The Telling (2000) continues Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish cycle with a pattern familiar to readers of her earlier books: a messenger from the Galaxy-wide confederacy known as the Ekumen comes to a newly-contacted planet on an anthropological expedition. The Left Hand of Darkness has the same premise and takes place in the same imagined future, what changes are the characters and the planet’s society. Le Guin manages to exploit this technique without ever coming across as formulaic. Her writing strengths lie in strong, well-realized characters, and building interesting and believable cultures. The Telling is excellent.
When I was in elementary school, one of my many career aspirations was to become a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. I had comic idea after comic idea—Bernard the awful dog! Snakes, a comic about snakes! An epic fantasy comic with sword-wielding wolves! I wasted a great deal of paper on those.
Even at the time, my goal was unattainable. Opening up a newspaper these days reveals the exact same comic strips I read back then and wanted to imitate; in fact, many of the same comic strips that ran in the 1970s remain. A lot of these are legacy cartoons: Bill Keene’s son draws Family Circus, new B.C. strips come out of the estate, Charles Schultz is dead but Peanuts is a mainstay–at least no one has taken over drawing Peanuts because ack. The old strips have enough nostalgic cachet to continue whether the creator is alive or not, but newspapers have no incentive to pick up new strips and don’t have much room for them in the already-crowded comics pages.
It’s natural as writers get on in years to revisit themes and ideas from their earlier works, and perhaps explore them with greater depth or from a different point of view. The Annals of the Western Shore, published between 2005 and 2007, does not cover new ground for Ursula K. Le Guin, but it doesn’t really need to. Often, the sf community seems ignorant of Le Guin’s more recent novels despite her steady improvement as a writer and storyteller (Changing Planes is one of my favourites, though it’s not so much a novel as an imaginative ethnographic treatise). Her early contributions in the field were so overwhelmingly influential they tend to overshadow all else. On a sentence level, Le Guin’s writing is surer now than it was in The Left Hand of Darkness, and her deftness with language immediately engaged me with this newer trilogy.
Enthusiastic Audiobooks strikes again, this time demonstrating that Ivanhoe (1820) by Sir Walter Scott does not lend itself well to reading out loud. But by St. Dunstan, we try our hardest, and in the most obstreperous way we can!
Terri Windling was the best editor of the 90s; while she was in the business it seemed everything she touched turned to gold. I’m especially fond of the Adult Fairy Tales series she edited for Tor Books, which gave us novels like Charles de Lint’s Jack the Giant Killer and Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose. Her involvement seemed to bring out the best in writers. Snow White, Blood Red (1993) is the best multi-author anthology I’ve yet read; unsurprisingly, Terri Windling was involved. Together with Ellen Datlow, she assembled a group of stories that took direct inspiration from Angela Carter’s famous fairy tale retellings in The Bloody Chamber. Twenty-one adult fairy tales by twenty-one different authors. All of them are a delight to read.