ACH - Initial thoughts and reactions?

1

Soooo ... it's the beginning of May, and we are about two fifths of the way through ACH (Always Coming Home). I have a few conversation starters that I will post in a couple of days, but I thought it might be nice to get a very open conversation going. I'm curious, who besides me has read this book before?

Anyway, we have gotten to a big reveal, and the process of getting there was, for me during my first read, winding, twisted, tortuous. Ambitious is another adjective that came to mind. I find ACH reflects the people, who would have never made this book. Look forward to hearing from everyone, and I encourage anyone who wants to start their own discussion thread.

«1

Comments

  • 1
    edited May 2

    I haven't read this before. It's definitely different. I'm liking the main story so far, and some of the short stories are quirky and have gamable ideas that I would definitely use. I don't have much patience for poetry, especially poetry that's basically prose fit into short lines, so those sections are lost on me.

    Most of the rest of the content is rather dry in its presentation, so I'm finding myself missing the lyrical prose we're used to seeing in Earthsea.

    And although it's world-building information, it's not really the kind of world-building information that's immediately useful in gaming, so when I read some of this, I'm struggling against the idea that 'this could have been a paragraph instead of a few pages' - though obviously these details were important to LeGuin, who was notoriously not a roleplayer and, I don't think, even understood it.

    Was there a big reveal? I think I missed it.

    Also wondering about LeGuin and Marxism.

  • 2

    I think the "reveal" was the presence of the Machine City, with all its machine intelligence and telecommunications, and hence that the world of the Kesh isn't some "fantasy" world but rather a future Earth after some form of civilisation-destroying civilisation.

    I've not read the book before.

    The Glorantha community coined a wonderful word a few years back: "anthropowanking." It describes the process of writing up detailed anthropological backgrounds for entirely fictitious fantasy cultures. The "Back of the Book" section reminds me of that kind of activity, and much of that section reads like material in Hero Wars books such as Thunder Rebels. That's not to say it's bad, but it's all rather abstract for when it comes to writing stories (whether novels or RPGs) in that setting.

    Most of the anthropological information is fairly dry, apart when le Guin couldn't resist making a dig at the perceived primacy of Man the Hunter.

    I think my main impression of the setting is that the Kesh valley is presented as a rather idyllic, but it seems rather fragile. For instance, if the Condor People took it into their heads, they could sweep in and take over the valley with little trouble. The question for me is why they haven't? The valley seems fairly rich and fertile (and there's the comment that the Kesh have never had famine), so would make a decent prize. There don't seem to be obstacles to someone taking over by force. So what's preserved this small, distinct culture here for so many generations?

    The main story of Stone Telling is an engaging travelogue in Kesh culture, both directly and in contrast with neighbouring cultures. As a story, I don't think it's that deep; but then, I don't think it needs to be or is intended to be. The whole thing is an exercise in telling us about the Kesh and their mindset though showing us how they think. In that, I think it's pretty successful.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    I don't have much patience for poetry, especially poetry that's basically prose fit into short lines, so those sections are lost on me.

    I find the author's conceit of being a translator interesting. There's a recognition that the poetry isn't quite poetry ...

    And although it's world-building information, it's not really the kind of world-building information that's immediately useful in gaming, so when I read some of this, I'm struggling against the idea that 'this could have been a paragraph instead of a few pages' - though obviously these details were important to LeGuin, who was notoriously not a roleplayer and, I don't think, even understood it.

    I wonder. I think the voices were important to her.

    Also wondering about LeGuin and Marxism.

    I'm not sure what you mean. The Kesh society clearly has communal, and I suppose maybe even communistic aspects, but I don't see class as being the basis of much social and personal conflict. Of course our narrator keeps telling us that she is uneducated, so perhaps it's just that she fails to notice it. Or perhaps you see class conflict somewhere else? say between the lodges?

  • 1
    edited May 2

    @NeilNjae said:
    I think the "reveal" was the presence of the Machine City, with all its machine intelligence and telecommunications, and hence that the world of the Kesh isn't some "fantasy" world but rather a future Earth after some form of civilisation-destroying civilisation.

