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The Birthday of the World And Other Stories    by Ursula K. Le Guin order for
Birthday of the World And Other Stories
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Order:  USA  Can
Perennial, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

The first six of these eight stories, written between 1994 and 1999, are set in the worlds of the Ekumen. As Ursula Le Guin says in the foreword, (about which more later,) they are set 'in my pseudo-coherent universe with holes in the elbows', the same setting as for the author's best known novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. In these tales Le Guin explores complex social issues by examining different possible sexual and familial arrangements and how the very human people of her imagined worlds cope with the chances and changes of mortal life.

The later title story, The Birthday of the World, tells of a Goddess, who, jointly with her brother / husband God, governs a static society until it is disrupted by a rebellious general and the arrival of alien humans. The story is told by the very young Goddess herself, as she comes to terms with the inevitable process of change and surrenders herself to it, accepting the necessity for suffering and death as a new world is born.

The last and much longer story is completely different from the rest, and in many ways closer to conventional science fiction than most of Le Guin's work. It tells of a multi-generational starship, travelling to an unknown world, and how the children born on the ship adapt to lives confined within its flimsy metal walls, with the vastness of empty space crowding outside. More and more of the travellers come to believe that the journey itself is all important, and should never end, even after the ship arrives at its intended destination.

The foeword by Le Guin, from which I have already quoted, is fascinating. She provides valuable insights into the writing of the various stories which, for me at least, added immeasurably to their interest. I found myself, after reading a story, turning back to the foreword to re-read the author's comments on it. Though I would not recommend this book to first time readers of Le Guin, who might be somewhat overwhelmed by the sex and gender complexities of her Ekumen worlds, it will certainly delight her innumerable fans.

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