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The Telling (2000)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Hainish Cycle, Chronological (8), Hainish Cycle (8)

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1,798467,263 (3.83)64
There have been eighty requests to send an Observer into the hinterlands of the planet Aka to study the natives. Much to everyone¿s surprise, the eighty-first request is granted, and Observer Sutty is sent upriver to Okzat-Ozkat, a small city in the foothills of Rangma, to talk to the remnants in hiding of a cult practising a banned religion. On Aka, everything that was written in the old scripts has been destroyed; modern aural literature is all written to Corporation specifications. The Corporation expects Sutty to report back so the non-standardised folk stories and songs can be wiped out and the people ¿re-educated¿. But Sutty herself is in for an education she never imagined.… (more)
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» See also 64 mentions

English (43)  Swedish (1)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
[The Telling] is an exploration of cultural legacies and the violence of extremism and by extension colonialism. The first page paints a word picture of Sutty's childhood memories of living in her aunt and uncle's village in India then transitions on the next page to Sutty's youth in North America, reunited with her parents while the entire world is increasingly under the totalitarian control of the religious government of the Unists and its attacks on centers of learning and accumulated human knowledge and culture (Library of Congress, for example). This story is set in the Hainish universe, and Sutty flees the violence of Earth (Terra) to become a human Observer sent to the newly discovered planet Aka.

The first Hainish Observers happened to be Terran, and their reports were sent to Earth instead Hain. Those initial reports were largely lost due to Unist sabotage of the ansible communication system, so that only the language report survived for Sutty to study in transit to her first Observer post. She is dismayed to find that she had left a planet and its societies being destroyed by religious fundamentalists to arrive at a planet that is under the totalitarian control of a corporate government destroying its societies in the name of anti-religious accelerated capitalism and industrialization in a "march to the stars" spurred by the transmission from Earth of all its technical knowledge. The literature and ideograms that Sutty had studied had been outlawed and destroyed as relics of a primitive past.

Sutty is convinced that she is failing in her role because she is unable to be neutral, to be nonjudgmental of what's happening on Aka. As she put it, "maybe a Terran was a bad choice. Given that we on Terra are living the future of a people who denied the past...I trained as a linguist and in literature. Aka has one language left and no literature. I wanted to be a historian. How can I, on a world that's destroyed its history?"

Fifty years after first contact, Aka restricted offworld presence to four people who must stay in the main city. But then Sutty is given permission to travel up into the hills into a small village far from the city. Will she find relics of the suppressed indigenous culture and history and knowledge?

Well, it wouldn't be much of a story if she didn't. Sutty settles into that distant village and begins learning the forbidden culture that can't be completely erased from hearts and minds and walls and more. The events of this story seem very reminiscent of China's Cultural Revolution, and the indigenous culture seems very much modeled on Taoism and associated traditional Chinese medicine, qigong, cuisine, calligraphy, etc.

Sutty cannot flee her past, her own trauma and loss and grief. As she journeys first into the hills and later to the mountains she is shadowed by the Corporate Monitor, and eventually their journeys and their stories become intertwined. And the secret behind the rise of the Corporate State and the destruction of Akan religion and culture is revealed. Terra and Aka are dark reflections of the same human impulses of domination and resistance and the all too human cost of state violence and what it takes to survive. ( )
  justchris | Jun 18, 2021 |
I remember enjoying this, but skimming through now I can't remember anything about it, so I'm shelving it as a re-read. This is a late (2000) entry in the Hainish series of LeGuin's sci-fi. ( )
  wickenden | Mar 8, 2021 |
So, I liked it. The main problem I felt it suffered from was that it was more of a political treatise than a novel, about how being militantly anti-religion is just as crappy as being militantly religious. I suppose.

There's not really a LOT of conflict – there is some – and the novel all wraps up far too neatly, I feel. Mostly there are lots of spiritual stories. But I don't know, it intrigued me. I feel like with a rewrite, and some more conflict (for instance, the novel is set in a totalitarian state with menacing secret police (well they weren't very secret I guess, but certainly menacing), and maybe they could actually have done something to justify that reputation!), this could have been better. ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
And yet again, *Ursula K. Le Guin* makes me happy. In **The Telling** she explores a society changing following first contact with a wider galactical (pan-human) civilisation. Part of her *Hainish Cycle*, we see a world desparate to catch up with other civilisation in the galaxy, and to this end abandons all of its culture in favor of a burocracy, ruthlessly suppression its previous religion for its culturally dangerous superstition and conservative love for the past. It's clear from the get-go that this isn't a good thing, but through the eyes of our protagonist, who escaped an Earth dominated by religious fanatics, the story explains the motivations of all parties concerned, and humanises this decision (all the while building on glimpses into the previous/repressed culture).

As always with Ursula K. Le Guin, this book felt very philosophical and deep, while never arrogantly hiding its message (as some authors are wont to do – really, we get it, you're being clever), but also never forgetting about practical reality. This combination works really well for me: Practicalities without arc or meaning are boring (slice-of-life gets old fast, for me), but philosophy without being firmly grounded in life just feels weird (Dune, looking at you!). ( )
  _rixx_ | May 24, 2020 |
As per usual, LeGuin's writing is magnificent and absorbing; every page is a joy to read, lyrical. I love her account of this society. But as a plot and a story, it doesn't really hold together.
  dreamweaversunited | Apr 30, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Le Guin, Ursula K.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stone, SteveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winter, BiggyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zackman, GabraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The day I was born I made my first mistake,

and by that path
have I sought wisdom ever since.

The Mahabharata
Dedication
First words
When Sutty went back to Earth in the daytime, it was always to the village. At night, it was the Pale.
Quotations
These people are not picturesque relics of a time gone by. They are not harmless. They are vicious. They are the dregs of a deadly poison--the drug that stupefied my people for ten thousand years.
On Aka, god is a word without referent. No capital letters. No creator, only creation. No eternal father to reward and punish, justify injustice, ordain cruelty, offer salvation. Eternity is not an endpoint but a continuity. Primal division of being into material and spiritual only as two-as-one, or one in two aspects. No hierarchy of Nature and Supernatural. No binary Dark/Light, Evil/Good, or Body/Soul. No afterlife, no rebirth, no immortal disembodied or reincarnated soul. No heavens, no hells.
The people she had lived with this year honored self-restraint but did not admire self-deprivation. They had no strenuous notions of fasting, and saw no virtue whatever in discomfort, hunger, poverty.
Belief is the wound that knowledge heals.
Animals have no language. They have their nature...But we're animals with no nature...We have to talk about how to go and what to do, think about it, study it, learn it. Eh? We're born to be reasonable, so we're born ignorant. You see? If nobody teaches us the words, the thoughts, we stay ignorant... The rest of the world knows its business. Knows the One and the Myriad, the Tree and the Leaves. But all we know is how to learn. How to study, how to listen, how to talk, how to tell. If we don't tell the world, we don't know the world. We're lost in it, we die. But we have to tell it right, tell it truly. Eh? (pp 134-5)
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There have been eighty requests to send an Observer into the hinterlands of the planet Aka to study the natives. Much to everyone¿s surprise, the eighty-first request is granted, and Observer Sutty is sent upriver to Okzat-Ozkat, a small city in the foothills of Rangma, to talk to the remnants in hiding of a cult practising a banned religion. On Aka, everything that was written in the old scripts has been destroyed; modern aural literature is all written to Corporation specifications. The Corporation expects Sutty to report back so the non-standardised folk stories and songs can be wiped out and the people ¿re-educated¿. But Sutty herself is in for an education she never imagined.

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