    Yes there is that, which surprised me the first time I read it. But I meant more that there is an irritated and preachy LeGuin (Pandora) whose voice we haven't heard much in the other books we have read, as you said:

    Most of the anthropological information is fairly dry, apart when le Guin couldn't resist making a dig at the perceived primacy of Man the Hunter.

    edit

    The Glorantha community coined a wonderful word a few years back: "anthropowanking." It describes the process of writing up detailed anthropological backgrounds for entirely fictitious fantasy cultures. The "Back of the Book" section reminds me of that kind of activity, and much of that section reads like material in Hero Wars books such as Thunder Rebels. That's not to say it's bad, but it's all rather abstract for when it comes to writing stories (whether novels or RPGs) in that setting.

    And yet so many published authors do it. I suppose Tolkien is the great trail-blazer here, who showed that people will pay for it, and so it is worth doing as part of the business of being an author. LeGuin's Father was an Anthropologist who studied 'Native' American culture, and her Mother a Psychologist, so presumably she comes by it honestly.

    I think my main impression of the setting is that the Kesh valley is presented as a rather idyllic, but it seems rather fragile. For instance, if the Condor People took it into their heads, they could sweep in and take over the valley with little trouble. The question for me is why they haven't? The valley seems fairly rich and fertile (and there's the comment that the Kesh have never had famine), so would make a decent prize. There don't seem to be obstacles to someone taking over by force. So what's preserved this small, distinct culture here for so many generations?

    The main story of Stone Telling is an engaging travelogue in Kesh culture, both directly and in contrast with neighbouring cultures. As a story, I don't think it's that deep; but then, I don't think it needs to be or is intended to be. The whole thing is an exercise in telling us about the Kesh and their mindset though showing us how they think. In that, I think it's pretty successful.

    Yes, I agree that (as usual) LeGuin presents us with a 'real' person.

  • 1

    I wonder. I think the voices were important to her.

    Definitely. I heard somewhere, though, that she wouldn't authorize an RPG treatment of Earthsea because she didn't like the idea of the setting being bastardized at people's tables, and (if this is true) it made me wonder if she basically thought 'roleplaying' was D&D - she wouldn't have been the first person to think that, as we all know.

    I'm not sure what you mean. The Kesh society clearly has communal, and I suppose maybe even communistic aspects, but I don't see class as being the basis of much social and personal conflict. Of course our narrator keeps telling us that she is uneducated, so perhaps it's just that she fails to notice it. Or perhaps you see class conflict somewhere else? say between the lodges?

    This thought was provoked by my recent reading of The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (a book I think YOU would like, btw) which is basically an alternate history where China and Islam become the two dominant cultures (with Kerala, India, and the minor third) and European culture a non-entity after being wiped out by the black plague. Confucianism, Islam, and Buddhism are the three ideological forces, and the characters, especially later in the book, spend a lot of time philosophizing and critiquing their religio-socio-political paradigms. Wikipedia says this about it (with me bolding what made me think of Marx):

    While most alternate histories use the Great Man theory of history, focusing on leaders, wars, and big events, Robinson writes more about social history, similar to the Annales School of historical theory and Marxist historiography, focusing on the lives of ordinary people living in their time and place.[2] This is reflected in the title of the novel, The Years of Rice and Salt, which refers to the everyday chores of raising a family, often performed by women, despite the politics and wars of men.[12]

    Reviewers noted this allows for the "history [to be] experienced by readers on a human scale"[19] and "an implicit but thorough rebuke to the kind of war-gaming determinism that most alternate histories embody."[10] The novel has characters that explore subjects like philosophy, theology, history, and scientific theory.[20][21]

    And that made me think a lot about this novel, and how it's similar, and how Robinson, as a next generation writer, might have been influenced by LeGuin. Robinson self-describes as a Utopian writer, and Always Coming Home certainly strikes me as a Utopian novel.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    This thought was provoked by my recent reading of The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (a book I think YOU would like, btw)

    Well I will READ it then ;)

    which is basically an alternate history where China and Islam become the two dominant cultures (with Kerala, India, and the minor third) and European culture a non-entity after being wiped out by the black plague. Confucianism, Islam, and Buddhism are the three ideological forces, and the characters, especially later in the book, spend a lot of time philosophizing and critiquing their religio-socio-political paradigms. Wikipedia says this about it (with me bolding what made me think of Marx):

