Rocannon’s World

Le Guin, Ursula, K: Rocannon’s World

On the surface, the story of this novel is straightforward: Rocannon, a sort of interstellar anthropologist from the League of All Worlds who is studying the people of a non-space faring planet, is trapped on the planet when his spaceship is destroyed by an enemy of the League. He has adventures while traveling the planet trying to find and defeat this enemy.

It’s the world-building that makes the story compelling, the world-building and the food for thought provided by the concepts touched upon but not spelled out. There are the tantalizing hints about the War that the League is involved in of which nothing much is revealed. There are questions about the relationship of legend and truth and how one culture’s legend may be another culture’s history – the journey of the character Semley that seems legendary to her culture is a misunderstanding of the technology of the League worlds. There are glimpses of a unique evolution of the various intelligent beings on the planet, some of which have a kind of symbiotic or parasitic relationship. There are quotes from scientific handbooks that point to a larger context. The dangers of interfering in the normal evolution of less technologically advanced peoples are hinted at (reminiscent of Star Trek’s Prime Directive) although the League doesn’t seem to have too many scruples about that. There’s the irony that the League can send faster than light bombs to other worlds, but rescue missions take years to arrive. There’s the idea that telepathy can be induced but that it’s a gift with a serious negative side (who wants to hear the thoughts of beings for whose annihilation one will be responsible?). There are hints of destiny and foreknowledge. There are strange beings whose actions are unclear and not explained: all hinting at a rich larger universe in which this story plays out.

It left me wanting more. Good, because I’ve planned a binge of LeGuin’s work anyway. I’m mostly familiar with her Earthsea series, but it’s been a long time since I read any of her work. I prefer science fiction that includes the “soft” sciences as well as the “hard” sciences and that focuses on characters not (only) on hardware, so I found Rocannon’s World appealing. I look forward the rest of the Hainish Cycle.


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