Planets of the Hainish Cycle
Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle takes place in a science fiction universe that contains a number of planets, some of which have been explored and made part of an interplanetary group called the Ekumen; others are continuously explored by the Ekumen over a time frame spanning centuries. Le Guin has used approximately a dozen planets as primary settings for her novels; as such they have detailed physical and cultural aspects. Le Guin reveals in The Left Hand of Darkness that there are 83 planets in the Ekumen, with Gethen a candidate for becoming the 84th.
Aka is a monoethnic world that recently underwent an aggressive revolutionary change in technological status, during which almost all of the traditional culture was suppressed or rejected. Aka is governed by a despotic state which mandates a form of scientific theism and aims to turn its citizens into ideal "producer-consumers", with the ultimate goal of attaining advanced spaceflight capabilities. Aka is the setting of most of The Telling.
Athshe is a forest planet (whose name means "forest"), also known as 'World 41' and called "New Tahiti" by Terrans. Athshe is peopled by a small, furred (but in fact fully human) group of HILFs (high-intelligence life forms.) It was exploited for its timber resources before a native revolt expelled the Terrans, as described in The Word for World is Forest.
Athshe's plants and animals are similar to those of Earth, placed there by the Hainish people in their first wave of colonisation that also settled Earth. The Cetian visitor also states categorically that the native humans "came from the same, original, Hainish stock". It is not explained why they are green-furred and only one metre tall. Their sleeping cycles are also very different from the Hainish norm. There are two likely explanations. One possibility is that the original settlers were genetically modified by the Hainish. On the other hand, enough time has passed since the original settlement for the locals to have naturally evolved in response to their environment.
Eleven-Soro is a world that had a high technology and then a massive crash. A strange introverted new culture has emerged, with women living alone and unwilling to talk to visitors. The post-collapse culture is described in the short story "Solitude" which appeared in The Birthday of the World. Its people are of Hainish descent and briefly had the maximum population density of any known planet, with
- The greatest cities ever built on any world, covering two of the continents entirely, with small areas set aside for farming; there had been 120 billion people living in the cities, while the animals and the sea and the air and the dirt died, until the people began dying too.
Faraday has a prominent place in Rocannon's World; it is a young planet which embarks on a career of interstellar war and conquest and constructs a secret base on the backward world where the book takes place, from which destructive ships could be launched to numerous targets while the League spends its force on subduing their home world. The planet being named for a famous Earth physicist evidently indicates that it was originally discovered and named by Terrans, who introduced its inhabitants to interstellar civilization (the Faradayans are specifically mentioned as having learned chess-playing from Terrans). Faraday seems loosely modeled on Imperial Japan - i.e., a relative late-comer to an existing civilization, which quickly takes up new technologies, builds up aggressive armed forces in order to carve out a bigger place for itself in that established civilization, oppresses weaker cultures and peoples which it encounters, and makes use of fanatic pilots ready to embark on suicide missions. The act of Rocannon at the end of the book results in the destruction of their secret base; Faraday's aggressive designs are evidently checked (or destroyed, as it is mentioned in Rocannon's World that the League is attacking the planet itself), and the planet is not heard of again in later books.
Ganam / Tadkla
Ganam is a very diverse world with some high technology. The inhabitants, or one group of them, are called the Gaman. Ancient Hainish records refer to it as 'G-14-214-yomo' and also Tadkla. The tale of the first two Ekumen visits is told in the short story "Dancing to Ganam" which appeared in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. It is described as one of the outermost seedings of the Hainish Expansion, and lost from the human community for five hundred millennia.
Gethen is a very cold, glacier-covered planet also known as "Winter". It is inhabited by androgynous intelligent humanoids, surmised in The Left Hand of Darkness to be descended from genetically engineered Hainish settlers. Other than The Left Hand of Darkness, Gethen also appears in the short stories "Winter's King" and "Coming of Age in Karhide".
Hain is the Prime World in the Hainish Cycle and is also known as Davenant and Hain-Davenant. It is the oldest culture in both the League of Worlds and later the Ekumen and is about 140 Light Years from Terra/Earth. Observers like Genly Ai in The Left Hand of Darkness are trained on Hain.