    While most alternate histories use the Great Man theory of history, focusing on leaders, wars, and big events, Robinson writes more about social history, similar to the Annales School of historical theory and Marxist historiography, focusing on the lives of ordinary people living in their time and place.[2] This is reflected in the title of the novel, The Years of Rice and Salt, which refers to the everyday chores of raising a family, often performed by women, despite the politics and wars of men.[12]

    Reviewers noted this allows for the "history [to be] experienced by readers on a human scale"[19] and "an implicit but thorough rebuke to the kind of war-gaming determinism that most alternate histories embody."[10] The novel has characters that explore subjects like philosophy, theology, history, and scientific theory.[20][21]

    And that made me think a lot about this novel, and how it's similar, and how Robinson, as a next generation writer, might have been influenced by LeGuin. Robinson self-describes as a Utopian writer, and Always Coming Home certainly strikes me as a Utopian novel.

    Got it. Will have to think a bit about how the idea of 'Marxist historiography' is being used there.

    Reading your post made me wonder what influence Russians authors like Tolstoy and Dostoeskvy might have had on LeGuin (mentioned Tolkien a moment ago). Her graduate studies were on French (literature), but the Russian elites were all bilingual in French.

    And of course I see PKD everywhere. I think it is obvious that his work has influenced this, but I'm sure that many folks would disagree.

  • 1

    ny published authors do it. I suppose Tolkien is the great trail-blazer here, who showed that people will pay for it, and so it is worth doing as part of the business of being an author. LeGuin's Father was an Anthropologist who studied 'Native' American culture, and her Mother a Psychologist, so presumably she comes by it honestly.

    There's a difference, which is to do with the use of anthropological fiction. le Guin probably went through all of this in order to be able to tell an interesting story about the Kesh. She probably did a similar amount of work for Earthsea. But that's different from doing anthropological worldbuilding just for the sake of it, especially in the context of a game. Why do this stuff that will never see play? Why invent details of a culture that will have no effect at the table? Why generate dozens of characters who will never be played? There is pleasure to be had in that. But do we need to read it?

    The question is, why is le Guin showing us her worldbuilding? What are we supposed to learn from it?

  • 1
    I have to admit to struggling with this, in a way that I had never expected to with Ursula Leguin. In terms of progress I am only 10% through according to my kindle, having just finished part one of Stone Telling and about to start the Serpentine Codex. I keep finding reasons for reading/watching/listening to other things, and can't yet get into it as a narrative. Indeed, it isn't really a single narrative, by design.

    It is, undeniably, intricate and finely crafted, but it also feels to me a very individual or personal project. As though she is writing for herself only rather than for a readership (I say this with some hesitation, since all writing is to some extent for oneself... but this feels more so).

    Contra @Apocryphal , I don't mind the poetry (though I find it rather formless) but I agree with him that I cannot find the lyrical qualities I enjoy so much in her other writing... EarthSea for one, but several of the Hainish cycle, and definitely Lavinia as a totally different genre.

    Going back to the "personal project" thought, I keep finding myself wondering if this would have been published if she had been an unknown author? I have my doubts.

    So... my initial thoughts and feelings are very mixed. Clever, certainly, in an anthropological way. Rather one-sided gender-wise. Intricate. But somehow not compelling just yet.
  • 1
    edited May 2

    @RichardAbbott I hope you get through more of it to hear what you think after another couple of hundred pages. I have many of the same thoughts, but this is the third time I am reading the book, so I guess it must have something (for? or on? me). There are not many books that require several hundred pages to get me hooked, and which get me to read all those pages, and I still can't unequivocally make a judgment. In that sense I think it is very true to life. I feel a bit like - I can't say I like it exactly, but I am entranced in spite of it. I think that in part it is because it somehow does not respect the rules of genre, but the way it is not respecting them is hard to say. For me at least it has lingered in ways that say Earthsea does not.

    @NeilNjae said:
    The question is, why is le Guin showing us her worldbuilding? What are we supposed to learn from it?

