Just finished the first of these, Rocannon's World, and enjoyed it a great deal. This is very early LeGuin, and her powers, while evident, are not yet fully developed here. It's rather interesting the number of different societies she sites on this single world, with multiple intelligent building and technology-using species. In many ways it's much more a typical or even formula science fiction story than her usual. But still you can hear her sparse poetic voice, her simple language that goes straight to the heart and spirit, and the power of her words. She was showing us then what she would become, a master writer, adept, wizard, mage. She has the sort of deep and simple wisdom that the earth has, or the water, just a pure and powerful presence that shines through behind and despite, even, the words. All her work comes highly recommended from me. I've started the second novel, Planet of Exile, already.
(Later) Planet of Exile is better than the first novel. It was a page turner. Not sure when this was originally published, but it must be an early work of hers because the language is the old sexist language that used to be standard until the 1970s or 80s. She uses "man" for "human" and so on. All the leaders of both societies shown are male. In many ways this is pre-gender-awakened UKL. She did have a great female viewpoint character who was very strong and definite in her choices and actions. I liked her a great deal. We can also see the beginnings of UKL's later moral complexity. Her characters are thoughtful but very much people of their time and place. However, the badguys aren't really shown at all. They aren't given any real humanity in the book, or not that any of her viewpoint characters are exposed to. They are rather like orcs, attacking in huge numbers and pretty easy to kill. This changes later in UKL's work, as pretty much all the characters are shown as real people, and even given sympathetic viewpoints which are nevertheless in conflict with the main characters. That is a hallmark of her later work, I think. In this one there's still a feeling of being more of a standard, normal work of science fiction. Her palpable sense of reality is starting to develop here, and her ability to show nuanced emotions and make us really feel them is still in nascent form. The love story in this one is nice, but not as organic and convincing as her love stories usually are. She's at the early stages, here, of learning how to say so much so powerfully without using words, as she does later.
Between the first and second novel in this book, I also reread the Annals of the Western Shore trilogy and loved it. UKL continues to develop as a writer, getting better and better with time. Now on to novel 3 in this book, which is called City of Illusions.
(later still) Just finished the last one, City of Illusions, and here she's getting to be a very good writer. I really couldn't put it down from the first to the end. Within the first page I already cared about the viewpoint character, and his family, the group with which he shared a home. By the way, these novels were written in the 1960s, so that explains the jarring sexism that runs through them, even though, obviously, written by a woman. The main characters are mostly male, the actors and do-ers, the ones we identify with. The women are strangely passive throughout, with a few notable exceptions. Hard to believe things can change so profoundly about our worldview in a few decades, and what an enormous relief it is to see how much better things have become in that time.
UKL's made up words have always sounded to me not at all made up. They're like Tolkien's words. They're part of the fabric of the world she's telling about, discovered and not invented. In this story, though, while there are many of the organic, realistic names and words, a few strike me as odd and made-up-sounding. There's also a false note of cheeziness introduced by the reference to the Tao Te Ching, all that far in the future long after the fall of any civilization we know. This brought to mind, hilariously, Captain Kirk reciting the preamble to the U.S. Constitution in the year 26 hundred whatever, apparently a cherished document of Federation history. UKL is a philosophical Taoist, of course, and it's rather sweet that she invokes its central text, but also somewhat of a false note to my ear. The more experienced UKL who wrote the Earthsea books never hit any notes that didn't ring completely clear to me. So it's rather neat to see her development.
Though I seem to be finding a lot to complain about here, that's deceptive. I loved this third novel, and on the basis of it I believe I'll raise my rating another star. The things that matter most she gets exactly right here. An uncanny ability to make me care about a character within the first couple of pages of the story, and a narrative that has depth, originality, variety, and great interest. Definitely recommended for fans of UKL, and for science fiction fans in general! This is a fascinating read.