Hain is supposedly the ultimate source of most intelligent life in the planets of the Ekumen. Its people cannot conceive children or father them without a conscious decision to do so. It once had a high-technology culture, and also seeded humans or humanoids on various planets, including Earth and other worlds now in the Ekumen. The history of the people of Hain goes back three million years.
From the older high-tech culture there was a crash and a re-building on a wiser basis. Evidence of the former high-tech life is all around, along with proof of the current indifference to it:
Stse is an almost-island, separated from the mainland of the great south continent by marshes and tidal bogs, where millions of wading birds gather to mate and nest. Ruins of an enormous bridge are visible on the landward side, and another half-sunk fragment of ruin is the basis of the town's boat pier and breakwater. Vast works of other ages encumber all Hain, and are no more and no less venerable or interesting to the Hainish than the rest of the landscape.
Three of the short stories in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea include details of life on Hain. More is seen in the first half of A Man of the People in Four Ways to Forgiveness. Havzhiva is a man who grows up on Hain, though he ends up working for the Hainish embassy on Yeowe. We see the ruins of past technology and learn of the highly localised social order that exists on some parts of the planet.
New South Georgia
New South Georgia is the location of the League HILF Survey Base for Galactic Area 8, in Rocannon's World. Its chief city is Kerguelen.
Outside of the fictional realm of the Hainish cycle, the Kerguelen Islands are in the Southern Indian Ocean, the New Georgia Islands are in the South Pacific Ocean and the Antarctic territory South Georgia serves as the base of the British Antarctic Survey. With this in mind, we may imagine that New South Georgia, like Gethen, is a wintry Ice Age world.
O is a planet four light years from Hain, described in the title-story of the collection A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. Its people are known as ki'O and it is notable for its unusual four-person "sedoretu" marriage system (a set combination of both genders and sexual orientations). Two more tales about this world and its customs are found in the collection The Birthday of the World.
O shares its name with the island of O in Le Guin's Earthsea stories.
Rokanan is the second planet of the star Fomalhaut, peopled by at least three high-intelligence life forms. It is the setting of the novel Rocannon's World. The planet is described as Fomalhaut II during its exploration. Some references list it as Rocannon's World, but Le Guin's books refers to it as 'Rokanan', which is Rocannon's name among the native Gdemiar.
Seggri is a planet noted for its extreme gender segregation, and for having sixteen adult women for every adult man. Its history is told in a novelette, "The Matter of Seggri" which appears in The Birthday of the World. The people are of Hainish descent. A Hainish visitor believes that the imbalance of the sexes is another ancient genetic experiment of her remote ancestors.
- My ancestors must have really had fun playing with these people's chromosomes. I feel guilty, even if it was a million years ago.
Terra is the Earth, the third planet of our solar system. Terrans are descendents of colonists from Hain. The Hainish placed fossils and other artifacts on Terra as an experiment to trick the settlers into believing that human life had evolved on Terra. At some unspecified date, Terrans join the League of All Worlds, which includes the Cetians and other peoples of Hainish descent.
In The Left Hand of Darkness, it is said that 'Hainish Normal' people were placed among Terra's own proto-hominid autochthones by the ancient Hainish 'Colonizers'. After that initial contact with Hainish civilization Terra experiences two more cycles of isolation followed by the restoration of extraterrestrial contact and community with other worlds.
The second period of contact with the interstellar Hainish community is the background for The Word for World is Forest, in which people from Terra appear as aggressive settlers of other planets, The Dispossessed, and Rocannon's World. In The Dispossessed, Terra's population is described as having collapsed from around 9 billion to only half a billion people. Some time later, City of Illusions provides a detailed description of Terra in the depths of a third era of isolation.
