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on 6 March 2004
The Telling is a science fiction novel, but with little resemblance to Star Trek or Star Wars. It is a standalone book, and can easily be read without any prior knowledge about the world it takes place in. Still, technically it belongs in the Hainish or Ekumen universe, which Le Guin has returned to a number of times during her long writing career.
Millions of years ago humankind created its first advanced technological society on the planet Hain. From there humans spread over the galaxy during an era of space travel and colonisation. Our own planet was one of many that was populated that way. Then something happened to the Hainish civilisation. Maybe there was an internal conflict, or maybe they just lost interest in their great experiment. In any case, the result was that all the worlds they had visited were left to their own devices, and as the aeons went by its peoples eventually forgot their origin.
Now we swiftly move into our future. The people of Hain have once again turned their eyes towards the stars, and started to seek their lost daughter worlds. As they find more and more of them, an interplanetary organisation, the Ekumen of All Worlds, is set up. Its purpose is not to conquer and control other civilisations, but to teach and learn. To teach all of their own knowledge the authorities of a planet wish to know, and to learn the history and specific nature of that culture.
The events in The Telling take place on Aka, a world with only one great continent. At first contact some seventy years ago it was in a pre-industrial state, but amazing technological progress has been made in that short time. The first Akan spacecraft has been built when the Ekumen finally are able to set up a permanent office. They soon discover that the Akans have set out on their march towards the stars with a disturbing single-mindedness. Everything in society is aiming at technological progress, leaving no room for other aspects of life. All is managed by the "Corporation State", a totalitarian government that has erased virtually all history dating back to the days before the technological revolution. Everywhere you go messages like "FORWARD TO THE FUTURE. PRODUCER-CONSUMERS OF AKA MARCH TO THE STARS" follow you.
The Observers from the Ekumen are of course interested in discovering what is behind the facade. What ideologies and beliefs did the Akans have before the Corporation took over? Is there anything of that culture left? Finding that information is complicated. Since the Ekumen has a "no interference" policy, they can't just use force to achieve their goal. After many denied requests they finally get permission to send an Observer away from the capital to explore the less developed parts of the world. An Earthwoman named Sutty is selected.
She comes from a similar, but at the same time totally different background. On Earth a religious sect called the Unists came very close to gaining absolute power of the whole planet when Sutty was young, forcing their old-fashioned, fundamentalist beliefs on everybody. In the end the tide turned and they were replaced by democratic governments, but she is still tormented by the personal losses she suffered as one of the enemies to the Unists.
The Telling is the story about her struggle to discover and understand the ancient culture that still exists on Aka behind the Corporation facade, and doing so, how she has to face and overcome her old personal demons. However, it also shows us how terribly wrong things can go if you try to replace knowledge with belief, no matter if it's sanctioned by religion or science. Le Guin has admitted that the cultural revolution in communist China was the model for the situation on Aka.
I absolutely adore this book. There is very little in the way of "action", but even so it is never boring. The characters are exceptionally well drawn, making you feel like you really know them in a way that is not very common in any book. It is written in typical Le Guin style - an expressive, even poetic prose that it is a joy to read. We are shown the horrors mankind can create when everything goes wrong, but also that it is never too late for reconciliation. It makes you think like few other books do.
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on 3 November 2000
This work follows Le Guin's storytelling tradition. In it she fuses many Eastern (she is a Taoist afterall) and Native American philosophical ideals and sharply contrasts this fusion with dogmatic religion and capitalism. I couldn't put this book down. I loved the internal conflict within Sutty. Watching her mind open after her horrible past experiences, brought me to tears. Yes, there are some interesting philosophical things happening in the story, but the compeling part is the human side: we feel Sutty's pain, and we want her to heal and grow. Tak ahoj! TS Fulk
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on 9 February 2002
I would desperately love to give this book a five-star rating, being a huge fan of Le Guin, but the kindest thing that can be said about it is that it is a competent writer's work. It's in vein with the other Hainish cycles - an Earth-born envoy named Sutty, representing the Ekumen, is sent to study a world that has ruthlessly erased its entire cultural history in an overnight technological revolution. Very clearly, the historical inspiration behind this idea is the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
The Sutty character does not inspire much empathy, though one symphatises when a crucial event in her past is revealed, rather more interesting is the local officer of Aka that spies on her every move. One immediately suspects that his frightening zeal in espousing the values of his 'new' society must have some underlying personal factor, and indeed it is his character that provides the book with a much-needed emotional connection. The 'telling' of title appears to be an allegory of the art of story-making, and this forms the philosophical backdrop which is present in all of Le Guin's works.