    I have to agree that the purpose in gathering these texts is hard to fathom, and my purpose in reading them just as unclear. It casts me back on myself, what I think of as the text creating or transforming me into its reader. There is something unexpected about the book, which is more than plot. And the music and pictures which were included, the quantity and intensity of labour and craft is really exceptional.

    edit: But why? is hard to answer.

  • 0

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    @RichardAbbott I hope you get through more of it to hear what you think after another couple of hundred pages. I have many of the same thoughts, but this is the third time I am reading the book, so I guess it must have something (for? or on? me). There are not many books that require several hundred pages to get me hooked, and which get me to read all those pages, and I still can't unequivocally make a judgment. In that sense I think it is very true to life. I feel a bit like - I can't say I like it exactly, but I am entranced in spite of it. I think that in part it is because it somehow does not respect the rules of genre, but the way it is not respecting them is hard to say. For me at least it has lingered in ways that say Earthsea does not.

    @BarnerCobblewood oh I definitely intend sticking with it... these were just early impressions and I'd love for them to be transformed later on :)

  • 1
    > @RichardAbbott said:
    > (Quote)
    > @BarnerCobblewood oh I definitely intend sticking with it... these were just early impressions and I'd love for them to be transformed later on :)

    I’ve now started pressing on into the next session and am finding myself getting increasingly drawn in, in part by the Kesh themselves ( there’s an account of a war which is fascinating) but also by the macro history of the setting, which is implied but getting more specific with each section. In the read of the first section I wondered about the character of Pandora, to whom we are lightly introduced twice. Now, having encountered her again in the second section where she addresses the reader, I’m finding that my first impression is reinforced. And that first impression, based on my reading of the first section, is that she’ rather like the Lady of Shalilot, as interpreted by our own @RichardAbbott !

    So yes, I also hope that perseverance will deliver rewards.

    Also, though we discussed including part of the back of the book in each section, I think it’s safely skipped for now if you’re struggling. Stick to the core book and you’ll be fine for discussions.
  • 1
    I'm struggling but persisting. Reading on Kindle might not be the best way. Most of what I've got so far is a series of impressions.

    The book might be beyond me, but I'm about 25% in and starting to enjoy it. The little invented folk stories are fun, and remind me of Native American mythology.
  • 0
    > @Apocryphal said:
    > .... In the read of the first section I wondered about the character of Pandora, to whom we are lightly introduced twice. Now, having encountered her again in the second section where she addresses the reader, I’m finding that my first impression is reinforced. And that first impression, based on my reading of the first section, is that she’ rather like the Lady of Shalilot, as interpreted by our own @RichardAbbott !
    >

    That's certainly intriguing! Calling a character "Pandora" is much more overtly resonant with classical material than Arthurian, and it'll be interesting to see how, and if, these two bodies of material are drawn together.
  • 1

    Okay, through the first installment of supplementary matter (the back of the book) after the first installment of Stone Telling.

    And there it seems things are in our future, presumably in California. With explains the mention of such things as "California poppies" in the Stone Telling, which seemed off when I thought it an invented fantasy world. It was a clue.

    I don't think I'm clever enough for this book, and I'm looking forward to reading on, even if progress is slow.

  • 2
    The setting becomes much more transparent in the first sections of our ‘second section’ and I personally found it more absorbing. Intriguing new questions are raised, so I don’t want to say too much.

    The Pandora character is definitely Greek, not Arthurian. I’m not sure there’s any Arthurian influence here - I referenced The Lady of Shalott because she was also not Arthurian, at least in the interpretation I’m referring to ( @RichardAbbott ’s novella Half Sick of Shadows).
  • 1

    I’m a bit behind, not an unusual occurrence lately, but which will hopefully be remedied now that classes are over for the summer.

    Like @dr_mitch , I wonder whether Kindle is the best way to read this. At first I liked being able to click on a note and go straight to it, but quite often I get confused about where exactly I am, especially if I click a note in a note.

    I wonder whether I’ve read the correct material for the first third of our discussion. (I know it’s about time for the second third, but I haven’t read any of that yet.) I don’t recall a Machine City, and Pandora has hardly made an appearance, at least by name. Perhaps the first-person narrator in some of the stories is Pandora, and I’ve just missed that?

