The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin is a part of her Hainish Cycle, a collection of science fiction stories that do not need to be read in any particular order (at least from what I’ve heard). I was pleasantly surprised since all I had read by Le Guin were the first three Earthsea books, and while I liked them well enough, I wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed by them. However, The Telling has definitely made me want to pick up more of the books in the Hainish Cycle.
Sutty is an Observer living on a world that wants so badly to be modern that they have banned the past. Owning and reading books, using certain expressions when speaking, and being different from what is acceptable will get people sent to reconditioning camps. Sutty is sent to a backwoods town to learn about the people there, who do keep the old ways through their idealistic religion known as The Telling. Knowledge is encouraged in this little society, where people tell stories and keep to the old ways.
The story is short but elegantly written and Le Guin manages to say more in 231 pages than many authors do in books 3 times the length. I was not sure if I would like something that short because I really like character-driven stories and that many pages is not normally enough to delve into the development of a character. This was not a character-driven story, but it was very thoughtfully done and gives a lot to think about on issues such as religion, understanding people outside of societal norms, capitalism, and throwing away knowledge.
It is also refreshing that Le Guin writes a more unique story than a lot of American authors writing in science fiction and fantasy today. The main character is an Asian female who was in a relationship with somebody of the same sex, and the cultures in the book have a strong Eastern influence. I had to keep reminding myself that Eastern religions were very different, because I had a very hard time at first seeing The Telling as an actual religion instead of just a communal way of life. It is supposed to be an ideal, but it is so far from what I’ve known as religion that I couldn’t see it as fitting into the definition of “religion” at first.
The Telling is a compelling and thought provoking book that is unique compared to a lot of what is out there. It was not an action packed story with excellent character development, but it was a book that I came away from feeling like it had given me a lot to think about.