Top critical review
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Well-crafted, BUT does not compare to her earlier works.
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.