    I find my reading experience to be fragmentary, partly because of the structure of the text, but partly because of the hyperlinks in the Kindle version that take me to various other locations in the text. Are there references in the printed versions to go to other pages — footnotes, parenthetical citations, or something like that?

    Having voiced this frustration, I do feel I have some sense of the valley, life in it, some of the dangers / challenges in and around it, and its relationship to other areas. I get these impressions not by a straightforward story arc, though, not even a multilayered story arc, but in bits and pieces like a mosaic. Some of the tiles in the mosaic are stories, some are poems, some are weird little “anthropowank” pieces (thanks for the term, @NeilNjae ).

    And I’m interested in some of the themes. The Hinge is interesting. It shows up in the illustrations, of course, but also in other places. Of particular interest to me is the Hinge in time, sprinkled through tandem introduced in the first sentence of the book, in “A First Note,”: “THE PEOPLE IN this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.”

    “might” — conditional, possible, playful, speculative
    “be going” — (forward?) movement to the future implied
    “to have lived” — reversal, hinge backwards in time
    “a long, long time from now” — whiplash, double reversal pointing again toward the future

    This Hinge in time is also seen in “Towards an Archaeology of the Future” and reminded me of our conversations about Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge in our discussions of The Broken Earth series. Le Guin invokes Schliemann and Troy and a linknote mentions that Schliemann thought he had discovered the Troy of the Iliad, but current thought is that another layer was the right timeframe. Schliemann had the right idea, but he just didn’t dig far enough. (Can I coin the word “linknote for this context? It’s a note, but neither a footnote nor an endnote.). Another interesting nugget in my general knowledge related to this is that there are several anachronisms in the Iliad, such as the mention of iron weapons in a Bronze Age era (if Scliemann’s successors are to be trusted) or mention of a kind of chariot that couldn’t have yet existed during the time of the Trojan War (again, if it was historical in any way). This reminds me of Le Guin writing about a fictitious anthropologist in the future writing about something from their past but which would still be in our (fictitious) future. Anachronisms seem to be inevitable, but what are they and how can we unearth them is kind of a hinged thing in itself, particularly when it is difficult sometimes to determine whether a particular linknote is to be read in Le Quinn’s voice or the fictitious future anthropologist.

  • 1

    Interestingly, the second segment went far smoother for me - to the extent I happily read on and finished the book. The main story is a relatively small part of it.

    Related to the above point, the society seems a wholesale rejection of the "great men" view of history in its focus, which is rather different to much material out there, and I find quite refreshing.

    The in-between and end of the book pieces are sometimes very good, and sometimes seem repetitive to me. But overall, I understand the book better and enjoyed it, even if many parts passed me by. I'm still not quite clever enough for it!

  • 1
    Great observation re: the spiral and opening sentence! I missed that but wasn’t really thinking in that context when I started the book.

    Another anachronism from the Iliad is the burial method. Homer was a story teller, not a historian - he only needed a few anachronisms (like chariots and bronze, the showy things) from his past to lend his piece some antiquity, but he wasn’t interested in recreating the Bronze Age. I always scratch my head when people point to Homer as a source for Bronze Age history.
  • 0

    I have enjoyed the various short stories (romances, cautionary tales etc) a bit more but am still rather baffled by the whole thing, except as a personal project. My kindle says I am now 28% of the way through but I'm not quite sure how that computes as a fraction of the bit we're supposed to read? But looking at the TOC, I am not all that far from the start of Stone Telling part 2. That probably means I'm way behind where I need to be to get somewhere by the end of the month, but no matter, I'll just get to wherever I get. It doesn't seem to matter much where one starts or finishes, since it is largely lots of separate viewpoints on a whole.

  • 2

    @RichardAbbott said:
    It doesn't seem to matter much where one starts or finishes, since it is largely lots of separate viewpoints on a whole.

    Broadly true, but I think that reading both sections in parallel is informative, and perhaps even the intended way. There are snippets of worldbuilding information that appear in the "front" stories (e.g. the train, diseases) that are expanded on in the "back", and in about the same place. I've been reading the two in parallel, and it's striking how often that happens.

