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First read: 08.03.2010


"The Matter of Seggri" and "Solitude" are brilliant, "Coming of Age in Karhide", "Unchosen Love", "Mountain Ways" and "Paradises Lost" are interesting, the other two aren't worth it.

Quotes are coloured, they often contain spoilers.

“Coming of Age in Karhide” is a story about a Gethenian who’s not secretive like Estraven in “The Left Hand of Darkness” and tells the story of their life from childhood. They way they “come of age” (ie. Come into sexual maturity and start transforming into a woman or a man during the period each month). This has all the answers that keep you hanging in the novel but also, because the mystery is solved so soon, less of the depth.

“Unchosen Love” is ok but I don’t quite like any of the characters, the idea of a marriage of four (two men and two women of two different) is interesting. Like Le Guin, I like to think about complex social relationships which produce and frustrate highly charged emotional relationships.

♥   Few people from other worlds are willing to believe that our form of marriage works. They prefer to think that we endure it. They forget that human beings, while whining after the simple life, thrive on complexity.


♥  "How can you be married to three people and never have sex with one of them?" they ask.

The question made me uncomfortable; it seems to assume that sexuality is a force so dominant that it cannot be contained or shaped by any other relationship. Most societies expect a father and daughter, or a brother and sister, to have a nonsexual family relationship, though I gather that in some the incest ban is often violated by people empowered by age and gender to ignore it. Evidently such societies see human beings as divided into two kinds, the fundamental division being power, and they grant one gender superior power. To us, the fundamental division is moiety; gender is a great but secondary difference; and in the search for power no one starts from a position of innate privilege. It certainly leads to our looking at things differently.


"I always thought I'd choose love," he said at last, her words working in his mind. "Choose a serodotu, settle down, some day, somewhere near my farm. I never imagined anything else. And then I came out here, to the edge of the world....And I don't know what to do. I was chosen, I can't choose..."


♥   "I'm not leaving," Hadri said. He went and stroked Suord's hair and face and kissed him. He knew Suord could not followe him, couldn't live in Oket, inland; it wouldn't work, it wouldn't do. But that meant he must stay here with Suord. There was a numb coldness in him, under his heart.

“Mountain Ways” is a bit more to my taste, still in the same planet (O) is about two women and how the fact that they need two men to marry each other is fucking everything up for them because they live in the mountains and there’s only one man they can bear to marry there. So they have to find away this rules somehow (so the new-poly marriage becomes the establishment to be defied). But then it ends abruptly, leaving you with no resolution (this might be a hint of "real life never ends" but the main conflict, at least, should've been resolved)


♥   The animals are the true farmholders. Tolerant and aloof, they allow the farmers to comb out their thick fleeces, to assist them in difficult births, and to skin them when they die. The farmers are dependent on the ariu; the ariu are not dependent on the farmers. The question of ownership is moot. At Danro Farmhold they don't say, "We have nine hundred ariu," they say, "The herd has nine hundred."

♥   Akal observed him with curiosity and dispassion. She would share water with Otorra, but not guilt. As soon as she had seen Shahes, touched Shahes, all her scruples and moral anxieties had dropped away, as if they could not breathe up here in the mountains. Akal had been born for Shahes and Shahes for Akal; that was all there was to it. Whatever made it possible for them to be together was right.

Once or twice she did ask herself, what if I'd been born into the Morning instead of the Evening moiety? — a perverse and terrible thought. But perversity and sacrilege were not asked of her. All she had to do was change sex. And that only in appearance, in public. With Shahes she was a woman, and more truly a woman and herself than she had ever been in her life. With everybody else she was Akal, whom they took to be a man. That was no trouble at all. She was Akal; she liked being Akal. It was not like acting a part. She never had been herself with other people, had always felt a falsity in her relationships with them; she had never known who she was at all, except sometimes for a moment in meditation, when her I am became It is, and she breathed the stars. But with Shahes she was herself utterly, in time and in the body, Akal, a soul consumed in love and blessed by intimacy.

♥   Akal found that she was speaking the words of the ceremony for the dead, Now all that was owed is repaid and all that was owned, returned. Now all that was lost is found and all that was bound, free. Shahes stood silent, listening till the end.


“Solitude” is just fascinating, there’s this world where introversion and isolation are the rule. People there call the act of trying to influence others (by means of words) “magic” and think it’s evil, the only exception being the magic between lovers but even that can turn bad. People spend their whole lives not constructing things outside themselves but inside, making their souls. The main character is taken to live there as a girl by her ethnologist mother and goes completely native. It’s hard to describe, just have a look:

♥   Our daily life in the auntring was repetitive. On the ship, later, I learned that people who live in artificially complicated situations call such a life "simple." I never knew anybody, anywhere I have been, who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details, the way a planet looks smooth, from orbit.


Certainly our life in the auntring was easy, in the sense that our needs came easily to hand. There was plenty of food to be gathered or grown and prepared and cooked, plenty of temas to pick and rett and spin and weave for clothes and bedding plenty of reeds to make baskets and thatch with; we children had other children to play with, mothers to look after us, and a great deal to learn. None of this is simple, though it's all easy enough, when you know how to do it, when you are aware of the details.


♥   And Arrem says you could be useful to the Ekumen, if you stay and finish your education on Soro. You'll be an invaluable resource." Borny sniggered, and after a minute I did too. "They'll mine you like an asteroid," he said. Then he said, "You know, if you stay and I go, we'll be dead."


That was how the young people of the ships said it, when one was going to cross the lightyears and the other was going to stay. Goodbye, we're dead. It was the truth.


♥   ...thinking is one way of doing and words are one way of thinking."



♥   So do I, but not for a long time, because once you have a child you're never alone.


