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Books reviewed in this month's LOCUS MAGAZINE


Book Selections for September 2000

The Telling, Ursula K. Le Guin
(Harcourt 0-15-100567-2, $24, 264pp, hc, September 2000, jacket design Vaughn Andrews)

The Sky Road, Ken MacLeod
(Tor 0-312-87335-2, $24.95, 291pp, hc, August 2000, cover art by Mark Salwowski)

Le Guin's first in 10 years (since the Nebula Award-winning Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea) is the latest in the Hainish series that includes classics The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.

Gary K. Wolfe writes in the September Locus:

At first it sounds pretty familiar: an Ursula K. Le Guin novel in which an earth-born observer for the Ekumen -- Le Guinís longstanding version of a rational galactic community -- visits a remote planet on assignment, gets involved in the oppressive local politics of the capital city, travels to another city whose culture is quite distinct from that of the first, undertakes a hazardous winter journey, gains a new understanding of a bureaucrat who was once an enemy, and all the while takes astute anthropological notes that serve to remind the reader of the ideological parallels between these societies and key aspects of our own. But despite some superficial similarities and a common grounding in Taoist beliefs, The Telling is not a rehash of The Left Hand of Darkness. Nor is it a return visit to The Dispossessed, although the two main societies depicted in the book -- a fundamentalist dystopia on Earth and an equally censorious, vaguely Maoist, ĎĎscientificíí regime on the planet Aka -- reflect each other and our own world in ways distinctly reminiscent of that other classic. ... The Telling finally devolves around the theme that has most passionately engaged Le Guinís fiction and nonfiction for the last two or three decades: the ways in which our stories, and the act of making them, build and sustain our social and moral worlds.

Still, Wolfe admits it is not perhaps a passionate novel:

As always, Le Guin is wise, judicious, elegant, and The Telling is in many ways the mature expression of what nearly all her fiction has tended toward. But for all the wisdom and elegance, for all the stateliness of the novelís progress up the mountain, one longs at times for a bit more... Le Guin is a peerless maker of tales, but in large part they are visitorsí tales, observersí tales, with the sometimes cool distance that this implies.

Faren Miller's review in the August 2000 Locus is less equivocal:

On the individual level of memories, hopes, sorrows, The Telling is a powerfully moving book. It also works in a much broader perspective, offering insights into the many facets of religion, for both good and evil, that are thoroughly relevant to our own times. This is humanist SF at its best, Le Guin in top form.


About Ken MacLeod's new novel The Sky Road (first published in the UK by Orbit, June 1999) Russell Letson, in the October 2000 issue of Locus Magazine, writes
Ken MacLeod may be the only writer whose series books I read less to find out what happens next than to see how he is going to develop his complex, irony-soaked arguments about human nature, socio-politico-economic systems, and the shape of history. Not that the stories themselves arenít worth following - half of the fun is watching the evolution of his complex future history, which spans centuries and light-years, often within the confines of a single book. The other half is the traditional science fictional amusement of mix-and-matching imaginary technologies and turning them loose on the world to see what transformations they can work. But that third half - thatís what makes MacLeod so strange and wonderful. After all, where else are you going to find SF of Analogian hardness welded onto Marxo-anarcho- libertarian politics?

The Sky Road is MacLeod's fourth novel, set in the same future history that includes earlier novels The Star Fraction (1995), The Stone Canal (1996), and The Cassini Division (1998). The new novel

shares with Canal the alternate-chapter, dual-plot structure that gradually reveals how past events have affected the present action. The setting for narrator Clovis colha Greeís story is Scotland sometime between the 2093 space exodus of Canal and the near-utopian Solar Union of Cassini. Clovis, a university history student, is working a summer construction job of historical dimensions: building the launch facility for the first orbital vehicle to go up since the collapse-of-civilization called the Deliverance, centuries earlier. Clovis is sought out by Merrial, a young tinker (clannish, wandering engineers specializing in computational devices) who both seduces and recruits him for a secret project: to use his access to historical records to establish whether there is a threat to the success of the spacecraft.


MacLeodís project is one of the most intellectually ambitious -- and compulsively readable -- in recent SF. Nor is the first-rate storytelling just sugar-coating on the pill; the stories and the characters that inhabit them give the play of ideas a subtlety that bare argument canít match. The flag of anarchy may be blank, but there is clearly at least one more chapter to be written in this series, and I can hardly wait to put the whole thing together and enjoy watching the machinery spin.

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