THE TELLING (Hainish Cycle Book 8)
Ursula K. LeGuin
Harcourt Brace / 264 pages / September 2000
What is the strength of a word? What is the weakness of censorship? Can a message, a way of life, a people ever be truly wiped away? In Le Guin’s new novel, she puts the reader in the middle of this struggle and allows the truth to unveil itself. For those caught up in the journey it is a revelation; one that will play through the mind again and again.
Bear in mind though, that this is the very best of social science fiction. There are no slick spacecraft, no impressive explosions, no cyborgs — the fear and wonder here is in the actions of governments and the resilience of individuals. If you are looking for space opera, you’re looking in the wrong place and you’re missing the real excitement.
In this latest volume of the Hainist Cycle, an observer for the Ekumen has come to Aka to do just that — observe, but don’t touch. Sutty believes she can do this without becoming involved, without breaking the rules of this corporate-controlled planet. Business is the religion on Aka, no less a theocracy than the Earth she has gratefully escaped. She grew up under the heavy oppression of a prejudiced, vicious government; at least, this new planet could not be as awful as the one-religion of her home planet. Could it?
Sutty’s voyage truly begins when she is mystifyingly permitted the unheard-of privilege of leaving the city for the villages of the countryside. It is here that her education lies. And, it is here that the heart of The Telling opens to readers. From this point on, things will never be the same.
What she finds in the villages is the true nature of the people of Aka, the Aka that the corporate state sought to suffocate. Here is the language that was meant to be lost forever. The villagers and their daily lives are an irresistible enigma. Sutty seeks to unravel the secrets, using every facet of her intellectual arsenal, but that is not how she will find the answers to her questions.
The Telling is a magnificently unveiled lesson that is vital to all of us. Not everything can be learned through the study and examination, sometimes you just have to grasp a thread of the truth and not be distressed if that fragment slips away for a time. Not everything needs to be understood; sometimes it just is.
The strongest lesson that readers will absorb from Le Guin’s masterpiece is the hardest one to accept. The danger is not in different beliefs or in the people who seem so foreign to us. The peril is when any one of us believes that they hold the only truth. Try to realise the harm we cause when we “see” the way and attempt to make it the only way.
Le Guin knows the danger of imposing “our” truth on everyone around us. It just might take us longer to recognise the threat, but we can. We can if we try.