Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “ursula k le guin”

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #47: Catwings & Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, by Ursula K. Le Guin

These are both short, so I am counting them as one entry.

The kid and I have fallen in love with audio books for our driving around town and beyond. We first tackled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which we owned. That kept us busy for quite a while. Then we discovered our local library has quite an extensive selection of audio books in the children’s library, so we grabbed a few titles we thought would be fun. She loved Catwings, by Ursula K. Le Guin, when her kindergarten teacher read it to the class, and I’m happy to report that now that she is a big third grader she still loves it, as well as one of its sequels, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings.

Mrs. Tabby and her winged kittens

Not only are they both charming books to listen to, but they are read by the author herself, which adds another layer of fun. Catwings features four little city kittens, Thelma, Roger, James, and Harriet, whose loving mother, Mrs. Jane Tabby, sends them out in the world, to the country, away from the harsh and dangerous city. The kittens are unique, in that they have all been born with wings. The neighbors don’t hesitate to speculate, “I suppose their father was a fly-by-night.” Mrs. Tabby, who doesn’t have wings herself guesses, “Maybe they have wings because I dreamed, before they were born, that I could fly away from this neighborhood.”

Kittens having wings can be a convenience, and a boon, but can also prove to be dangerous, as other animals that they encounter are not too thrilled to meet cats that can fly. Catwings is a gentle story, for the most part, full of great imagery, as the cats learn to fly and interact with their new environment. But Le Guin does not shy away from the real dangers of a stray cat’s existence, even one that has wings. A few dangerous and exciting moments are provided by one of the kitten’s interactions with a large owl, but my daughter, although scared for the cats, was also enthralled. It’s a great little book.

The other book was just as fun. In Alexander the Wonderful and the Catwings a ginger kitten named Alexander gets lost in the woods on a winter’s day — a terrifying situation for a little cat. Luckily he also meets one of the Catwings, and his feline life will never be the same.

These books are definitely geared towards children, but they were highly enjoyable for me to listen to as well. Le Guin has wonderful enunciation and connects with each of the characters in her narration. After we listened to the books we had to dig out our hard copy versions, as they have some great illustrations by S. D. Schindler. I was trying to picture them while I listened to the author relate the Catwings’ adventures.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 05: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Can you tell I’m trying to catch up on my reviews? Well, okay, we’re probably not all following each other THAT closely. Anyway.

Here we have the story of two worlds: Urras and Anarres. Urras is meant to be an analog of our Earth, and Anarres is described as its habitable moon, albeit harboring some pretty tough conditions. The main plotline is constructed in parallel around the protagonist Shevek, a theoretical physicist, mathematician, and Anarresti. He grows to feel the necessity of traveling to Urras in order to progress further in his field, an action that is welcomed by Urras and abhorred by his fellow Anarresti.

Anarres was founded as a refuge for a colony of what may best be described as uber-communists or collectivists, based on our language. The title “The Dispossessed” refers to their extreme disavowing of anything insinuating personal possession: a blanket that I usually sleep with is not “my blanket” but “the blanket,” and an offer to share the blanket is not “Would you like to share my blanket?” but “Would you like to use the blanket that I use?” They are anarchistic and accept no government or currency, and they volunteer to perform work where it is needed, sometimes based on special interest or talent, and sometimes not. Shevek describes Anarres (I am paraphrasing here) as a place where it is not easy to live, but it is rewarding.

And if Anarres is the most extreme form of communism, then on Urras we are treated to the most extreme form of capitalism. As a capitalistic society that tends to pontificate often about our bitter end, we have a better idea about what that may look like: class warfare, feuding nations, and some totalitarianism thrown in for good measure.

For obvious reasons, the two societies don’t understand each other, but the Urrasti are portrayed as having more of a curiosity about Anarres, while Anarresti find even the neutral mention of Urras to be distasteful and can’t fathom the appeal whatsoever of such a place.

The Dispossessed explores politics, economics, religion, and of course  — it is Le Guin! — gender issues. It’s beautifully constructed around all of the aforementioned social issues, but also around Time, the focus of Shevek’s study. Shevek spends the majority of the novel developing his “Simultaneity Principle,” which is essentially a new way of explaining Time that incorporates physics, philosophy, and mathematics, and does not subscribe to the linear model of time we are familiar with. As such, the novel doesn’t progress in a strictly linear fashion. The chapters alternate between taking place on Urras and Anarres, with what are undoubtedly different periods of time in Shevek’s life unfolding simultaneously. Le Guin is a master at these “fish out of water” stories that result from the meeting of people from such starkly different backgrounds. It’s a pretty dense read and something that will take several sittings to get through, but regardless I wholeheartedly recommend it. The Dispossessed, for me, is poignant, provocative, and above all engaging.

Amanda6’s #CBR4 Review 03: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of DarknessGenly Ai is visiting the planet Gethen, also known as Winter, as an envoy for the interplanetary council known as the Ekumen of Known Worlds. His mission is to convince Gethen to join the Ekumen, an action which Gethen has refused in the past. A native of planet Terra (Earth,) Genly is struck by stark differences in the political and social customs of Gethenians from those employed elsewhere among communicating planets. He finds a guide and companion of sorts in Estraven, a native Gethenian with an emotional backstory.

Gethenians, as a matter of fact, are sexless, genderless individuals. Once a month, they enter “kemmer,” a time during which they develop sex characteristics unique to one traditional gender, and they mate in what appears to be a pansexual fashion with no steadfast hereto/homosexual preferences. The immediate consequence of this is that gender politics as they are known to us (and to Genly) do not play a role on Gethen, and thus their society is constructed entirely differently from others in the Ekumen. Confounding this misunderstanding is the fact that every envoy sent to Gethen is fundamentally different from Gethenians, both physically and in social understanding. Gethenians who do not cycle through kemmer normally and retain the physical attributes of one distinct sex are their society’s perverts; therefore, though Genly is not ostracized, he resembles Gethen’s perverts and is often referred to as such.

It is said that Le Guin developed this novel in order to explore the idea of what a society might be like if biological sex/gender was removed from the equation. To parallel this idea, the setting of Gethen is, environmentally, how we imagine our Arctic region: constant winter. Without variation in sex or in weather, the inhabitants of Gethen are stripped down to embody and employ only the most essential aspects of humanity.

I had a mixed reaction to this book. I was drawn to the socio-physiological ruminations penned here, as I’ve in the past found myself jaded by unfortunate and stereotypical portrayals of women in science fiction. I admire Le Guin’s efforts in this and other novels to explore gender relations in the context of new and different worlds. I do think there were some interesting points made on that front here, but overall I was not drawn to the main plotline of Genly’s trials and tribulations as envoy to Gethen. Tension between nations, danger in exile, and tested loyalty — hallmarks of epic drama — were all there, but for me overall the pacing was kind of slow and the exposition a bit more flowery than it needed to be. My assessment on the whole is that if you’re interested in the gender idea here or in feminist science fiction in general, this is worth reading, but it’s not in my personal list of favorites.

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