ACH - What did we think of the book?


Hello everyone.

As of today we have (supposedly) completed reading Always Coming Home. I don't have a good read on how many of us are reading the book, but I think we are only about a half-dozen (Half-dozen indeed! Vulgar expression), so I thought that we should only have a few dicsussion threads so the conversation doesn't become too fractured. This thread is to hear what we thought of the book in general. The downside of course is that we might meander aimlessly through the Valley, but generally it seems the weather is clement and the scenery nice, as is the company, so I expect it will be worthwhile nonetheless.

I will post my comments after I have essayed a couple of other gambits (Why didn't the Kesh play chess?). I encourage everyone else to likewise post any discussion topics they might have.


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    edited June 2020

    First thoughts: this was an intensely political book. It may have a surface veneer of genteel meandering, but you can sense, just below the surface, le Guin's searing hatred of male posturing, war, violence, and power through domination. But rather than attacking that view, le Guin showed us an alternative, the Kesh. They're a people of compassion and gentleness, who accept what comes and goes without fighting it, who are living within their means of what their environment can provide.

    The Kesh: the antidote to capitalism.

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    And near the end, I wanted to say, "No, Ursula, tell me what you really think about 'intellectual property rights'."

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    edited June 2020

    @NeilNjae said:
    And near the end, I wanted to say, "No, Ursula, tell me what you really think about 'intellectual property rights'."

    There is a certain irony in that our Ursula was on occasion very outspoken against indie publication in this world, while both in ACH and The Dispossessed she seems totally in favour of it in other worlds...

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    I'm afraid I'm still meandering through the many chapters and (other than my kindle navigation marker, which says 62%) have no real sense if I've got anywhere or not! In her Creation Myth section she says "Certainly the Valley doesn't share those beginnings and ends, but it seems to have none of its own. It is all middle". And it seems to me that this is a kind of mimetic summary of the book itself. It doesn't lure me to read on, because it isn't really going anywhere. When I read a section (which is often late evening after lots of other things have been completed during the day) I'm never sure that I have actually moved on.

    (As an afterthought, given her 4-5 pattern, it is remotely possible that that statement about all middle, at 30% progress, is at the hinge of the content part, in which case I should expect to finish the main bit and transition to the appendices at 67.5%, but I haven't actually tested that out yet).

    Not all of the modes of communication appealed to me - I wasn't very taken with the poetry, except as an intellectual curiosity of construction. I struggle with plays in any context, so didn't expect to click with those at all. But I do admire the design structure of including what you might call a multi-media approach, and the fact that some bits didn't resonate with me is not a criticism.

    Would I read it again? Probably not. The more critical question is whether I can motivate myself to finish the content part even once the discussion has begun? I think probably yes, if only to satisfy myself about the hinge argument above. Do I care about any of the characters? Not really... there are so many of them as we encounter different parts of the world, and my immediate assumption when meeting a new one is that I am unlikely to need to recall anything about them in later parts. It seems to me not to be a novel at all in the normal sense of that word, but more along the lines of a collection of fairy tales, or of eye-witness accounts. It doesn't feel right to me to be what it purports to be, a kind of anthropologist's report, but it does feel like an assembly of disparate and sometimes (deliberately) inconsistent points of view. That's fine as an exercise - but for me it failed to come together as a whole. Of course, it remains to be seen if in actual fact I find myself dwelling on the various parts long after this read has finished... we shall see. I'd like to think it would, but I don't have confidence.

    It seems to me to be totally utopian, but apparently without real threats to its existence, without inner self-doubt, and without real effort needed to maintain it. Which didn't really ruing true for me. The Dispossessed worked far better at this IMHO - the utopia of Shevek's anarchic society was for sure under threat both from outside and inside, was constantly self-questioning, and took effort and commitment to preserve it. (And, of course, it was unequivocally a novel, and one where the central figure was a mathematician... what's not to like? :) )

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    Overall I enjoyed the book. I think it would reward a re-reading, though I don't intend to that soon. My favourite parts of the novel were The Stone Telling story, some of the shorter anecdotal type stories (like the one about the blob of blood and the story of the war). I especially liked it when she talked about the Valley in the context of the wider world - the City of Men and so forth. I found the SF aspects fascinating and would have liked to hear more about this.

    Several of the sections didn't do much for me, including the Dangerous People novel, which I found rather confusing. I know it was intended to reflect the double spiral. The poetry didn't interest me much, either. Much of the world-building was also not that interesting - it was oddly mundane. For example, there didn't seem to be much remarkable about Kesh sheep and cattle, so why bring them up in such detail?

    I think the sections I enjoyed most were the bonus essays in the expanded edition. In particular, A Non-Euclidian View of California as a Cold Place to Be, which is about the nature of utopias, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, which explains why the novel is structured this way, Text, Silence, Performance, which compares the written word to the spoken word, Legends for a New Land, which is about world-building (and contains a short love letter of sorts to Tolkien), and Indian Uncles, which describes three Native American friends of her father's (who was an anthropologist) and the influence they had on her - and consequently on this book. The Chronology rounds this out nicely.

    I'll bring some of my many notes from the essays into the discussion - but not today as I don't have the energy after a long day of work. Maybe on the weekend. These helped inform my opinion of the rest, and I think I would actually have enjoyed the core Always Coming Home more had I read them first. Next time, I'll read in this order:
    1. Chronology
    2. Essays
    3. Always Coming Home
    4. skim the rest of the book for anything interesting.

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