a measured sense of earnest Romanticism, and straightforward prose that sliced the world into meaningful perceptions, like an Asian brush painting. For me, by about 1980, LeGuin had become too didactic and pretentiously moralizing in her fiction, the characters and their dialogue too stiff, and the overlay of Romanticism had evaporated. In these three stories, however, we can still catch the freshness of her imagination as it was in the beginning.
on March 10, 2009
I purchased this collection of three novellas after having read Leguin's outstanding novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. These works are ostensibly related to LHoD, dealing with formation and history of the Hainish League.
The first novella, Rocannon's World, has virtually nothing to do with science fiction, instead being almost entirely a work of fantasy, and not particularly good fantasy at that. Rocannon is something of an anthropological surveyor on behalf of the Hainish League, attempting to establish technologically advanced civilizations in order to present a line of defense against an anticipated invasion from outside the galaxy.
The story presents a collection of life forms which are strikingly similar to Tolkien's elves, dwarves and even classes of men. Again, not particularly original and not very captivating. Two and a half stars.
The final two novellas, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions, are really neither fantasy nor science fiction. Each is more about the interaction between intelligent hominid species, and though I was expecting science fiction, I enjoyed these two stories significantly more than the first.
In Planet of Exile, we have three vastly different cultures interacting against a highly unusual planetary climate pattern (unusual from our perspective). The World of Werel contains two native hominid species, the Tevarans, of roughly Iron Age technological proficiency, and the Gaal, more Stone Age in sophistication. Add to these, the Farborn, a much more technologically advanced species (from Earth, as it turns out), which has been on Werel for roughly 600 years. Part of an advance party from the Hainish League, they have ostensibly been exiled, supposedly as a result of a successful galactic invasion by the Shing.
The planet of Werel has a moon phase of 400 days, and an elliptical orbit of 60 moon phases. Thus, each "season" lasts roughly 15-20 years. Our story is set at the onset of Winter and the seasonal migration of the Gaal through Tevaran lands. Always warlike, the Gaal have organized this Winter and are a very real threat to the civilizations of the Tevar and the Farborn. Prejudice, jealousy and distrust mark the relationship between the two species as they attempt to cooperate against their much more numerous and savage opponents. Four stars.
The final novella, City of Illusion, finally introduces us to the Shing, the galactic invaders who threaten the Hainish League. In fact, the setting for this story is the Earth, far in the future, following its conquest by the Shing. We are introduced to Falk, a non-human hominid who finds himself stranded in a forested region of the United States (seemingly near Kentucky), without any memory of his past, only a desire to travel West to the Shing city of Es Toch, where he hopes to learn of his identity and past.
Falk undergoes much hardship and experiences many adventures during his travels through the virtually deserted and depopulated United Sates, which eventually lead to Es Toch (located in southern Utah or northern Arizona). The experiences of Falk upon reaching Es Toch neatly tie up all the loose ends, binding the three novellas together. Four and a half stars.
These final two novellas should be required reading for college level Anthropology majors.