The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. LeGuin

This is a pair of collections of her short stories; I think they’re all reprints, but some (particularly in Volume 1) were new to me.

I started with Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands, which has mostly her science fiction short stories. The Rule of Names was new to me (a fun short story set in the East Reach of Earthsea), as were the following four stories of the collection. It’s hard not to be a fanboy, but all of the stories are crisp and beautifully written. The first stories are familiar, The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas is often reprinted, with great reason. Semley’s Necklace was interesting; I’d read it before, but I was more willing to read it from Semley’s perspective, which improved it for me this time around.

I think I’ve read First Contact with the Gorgonids before, but enjoyed her wry pokes at Jerry this time. So many others were familiar, but it was good to read them again and have them in one place.

Volume One: Where on Earth got off to a strong start. I really appreciated collecting the Orsinian tales; the second Orsinian story is much stronger for following the first with the same characters. Many of the remaining stories were familiar, and most were quite strong. Ether, OR was another story that was new to me–and quite enjoyable, with interesting characters dealing with a very unusual but understated problem.

There’s a really interesting piece at the end, Half Past Four. I might have gone crazy trying to line everyone up, if I hadn’t vaguely remembered her warning in the introduction explaining how the story came about.

This was a pair of books I’ll reread again; it’ll probably take a few reads to get many of these onto my favorites list… but I suspect some will clear that high bar.

Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin

A wonderful book, set in a the world of the Aeneid. (I’ve never read it, but I have read many references to the Aeneid before.) LeGuin takes her character from the margins of the poem and delves deep into her life. It reads as historical fiction, which was amplified by some of the choices she made [and explained in the afterword].

Lavinia’s life is regimented and “poor” for a princess– the kingdoms of coastal Italy aren’t huge and lack the impressive tax base that comes later. Religion and faith are constant and soothing– and smaller scale. It’s the gods of the hearth, not Olympian gods striding the battlefields.

The lives of the simple kingdom are turned upside down by Lavinia’s actions and the interference of “the poet”. The presence of the poet was mixed to me– in many ways I appreciated his presence and tie to the poem, but it doesn’t mesh well with the detailed life that we see and experience. If they were missing, I’d have enjoyed it as pure historical fiction… but there’s a constant umbilical that keeps this from drifting back into pure fiction.

Lavinia’s role is circumscribed by society– you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for a warrior woman wielding a bloody blade. There’s a lot of action and struggle and the world changes, which was plenty for me.

I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who would appreciate a story of powers viewed on edge. This is the story of moving and shaking, but subtly.

Powers by Ursula K. LeGuin

By far my favorite of the Annals of the Western Shore, this book is a great continuation of an interesting world. More important– this book is about Gavir, a house slave in the city of Etra. It is very well written, empathy for Gavir is immediate and strong.

Gavir provides a great viewpoint of the world. His house, the city, and the world are all positively revealed through his eyes. As the book goes on, Gavir learns, but his core nature remains unchanged. His relationships involve a huge mix of relative power and authority. His book knowledge is widely respected and makes him popular in many ways, but it alters the way he’s seen consistently.

I’ll have to reread the first two books in the series [though there’s no direct connection, not even characters]. The theme running throughout this book (about trust and power) is strong, so if you dislike coincidence in service to a theme and it gets your hackles up, this might trip your radar. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

Viligant, Men of Iron, and Gifts

Vigilant, by James Alan Gardner, is a solid book in the Expendables universe. While it’s not the strongest book, it does have enjoyable mysteries and plotting, and a solid viewpoint character (Faye).

Men of Iron, by Howard Pyle is about a fictional struggle in early 15th century England. The book does a good job of hewing to the viewpoints of the era; unlike most of today’s fantasy, the characters have viewpoints appropriate to the era. Despite stilted speech and some interesting authorial choices as to which parts of the story he’d tell, it was a good read. (Discussion about it will start up soon in CVGamer’s bookcase.)

Ursula LeGuin’s Gifts is a good book, and a strong start on a series. It’s in the Young Adult section, but is as interesting and complex as most of her stories. The tale of Orrec and Gry growing up as landholder’s children in a fantastic Scotland analogue is light on action and long on solid, believable thought.

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