  • 0
    > @NeilNjae said:
    > (Quote)
    > Broadly true, but I think that reading both sections in parallel is informative, and perhaps even the intended way. There are snippets of worldbuilding information that appear in the "front" stories (e.g. the train, diseases) that are expanded on in the "back", and in about the same place. I've been reading the two in parallel, and it's striking how often that happens.

    Oh yes, I am convinced that the structure that she has created is immensely intricate, and I'm sure that on a first read I am missing a lot of it. I had some thoughts yesterday about the poetic structures she chose, but I'll put them down in a separate thread when I've crystallised them a bit better.
  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    It doesn't seem to matter much where one starts or finishes, since it is largely lots of separate viewpoints on a whole.

    More like unstudied gazing at a picture than following a narrative?

  • 1
    > @BarnerCobblewood said:
    > (Quote)
    > More like unstudied gazing at a picture than following a narrative?

    I don't think I'd put it like that... picture and narrative sort of go together in my mind. More like looking at something more like a pattern... a kaleidoscope, perhaps, or for those who remember them, a Spirograph design. Something that has more of a feel of being sculpted than depicted naturalistically, if that makes sense. Like the older original meaning of artificial.
  • 2
    edited May 18

    @dr_mitch I too find that it goes better the more it goes. I also find this each time I read the book, which disrupts my idea that it was somehow getting in harmony with the work depends on knowing it. Reading the end without the beginning doesn't have the same power (for me). What made it an easier read for you as you went along?

    @WildCard For me there's something about a hinge being a still-place that moves without moving to both open and close ... something something something decision-making in play.

    @RichardAbbott Re: Kaleidoscope / Spirograph: There's something niggling me here about circular rather than linear progress, and the kind of joy that comes of action for repetition as the measure of time. The words Always Coming Home seem to combine both perpetual motion and stability, being away and returning (see hinge comment above). One of the questions I will be posting in a week or so is about using this in play. Re: Artificial: The Online Etymological Dictionary gives contrived by human skill and labo[u]r, which I think provides a provocative entanglement both with @Apocryphal 's earlier Marxist comment, and with the City of Man / TOK / Machine-beings of the book, and which also contrasts with our sometime everyday use granting greater authenticity to hand-made than machine-made.

    I also find it strange that I remember some online stuff talking about it as a dystopian novel, whereas I would, if forced to choose, describe it as utopian.

    edit because I can't spell.

  • 0

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    @RichardAbbott Re: Kaleidoscope / Spirograph: There's something niggling me here about circular rather than linear progress, and the kind of joy that comes of action for repetition as the measure of time. The words Always Coming Home seem to combine both perpetual motion and stability, being away and returning (see hinge comment above). One of the questions I will be posting in a week or so is about using this in play.

    Of course the archetypal circular motion is the cycle of the seasons (as anciently conceived) and the modern equivalent, the orbital movement of the planet around the sun. Both of which are well-understood to be near-repetitions but not exact ones.

    And both of which find echoes both in Ursula LeGuin's own Dispossessed "You shall not go down twice to the same river, nor can you go home again... You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been" and also TS Eliot's Four Quartets "We shall not cease from exploration // And the end of all our exploring // Will be to arrive where we started // And know the place for the first time. // ... // Not known, because not looked for // But heard, half-heard, in the stillness // Between two waves of the sea"

    Re: Artificial: The Online Etymological Dictionary gives contrived by human skill and labo[u]r, which I think provides a provocative entanglement both with @Apocryphal 's earlier Marxist comment, and with the City of Man / TOK / Machine-beings of the book, and which also contrasts with our sometime everyday use granting greater authenticity to hand-made than machine-made.

    Your words for some reason sparked a connection with the film Her, in which the AI beings eventually move away from humanity not because they have any particular quarrel, but because they find their own company and their own investigations into the universe to be more interesting,

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    More like looking at something more like a pattern... a kaleidoscope, perhaps, or for those who remember them, a Spirograph design.

