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Ursula K. Le Guin
Harcourt, 341 pages

Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin was born in 1929, the daughter of a writer and an anthropologist. She published her first novel, Rocannon's World, in 1966. Her fourth novel, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, a feat she repeated with The Dispossessed (1974). The Earthsea trilogy established her as a master of fantasy as well as science fiction. She has also published poetry and short story collections, and she received the Pilgrim Award in 1989 for her critical writings.

Ursula K. Le Guin Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Gifts
SF Site Review: Gifts
SF Site Review: The Lathe of Heaven
SF Site Review: Tales from Earthsea
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Interview: Ursula K. Le Guin
SF Site Review: The Other Wind
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Review: The Dispossessed

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Ursula K. Le Guin's previous novel, Gifts, was a very enjoyable and, on its own terms, a quite complete tale. It told of two young people coming to terms with their ambiguous and dangerous magical gifts. Now Le Guin has returned to the same world for another Young Adult novel, in which Orrec and Gry, the now-married protagonists of Gifts, return in a supporting role. Voices works very well on its own -- it is not in any sense necessary to have read the first book -- and it is a lovely and moving book.

The story is told by Memer Galva, a daughter of a prominent family in the city of Ansul. For all of Memer's life, Ansul has been under the domination of the Alds, a harsh desert people. Indeed, Memer's unknown father is an Ald soldier who raped her mother during the invasion. Memer's mother is dead, and she has grown up with the remnants of a once thriving household, most importantly including the leader of her family, the Waylord Sulter Galva, who survived the Alds' torture without revealing his house's secrets. The most important of these is a secret room, accessible only to the Waylord and, as it happens, Memer, in which are hidden the surviving books of the people of Ansul. For it seems that the Alds hate writing, regarding it as the work of Demons. Similarly they oppress women and are otherwise intolerant of any religion but theirs -- one can hardly fail to see in them a depiction of the worst aspects of fundamentalist religions.

Memer grows up in the company of her beloved substitute father, the Waylord, who teaches her to read -- almost alone among her generation. When she is 17, change arrives suddenly, with the arrival of Orrec, now a celebrated "Maker," or poet and storyteller, along with his wife Gry. They are looking for the Waylord, drawn by rumors of his hidden cache of books. But at the same time Orrec has been invited to tell stories for the Gand of the Alds of Ansul -- that is to say, the local governor -- a wily man named Iorratth, who seems in general a better man than many of his fellows. His son in particular seems a bad sort, a religious fanatic who may be angling to displace his father.

Memer spends much time in the company of Orrec and Gry, and therefore learning to know the Alds a bit better. There is tension between those in Ansul who wish to throw the Alds out with violence, and those who realize that the military strength of the occupiers is too great for such a course to work. Memer must deal with her desire for revenge against those who raped her mother (and many others), destroyed countless books, and tortured her Waylord. But of course the Alds are mostly just humans -- if quite misguided -- and Memer is pushed to recognize this. And there is sufficient political turmoil among the Alds to further complicate things -- it may be that a revolution against the Ald occupation will only serve to help the more repressive among them.

The resolution is on the whole satisfying if in some ways a bit convenient. Le Guin urges, with great warmth and humanism, the value of negotiation -- of commerce -- of forgiveness, and all this is hopeful and moving. Yet at the same time success depends on a great deal of luck -- the presence of just the right man among the Alds at the right time, fortunate political developments, and so on. Still, one comes away uplifted, as much by Le Guin's lovely writing, by the poetry and tales quoted by Orrec (and by Memer), and by the richly depicted central characters, as by the hopeful conclusion. Le Guin remains a writer in whom we take delight.

Copyright © 2006 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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