And though it is of the others, of relationships, that I write, the heart of my life has been my being alone.


I think there is no way to write about being alone. To write is to tell something to somebody, to communicate to others. CP, as Steadiness would say. Solitude is non-communication, the absence of others, the presence of a self sufficient to itself.


♥   When I was on the ship, Arrem told me that many languages have a single word for sexual desire and the bond between mother and child and the bond between soulmates and the feeling for one's home and worship of the sacred; they are all called love. There is no word that great in my language. Maybe my mother is right, and human greatness perished in my world with the people of the Before Time, leaving only small, poor, broken things and thoughts. In my language, love is many different words. I learned one of them with Red Stone Man. We sang it together to each other.


♥   If it is pleasant the pleasure will not fail so long as you are aware of it. Being aware is the hardest work the soul can do, I think.

The Matter of Seggri is itself a collection of shorter stories, always in the first person, by women and men in the planet Seggri (natives and Ekumen people), where there are 16 adult women for every man (not because baby boys are killed like baby girls are in our world but because of a genetic dysfunction, apparently intentional on the part of some other culture). What this results in is in men becoming precious commodities that are only allowed to fight each other and compete against each other in different and often violent sports and, of course, to “service women” in the fuckeries, both for their pleasure and for impregnation purposes. They live in castles and are only allowed out for sports or to go to the fuckery (which is, to all intents and purposes, a bourdel). The few young boys women manage to conceive, carry to term and bring up are taken into the Castles at age 11, never to see their families of women again and to become part of the competitive microsociety of their Castle (which can send exchange them much in the manner of football players). This makes for a very painful reversal and exacerbation (or not) of something that was and still is, quite a reality for women in our world.


♥   Tell him what happened. Nobody really knows what happened at the Castle. You owe us the story."

That was a powerful phrase, among my people. "The untold story mothers the lie," was the saying. The doer of any notable act was held literally accountable for it to the community.


♥   And as I took courage, I made friends among the women students, finding many of them unprejudiced and companionable. In my third year, one of them and I managed, tentatively and warily, to fall in love. It did not work very well or last very long, yet it was a great liberation for both of us, our liberation from the belief that the only communication or commonality possible between us was sexual, that an adult man and woman had nothing to join them but their genitals. Emadr loathed the professionalism of the fuckery as I did, and our lovemaking was always shy and brief. Its true significance was not as a consummation of desire, but as proof that we could trust each other. Where our real passion broke loose was when we lay together talking, telling each other what our lives had been, how we felt about men and women and each other and ourselves, what our nightmares were, what our dreams were. We talked endlessly, in a communion that I will cherish and honor all my life, two young souls finding their wings, flying together, not for long, but high. The first flight is the highest. Emadr has been dead two hundred years; she stayed on Seggri, married into a motherhouse, bore two children, taught at Hagka, and died in her seventies. I went to Hain, to the Ekumenical Schools, and later to Werel and Yeowe as part of the Mobile's staff; my record is herewith enclosed. I have written this sketch of my life as part of my application to return to Seggri as a Mobile of the Ekumen. I want very much to live among my people, to learn who they are, now that I know with at least an uncertain certainty who I am.


"Old Music and The Slave Women" is the story of an old Ekumenikal envoy who gets tired of being shut in his embassy and decides to do something to help the slave-revolution going on outside, from which he's cut off. It turns out to be a bad idea and I'm still not sure what the point of the story was except to showcase yet another slave-society and show how fucked up people can be.

"The Birthday of The World
" is about this society where God is a married couple of siblings (whose father and mother, also siblings, are the current God) and is told by the only girl-to-be-god in the family. Interesting but, again, dunno what the point was.

"Paradises Lost" is a longish story, 100ish pages, more of a novelette than the others in this book. It takes place in a generational ship called "Discovery" sent from Earth/Dichew to investigate a possible settling planet 6 generations (2 centuries) away. The far away objective soon gets old and by the fifth generation someone's found another purpose to live for than to be of use to people they've never met. It's not great but it's interesting.

♥   ...They were in danger all the time, surrounded by danger. That is the essence of safety, the heart of it: that danger is outside.

♥   The fact was that Jael and Yao had fallen desperately in love. They were old enough to realise that love was all they had in common.

♥   ...to "trash dumps" to "throw away." What does that mean? Where is "away"?

♥   "One kind," he said, "has a need, a lack, they have to have a certain vitamin. The other kind doesn't."
"Vitamin Belief."
She considered.
"Not genetic," he said. "Cultural. Metaorganic. But as individually real and definite as a metabolic deficiency. People either need to believe or they don't."
She still pondered.
"The ones that do don't believe that the others don't. They don't believe that there are people who don't believe."
"Hope?" she offered, tentative.
"Hope isn't belief. Hope's contigent upon reality, even when it's not very realistic. Belief dismisses reality."
"The name you can say isn't the right name," said Hsing.
"The corridor you can walk isn't the right corridor," said Luis.
"What's the harm in believing?"
"It's dangerous to confuse reality with unreality," he said promptly. "To confuse desire with power, ego with cosmos. Extremely dangerous."
♥   "People need God like a three-year-old needs a chaisaw."

♥   ...Freedom is what your mind does, what your soul is. It has nothing to do with all that Dichew-stuff.

♥   It wasn’t that there were pieces missing from Hiroshi. He was complete. He was all one piece. Maybe that’s what was missing – bits of all the other Hiroshis who might have read novels, or played solitaire or stayed in bed late mornings, or done anything but what he did, been anyone other than what he was.
Hiroshi did what he did and doing it was what he was.
…she told herself that she didn’t feel used, or tricked, because she knew now that everything was fuel to Hiroshi, including himself.


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