The Birthday of the World is a collection of comparatively recent short stories, many of which still draw on Le Guin’s early work on the Hainish Cycle.

To be honest, I struggled with this collection. But that’s mostly because I find collections a little dull. What I really enjoy is tucking into a long story that reveals itself as you progress thru. Short stories need to have some coherent theme to make them really interesting to me.

The only theme I could glean from The Birthday of the World is a fairly usual Le Guin emphasis on exploring and/or experimenting with different types of social anthropology.

Le Guin seems to enjoy writing worlds in which ‘normal’ social and sexual behaviour is reversed or up-ended. So for example, in one world the birth rate of males is extremely low. Now if a man were to write the story it would end up something like a Lynx advertisement, with the bloke getting access to many and varied women. But, Le Guin is much more realistic about it. In her world men become commodities because of their scarcity, and are cloistered in large keeps for when they’re needed.

In another story, which strongly reminded me of Australian Aboriginal traditional societies, women live in small villages and the men live as hermits in a wide protective circle around the settlement. The men are their because they’ve survived initiation as boys in socially Darwinist camps.

I think that as full novels any of these stories could have been fascinating experiments of the type so beautifully written in The Dispossessed. But, it seems that Le Guin is these days only producing ideas, without the motivation to write the entire novel?

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