    A Spirograph design that is split and shifted slightly, like some of the book’s illustrations, created the Hinge. What is the book’s Hinge? Structurally? Thematically?

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    @WildCard For me there's something about a hinge being a still-place that moves without moving to both open and close ... something something something decision-making in play.

    Oh wow, this is beautiful. It reminds me of wu wei, which in Taoism represents unmoving movement, active non-action, the space where inactive yin becomes active yang and vice versa.

  • 1

    Some thoughts on the syllabic metre used by Ursula LeGuin in some of the poems in "Poems, Second Section"

    ACH largely chooses syllabic metre (SM) for the poems in this section, made explicitly obvious in Four/Fives, and The Sun Going South. In this, every syllable counts, unlike the more common English habit of only counting stressed syllables (accentual-syllabic metre (ASM)). So the first line in The Sun Going South counts 9 syllables in SM ("In late sunshine I wander troubled") but only four stresses in ASM (probably parsed as "In late sunshine I wander troubled"). All such metrical schemes are only one way to structure poetry - others include end-rhyme, alliteration etc.

    Now, historically, SM was used extensively in classical Greek and Latin poetry, and - in my reckoning at least - also in ancient Egyptian and Hebrew poetry (this latter part is not universally accepted but I convinced myself of it and wrote a thesis to that effect :) ). Germanic poetry (and related forms such as that enjoyed in ancient Britain) broadly ignored syllables, and instead focused on alliteration and such like. In LotR, Tolkien chose to have the elves use ASM, and the Rohirrim use a Germanic style alliterative form.

    My guess is that Ursula LeGuin chose SM to more easily sustain the fiction that the book is translated from an original in a different language. SM is much easier to translate than ASM, because the different stress pattern rules of different languages make mapping stress counts difficult. Alliteration is not too hard to do, but end-rhyme is appallingly difficult because of case/gender endings in most languages. Also SM sounds a bit like "normal" poetry to an English speaker, but also "not quite right", which achieves the effect of suggesting translation but actually just being written directly by her!

  • 1

    This is all really good conversation! Even when I don’t comment, I learn something. Thanks, everyone!

  • 1
    edited May 31

    Now reading into the extra material in the book. Le Guin had four novels rejected before turning to SF (where she was heavily inspired by Cordwainer Smith, and also P.K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Theodore Sturgeon). She was in the same graduating high school class as P.K. Dick - a class of 3500 - but didn’t meet him until much later as an SF writer. Maybe that’s why they both wrote about ordinary people?

    Her fist published novel was Rocannon’s World in 1965, followed by Planet of Exile in 66, both as Ace Doubles, both Hainish novels. 67 sees City of Illusions, and in 68 she gets an agent and publishes The Left Hand of Darkness and A Wizard of Earthsea.

    Le Guin was a mentor to Karen Joy Fowler (author of Sarah Canary!) Also of Vonda McIntyre, whom I’ve never read, and Molly Gloss, whom I’ve never heard of.

    The Word for World is Forest is written in 68-69 and is a allegory for the Vietnam war. It’s published in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions collection (which I didn’t know, despite having this book) and was a big influence on the film Avatar.

    1970 The Tombs of Atuan
    1971 The Lathe of Heaven
    1973 The Farthest Shore and short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
    1974 The Dispossessed. Shevik is based on her recollections of Oppenheim who was a guest of her parents at her childhood home.
    1975 novella The New Atlantis
    Then for the next decade it’s short stories, essays, and revisiting her early unpublished novels.
    1985 Always Coming Home
    1990 Tehanu ( @Michael_S_Miller ’s next pick?)
    1993 edits The Norton Book of Science Fiction with Karen Joy Fowler.
    2003 translates an Argentinian SF novel called Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Godorischer.
    2008 Lavinia, a historical novel and retelling of the Aeneid
    The rest is mainly essays and short fiction, including more Earthsea anthologies. And poems.

    As @RichardAbbott noted above, the poems in this book are either 4-5 syllable or 4-4-5-5 syllable, reflecting the double spiral which apparently has a radius of 4 on one arm and of 5 on the other (which seems odd since a spiral has no fixed radius - new math?)

    Died in 2018, Jan 22.

Sign In or Register to comment.