Tag Archives: classics

Ursula K. Le Guin (Re)read: Semley’s Necklace

First, a quick note to say that I have the beginning of a new serial story up at Turtleduck Press. It’s called Coat of Scarlet, and it’s a gay steampunk romance. With pirates, because I can.

Anyway, welcome to the second installment in the Ursula K. Le Guin (Re)read! (If you missed the first installment, it’s here: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.) Today we’re talking about the short story “Semley’s Necklace.”

“Semley’s Necklace” was first published in 1964 under the title “Dowry of the Angyar”, and then reappeared as the prologue in Le Guin’s 1966 novel Rocannon’s World. In the collection of her early stories, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, she writes that “Semley’s Necklace” was the “germ of a novel” that became Rocannon’s World, the first in her loosely connected Hainish cycle.

Rocannon himself appears only briefly, in a sort of frame story that places “Semley’s Necklace” in perspective. He is a scientist in the galaxy-spanning League of All Worlds (later called the Ekumen), which forms the backdrop of most of the Hainish novels and stories. Against this backdrop, Le Guin is free to tell whatever stories she likes, each set on a different planet, starring different characters, at a different point in history — which is why the Hainish cycle is not called a series. These days we might call it a ‘verse (at least those of us who are fans of Firefly, or of my fellow Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge).

The protagonist of “Semley’s Necklace”, the Lady Semley, has only the dimmest concept of all this. From her perspective, she might as well be in a fantasy story populated with hobbits (the Fiia) and dwarves (Gdemiar/Clayfolk). Not only does she not understand technology or spaceflight, she’s not interested in understanding. The story implies that this is more a trait of her people, the Angyar, than a personal failing of Semley’s. Or is it? What do you think?

Either way, the story presents an interesting contrast in perspectives. Semley is scornful of the funny-looking Gdemiar, but according to the documentation that Rocannon has access to, the Gdemiar are considered the most advanced race on the planet. They have a curiosity and cleverness that the Angyar and Fiia simply don’t. There’s also a throwaway line about how the Gdemiar are probably no longer capable of making beautiful things like the necklace of the title, since they’ve been guided into industrial production (no Star Trek-style Prime Directive here!).

[SPOILERS…]

The core of the story, Semley’s quest to find a lost heirloom necklace, is a Greek-style tragedy about the danger of pride – a character going on a quest she doesn’t fully understand (and doesn’t try to understand), attaining her goal, but losing the reason for it in the end. It makes spaceflight sound like a visit to Faerie, with all the tricksy agreements and bittersweet results one might expect from such a visit.

[END SPOILERS]

Le Guin writes in The Wind’s Twelve Quarters that this is the most “romantic” of her stories; later on she moves more into psychology, losing the fairy-tale feel. She’s not doing anything with gender yet, and the writing isn’t as controlled or sophisticated as her later works. But even in this early story, one can already see her interest in ethnology, in differing worldviews, in the collision of low-technology and high-technology cultures that keeps recurring throughout the Hainish tales. And I found “Semley’s Necklace” to be more emotionally affective than I expected, given how early it is in her oeuvre.

If you have thoughts about “Semley’s Necklace”, please share! I’d love to chat.

Next up: the rest of Rocannon’s World, in which Rocannon is stranded on Semley’s planet and must embark on a quest of his own. Come back the week of May 21 and we’ll discuss!

 

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Announcing: The SF&F Genre Classics (Re)read

Heya, blog readers! Just a quick post today, to tell you about a new blog series I have planned…

As an author trying to keep informed about the market, and a reader excited about new books, I tend to read a lot of recent-ish publications. For example, in 2017, all but 4 of the books I read were published sometime in the last 15 years.

But every once in a while, I like to go back and read a classic — either something I read long ago, or a work I never got around to reading. This often means science fiction and fantasy classics. I also read classics that aren’t part of these genres, but for the purposes of this blog series, I’m focusing on SF&F.

As a former English major, I firmly believe that it’s important to go back and revisit the classics — to understand where one’s genre came from, to trace its development, to understand the basis for the conversation that is happening among the works in the genre. (I didn’t come up with the idea that a genre is a conversation, but I can’t find the correct attribution. If you know it, please chime in.)

Reading something old can be a little disorienting — it might feel trite until you realize that, no, actually, this book was the first to present the idea, or to put two things together this way. All those other books you’ve already read on the same topic? They were riffing off this one — expanding its central idea, complicating it, interrogating it. Here is where it came from. (For example, YA dystopians look a little less fresh if you’ve already read ’80s author William Sleator, and of course Bradbury, Atwood, Orwell, and Huxley.)

I plan to focus on authors who are dead, but I may also dip into very well-known, older works by living authors — works that have attained the status of classics.

To recap: this will be an occasional blog series in which I read (or reread) an SF or fantasy classic and then talk about it here. One work per post. Books, short stories, even films…I’d love for you to join me.

First on my list are works by Le Guin, Tolkien, and Octavia Butler. If there are any other authors you’d love to talk about, drop them in the comments below!

If you liked this post, you might enjoy: Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics

 

Book Nostalgia: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

In this week’s installment of our Nostalgia series, I’m tackling a book whose very language has inscribed itself in my heart and mind.Anne of Green Gables cover

A child of about eleven, garbed in a very short, very tight, very ugly dress of yellowish gray wincey. She wore a faded brown sailor hat and beneath the hat, extending down her back, were two braids of very thick, decidedly red hair. Her face was small, white and thin, also much freckled; her mouth was large and so were her eyes, that looked green in some lights and moods and gray in others.

Yes, it’s L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. If you love this book as I do — or even if you don’t — come on in and let’s talk about it…

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