This is a re-read. I’ve read this book multiple times. It’s one of Le Guin’s earliest works, novella-length and an expansion/continuation of a haunting short story, “Semley’s Necklace,” which is a science fiction version of a very ancient folkloric theme, the human visitor to Faerie who returns to find that during their brief sojourn, years have passed, their spouse is old or dead, and their children have grown. In Le Guin’s version, Faerie is another world and the time change is due to faster than light travel.

Rocannon is a scientist who gets stranded on a less technologically advanced world; there’s a loose plot involving him trying to communicate with his people on his own world and getting involved in a war on the world he’s on, but it’s mostly a picaresque about exploring a new world. The plot is not the point. (Nor is Rocannon himself, who is a blank slate and really exists as a body for the reader to inhabit.) The point is a series of beautiful or terrifying or strange encounters: the windsteeds, which are giant cats with wings; the city of angels and its shift from awe to horror as Rocannon realizes that beauty does not mean intelligence; the small furry creatures that rescue and guide him; his ordeal by fire, with echoes of the phoenix and Odin upon the tree. It doesn’t hang together particularly well as a smooth, continuous narrative, but then again, the picaresque is a perfectly legitimate form that just happens to not be much respected now.

Rocannon’s World is one of those books whose flaws are what make it wonderful. Le Guin has written about how it was written while she was still finding her voice and working out the rules of her universe; she points out that Rocannon’s impermasuit, which protects him from physical harm, was a clunky attempt to transfer magical armor into a science fiction setting, and ought to have suffocated him. No such thing exists in her later books. She’s correct that it is something of an awkward marriage between myth and science, and yet it creates the stunning scene in which he’s captured and burned alive, forced to stand unharmed but helpless within the flames, and finally emerges from the ashes, takes off the suit which, once off his body, appears to be nothing more than a handful of plastic and wires, and bathes naked in the river, trying to wash away the memory of flames licking at his eyes. How marvelous is that! We are lucky to have the book that Le Guin didn’t get quite right, that didn’t do what she wanted it to do. If it had been more perfect, it might well have ben less memorable.

This is the edition I have: Rocannon's World. I have to say, I really love that cover. What could possibly be better than a dude in a cape and armor, carrying a torch and riding a giant flying cat in a surprisingly practical-looking harness?
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)

From: [personal profile] rmc28

I read this book several times growing up, from my mother's extensive SF collection. I think yes, it's not a comfortable smooth narrative, but it is a very beautiful, memorable story.
luzula: a Luzula pilosa, or hairy wood-rush (Default)

From: [personal profile] luzula

I think I have read this? If so, it was years ago and didn't leave a very strong impression.

I've been looking at Le Guin's bibliography and realizing that there are books on it I haven't read, so I'll probably be picking up Malafrena and The Eye of the Heron during the coming year.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

From: [personal profile] davidgillon

I had much the same reaction. As soon as I saw the title I thought 'I've read that,' but not even Rachel's precis - which I do think is effective - is jogging my memory, which is fairly rare.

(Though to be fair to Le Guin, I've made several attempts to get into her over the years and I just don't seem to get on with her writing, so it's probably me being incompatible, rather than the book not being good enough to leave an impression)
luzula: a Luzula pilosa, or hairy wood-rush (Default)

From: [personal profile] luzula

No, I haven't. *puts on list of books to check out* Seems like two people can be Le Guin fans and still not have much overlap between the books they've read!
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)

From: [personal profile] laurashapiro

I love these early works of Le Guin's. They don't grip me the same way her classics do, but it's fun to see her exploring ideas she later refined and mastered. Plus, flying cats!
pauraque: bird flying (Default)

From: [personal profile] pauraque

I have definitely read this book, but I was young enough that I barely remember it. LeGuin is my favorite author, and has been for a very long time, pretty much as soon as I started reading her as a child (I want to say Eye of the Heron was the first I read?). She spoke to me immediately and I was delighted to find that she'd written so much! This is making me want to re-read everything in order of publication, which is probably not reasonable with my current energy levels, but might still be fun to try.
genarti: Knees-down view of woman on tiptoe next to bookshelves (Default)

From: [personal profile] genarti

Oooh, interesting! I haven't read this one, but the idea of transmuting magical armor and Faerie and picaresque into sci fi through the filter of Le Guin's brain is a really compelling one.

(I've actually read much less Le Guin than I'd like, for all that she's one of my favorite authors based on what I have read. I keep meaning to fix that. So this is a very useful review to have!)
princessofgeeks: (Default)

From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks

I loved that story. Thanks for the reminder to reread.

From: [identity profile]

I read and enjoyed that book years and years ago (I must have still been a teenager; I remember being relieved to like it, because I had tried and not been able to make any headway with The Left Hand of Darkness. The one and only thing I remember now is the part about the city of angels. That made a huge impression on me.

From: [identity profile]

The city of angels is INCREDIBLY memorable. It's the combination of the beauty of the imagery with the creepy twist.

From: [identity profile]

I've read so little of Le Guin and often think I should make a point of reading more. I even buy some of her books, which my husband then reads. So I puzzle myself over this, especially as I have read (and loved) the Earthsea trilogy and Left Hand and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

I've never heard of this book, but I enjoyed the writeup!

From: [identity profile]

Maybe try The Dispossessed? It has a polemical reputation, but it isn't really; it's just about idealists in a planned community meant to be a utopia; naturally, it's no better nor worse than any community anywhere, just different. Amazing worldbuilding, and really memorable characters.

From: [identity profile]

ahhhhh that felt good. i love early sci-fantasy le guin, and that book - and ah, semley's necklace! - oh, they both rocked. and the one, forgot the name, with the amnesiac guy and lying aliens. and the other one with cross-species marriage and long winter.
sovay: (Rotwang)

From: [personal profile] sovay

and the one, forgot the name, with the amnesiac guy and lying aliens. and the other one with cross-species marriage and long winter.

City of Illusions (1967) and Planet of Exile (1966). You used to be able to get both of them plus Rocannon's World in a trade paperback omnibus handily entitled Worlds of Exile and Illusion.

From: [identity profile]

yes! i had this omnibus, in russian, with a deeply uninspiring cover.

From: [identity profile]

I also recently re-read the one with the lost colony and the long winter (Planet of Exile - "I listen!") but while I think I did read the other one I don't remember it at all.

From: [identity profile]

the other one is also very good! it's mostly a picaresque too (although there's a plottier plot and a resolution), but with more of a post-apocalyptic slant, and grrrrreatly creepy villains. and there's a guy who set himself up as a mad king with shakespeare quotes, it was so gooood.

From: [identity profile]

Sadly I don't remember any of this except "Semley's Necklace," which I have read several times in various places (and which is excellent). I guess I should read the novel again.

From: [identity profile]

In the days when she was publishing stories like that, she was known as the next Leigh Brackett

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