Retro Book Review: Rocannon’s World (1966) by Ursula K. Le Guin

This summer I challenged myself to read Le Guin’s entire oeuvre, which, considering the immense reading list I imposed myself, is largely unlikely. But anyway I decided to start with her first novel and the first of her most popular series, the Hainish Cycle, from which the beloved The Left Hand of Darkness springs.

Rocannon’s World is a novella that brilliantly mixes fantasy and science fiction. The plot follows Rocannon, a ethnologist from the League of All World who lands on the small planet of Faraday to research more of the world’s relatively unknown cultures and cartography. However, when an unidentified enemy to the League blows up Rocannon’s ship–and his crew–he is condemned to stay on the planet indefinitely–unless he can communicate with the League, lightyears away. In order to do so, he sets on an adventure with local feudal lords to find the enemy and with them the ansible which will allow him to send an SOS message to his colleagues. Like all great fantasy adventures, Rocannon makes invaluable friends and finds many perilous obstacles to his quest. My personal favorite thing about Rocannon is that he spends half the story entirely naked, because he is wearing a high-tech invisible protective suit and his regular clothes have been burned on the pyre where barbarians have tried to kill him repeatedly, unsuccessfully, for sorcery.

The best aspect about the novella is that it is short and to the point. Rocannon’s objective is very simple, and the difficulties he encounters are laid out straight away as much of the land of Faraday is unmapped and therefore dangerous. Some reviewers on the Goodreads page have remarked that Le Guin is still developing her style with this first published piece, and I agree. The prologue to the novella is the short story “Semley’s Necklace” which made me roll my eyes several times just because it follows a very basic fairy-tale like premise. In the rest of the story I got attached to the characters and their quest, but I ultimately I was left dissatisfied with the narrative’s length (too short) and wanted to discover Faraday more.

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