With any other new writer on the scene this would have been a fairly laudable, though not original effort, but coming from the genius of a writer who produced the rich, incredible human complexity of The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed and the Earthsea Quartet, I was disappointed. I was also reminded of another (very different) science-fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, who, compared to his early works, has written frankly terrible books in his old age. Le Guin has not reached this stage with The Telling yet, fortunately. She uses the insight of advanced years to good effect, but to enjoy this book it is necessary to be supported first with a healthy respect of Le Guin at her prime.
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on 3 October 2000
This book in my opinion is no match for "The dispossesed", but it is still an excellent book. The book is about search for truth by Ekumen envoy Sutty, who is Hindu and lesbian and has tragic past due to loss of partner in religious wars on earth. She is in the society where religion is supressed by corporation which negates all the old values and traditions. When she finally obtained permission to leave the big city, she has opportunity to meet people who practice and teach old "religion" (though its not really religion its just telling stories in which everyone can find his own interpretetaion and no interpretation is better than the others, maz just tell and don't explain the story). There is no happy end for everybody envolved, but this is as it should be.
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on 27 October 2002
LeGuin delves once more into her continuing theme(s) that she has dealt with so effectively in The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, of the forces and desires that strain between anarchistic communism which requires great effort on the part of each individual and rigid stratified societies that remove the need for personal decisions. This one is told from the viewpoint of a Terran observer on a newly opened for contact Hainish world, and much of the novel is strictly her observations and thoughts on these matters, with little action and a lot of philosophy. She draws clear parallels to the Chinese cultural revolution and to the forceful subjugation of Tibet, while taking some digs at the sometimes mindless material obsessions of capitalistic societies. Being told in first person, there is little apparent development of other characters besides the protagonist, and the dry, almost academic tone and spare language of the first three-quarters of the book can make for difficult going. Somehow, though, by the end of the book, I found myself totally engaged with her protagonist, with a clear picture of not only the society but also her secondary characters. The resolution requiring action on the part of her observer seemed very appropriate, the observer affecting the observed and vice versa., becoming caught in a web of personal responsibility until she can no longer be a just an observer. In some ways this one reminded me of Pangborn's Mirror for Observers.
This is not quite at the level of The Dispossessed, and it probably should have had a greater length to allow for better character development, but still a very good exposition, with more depth than one would expect in such a short work.
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on 27 July 2014
This is not LeGuin's greatest novel but it has many of the attributes of her best. It fills in some gaps in the universe of her earlier Science Fiction and is a good read. There are some loose ends in the story ; for example there is a flirtation with telekinesis which does not develop and a stronger editor might have discussed this prior to publication. There is a Buddhist element to the world philosophy which is very attractive. If you like LeGuin's work you will want to read this but it is not the book that I would recommend as a starter for a new reader.
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on 15 May 2015
Gentle exploration of what it may mean to be an alien attempting to understand and navigate a similar but different culture. Enough mystery still left at the end that this is not a facile explanation of another culture. She is a master story -teller.
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on 10 January 2016
Le Guin at (almost) her best.

Not quite up there with her great works, but even at her not so best, Le Guin is still streets ahead of most writers (excluding the Earthsea novels!)and this is an essential part of her Hainish series.
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on 14 August 2015
Worth reading Le Guin is one of the great writers. Sociology students to note.
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on 4 March 2015
Ursula Le Guin is a remarkable author- and The Telling is one her best.
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