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The Telling
Ursula K. Le Guin
Gollancz paperback £5.99

review by Duncan Lawie

With The Telling, Ursula K. Le Guin returns once more to the Hainish universe, adding new threads to a complex weave of stories that has occupied much of her career. In this book, Sutty, an Observer from Terra, has joined a small group representing the Ekumen on the world of Aka. She comes from an Earth in the early years of contact with the Ekumen, divided between science and religion though largely ruled by the Unist religion. The planet Aka is also in turmoil. In the time spent travelling between the worlds, her fluency in the tongues and scripts of Aka has lost its currency. The old culture has been totally overturned as a result of the first visit of Terrans. The populace has taken up a March to the Stars, a scientific revolution in which God is Reason and it is the duty of every citizen to denounce the old superstitions.
   This bright vision, however, seems to have forged a regimented populace at odds with the little which Sutty understood of the old culture which has now been outlawed. She is bewildered and fears Aka has been so thoroughly cleansed that no native knows the script, which she learnt as preparation for the mission. From a Terra where evil knowledge is burned by a religion she does not believe she has come to a planet where a culture - and its religious knowledge - is burned by science. However, before long she is on a journey to the mountains that is, in turn, a journey to herself.
   Much of the book is taken up with exploring the culture of Aka. As Sutty is Terran, she naturally makes comparisons with her own world and upbringing. There is an eternal temptation to seek the moral in Le Guin's writing, but this book is not so direct. Nor is it a koan. Aka is a planet with only one continent, allowing Le Guin to build a culture that had no concept of 'the foreigner' before interplanetary visitors arrived. This homogeneity contrasts with The Dispossessed where radically different cultures persist on binary planets. The Telling also takes up the theme of the anonymous and arbitrary nature of city living first mooted in The Left Hand Of Darkness. In the new book it is compared with a more rooted society that develops into an argument in favour of continuity, that denying the past makes the future impossible. In this matter, Aka and Terra form a reflection of each other; the theme is repeated in Sutty's own life and her dealings with the Akans. It is not until she accepts her past that she can see a worthwhile future for herself or for Aka.
   The Telling is a short novel (260 pages of line-and-a-half spacing) but it is rewardingly dense.
The Telling
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