By Ursula K. Le Guin; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
5 CDs, 5 hrs – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Anthropology / Interstellar travel / Aliens / Telepathy /
Against a cold war subtext of a well-meaning interstellar civilization trampling other cultures in its blind panic to defend itself against a nebulous enemy from beyond the galaxy, Ursula Le Guin kicks off her vaunted Hainish novels with a tale that blends elements of high fantasy, space opera, anthropology, and political commentary. It’s got a little bit of everything: a quest for revenge across two continents and an ocean by boat, by foot, and flying cat-horse back; a main character immersed in adventure, yet torn by guilt for his own decisions and those of his government; a classic “god gambit” featuring an invincible, invisible suit of armor, a sword, and a trial by fire; and not one, not two, not three, but five species of intelligent hominids on the same planet.
Okay, so not all of it flies as plausible science fiction. But it is compelling, as a ripping good adventure yarn, as an examination of how legends are created, and as a thought-provoking examination of our own cultural chauvinism. The complexity of emotions that roil in Rocannon’s soul as he moves into and through this world are so believable, the implausibility of some of the story elements evaporates from our notice. And even the multiplicity of intelligences works on a symbolic level. The subterranean clay-folk, the laughing Fiann, and the lords and mid-men of the North all function like the multiple poles of human nature, offering a mirror of our own nobility and baseness.
Is it LeGuin’s best? Not by a longshot. She’s still developing her craft here, still conforming to a male-dominated genre, and still working on making characters that live and breathe. But the focus on anthropology, the nobility of the small being ground beneath the powerful, and the truth that lies beneath layers of language made for falsity that will permeate so much of her later work are all there.
This is a work of solid storytelling that carefully juxtaposes just the right elements at just the right angles to produce not cold logic but warm emotion. As such, Stefan Rudnicki’s muscular, antiseptic voice is the perfect vehicle to deliver this tale. His tone is impeccable, his pronunciation exact, yet within moments all you hear is rushing wind, blaring static, crackling flames, and shocking silence, the sounds of exhilaration, heartbreak, fear, and guilt. It’s well worth your time.
Posted by Kurt Dietz