Book Review: The Birthday of the World

thebirthdayoftheworldRead for: I’m in the middle of a Le Guin marathon

Rating: 4.5/5

In the FemSciFiFans group we were reading The Left Hand of Darkness in May, and it came up in the discussion that Le Guin has written a number of short stories that fall under the Hainish umbrella. One of those stories, Coming of Age in Karhide, is featured in the collection The Birthday of the World (published 2003). I picked up the collection initially for the Karhide story, but there are so many amazing stories in this book that I devoured them all. Nearly all of them contained strong discussion of gender and sexuality which I really enjoyed and highly recommend to others looking for science fiction stories revolving around this type of theme.

These were my favourites:

Coming of Age in Karhide (1995) – This story takes place on the Gethen planet from the Left Hand of Darkness, and follows a young Karhidian as they go into their first “kemmer” (if you have read Left Hand, then you know this is a period for mating where the normally gender neutral citizens transform into a male/female gender in order to mate. The gender they transform into depends on the gender of their partner. Once the kemmer period is complete they go back to their gender neutral state). This story was very graphically sexual (in fact many in this collection were in one way or another) but the writing was really beautiful.

Mountain Ways (1996) – Two women on the planet O have fallen in love but can not find partners to form a proper sedoretu. A sedoretu is a complicated and interesting system of marriage Le Guin has created where 2 men and 2 women form a poly-relationship; the Morning woman and the Evening man form the “Morning marriage”. The Evening woman and the Morning man form the “Evening marriage”. The Morning woman and the Evening woman form the “Day marriage”. The Morning man and the Evening man form the “Night marriage”. The forbidden relationships are between the Morning woman and the Morning man, and between the Evening woman and the Evening man, and they aren’t called anything, except sacrilege. It’s very confusing, but makes sense eventually. In Mountain Ways the two women fail to find an Evening Man and Morning Man to join them, and decide that one of them will disguise herself as a man so they can be married. This is a complex story that is written very beautifully. Unchosen Love (1996), also included in TBOTW, involves a sedoretu on planet O as well.

Check out the wikipedia page here for short summaries of all the stories. In the end I really liked all of them, this is a fantastic collection!

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