A post-apocalyptic Earth is seen in City of Illusions as the story takes place across a large landmass, perhaps North America, which shows signs of an advanced, abandoned civilization under a rewilded landscape. A small number of humans live in tiny, isolated settlements where they retain some technologies from the past but are completely cut off from any communication with neighboring regions or with other worlds; there is only one city with high technology and energy-intensive construction. The events of City of Illusions lead up to the third period of Terran contact with other worlds, during which The Left Hand of Darkness takes place.
Various individuals from Terra play a part in other stories. In The Telling, Terra's incorporation into the Ekumen is briefly explained. Also, the main character in The Left Hand of Darkness is from Terra.
Urras and Anarres
Urras and Anarres form a double planet system (the people of each regard the other as their moon) in orbit around the star Tau Ceti. The Cetians who inhabit both worlds are a very hairy humanoid race which is scientifically advanced.
Urras is divided into many countries with a variety of political systems; Anarres is peopled by the Odonians, an anarchist group in voluntary exile from Urras. The action of The Dispossessed takes place on Urras and Anarres. Urras is also the setting of the short story "The Day Before the Revolution" which appears in the short-story collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters.
Being the larger body of a double planet system, Urras is covered by oceans and continents. The oceans are simply named Tiuve Sea, Insel Sea, North Sea and Great South Sea. Besides a couple of smaller islands, Urras' landmass is split in two big continents.
On one of the two continents, the nation-states of A-Io and Thu are located, both portrayed as developed industrial societies. A-Io is evidently a capitalist parliamentary republic, whereas Thu is described as a totalitarian socialist state - allegories of the United States of America and the Soviet Union.
On the second large continent, unstable Benbili is found whose society is economically underdeveloped. In The Dispossessed, A-Io and Thu fight a proxy war in Benbili, both claiming to be restoring stability, an allegory of the Vietnam War.
Urras is the original world of the Cetians. An anarchist group called Odonians, separating from its propertarian society, have settled Anarres, but still have an influence on the various nations of Urras, as is told in The Dispossessed.
A map of Urras is shown here
The nation of A-Io is the only nation on Urras described in extensive detail. It is located on a large peninsula in the Eastern hemisphere of the planet, between the North Sea and the Tiuve Sea. It shares the entirety of its land border with the rival nation of Thu; together, these two nations occupy nearly half of the Eastern continent.
A-Io is described in The Dispossessed as being extremely verdant, amply forested and agriculturally fertile (in contrast with Anarres) with a small mountain range in the north and several hilly regions. It is described by the Terran ambassador Keng as being the closest imaginable approximation to paradise. The native fauna of A-Io include otters (which are commonly kept as pets), horses and sheep.
The history of the nation is not extensively described. It is indicated that the nation was once a monarchy, but by the lifetime of Odo (approximately 200 years before the events of The Dispossessed), Ioti culture is presented as being grossly hedonistic, obsessed with the conspicuous display of wealth and preserving distinct and dramatic class imbalances between the property-owners and the common people (called Nioti). On Shevek's home planet of Anarres, children are typically informed about the excesses of Ioti culture to provide a distinction and justification for the austerity of Anarresti culture. Although Shevek and his classmates question the accuracy of such instructionals (as it is unclear whether the images of poverty and excess are modern or date back to before the settlement of Anarres), his own curiosity about the reality of life in cities like Nio Esseia exposes him to similar excesses and glimpses of economic inequality.
Three cities of Urras are described in detail:
- Nio Esseia is described as being a city of five million people, and is the capital of A-Io. It is described as having many impressive skyscrapers, lavish structures and squares and frenetic shopping avenues that run for miles. It has a metropolitan train and subway system, and its Central Station is described as having a dome of ivory and azure that is "the largest dome ever raised on any world by the hand of man". Later in The Dispossessed, Shevek discovers the poorer and more decrepit regions of the city, in which there is a clandestine insurrection movement. It is built on an estuary marsh.
- Ieu Eun is the location of the eponymous University within which Shevek is provided with a teaching position and an apartment to work on his General Temporal Theory. There are many research laboratories in the city, including a Light Research Laboratory. It is located in on the edge of a valley, which is described as being thoroughly agrarian.
- Rodarred is the former capital of the Avan province, and is the current seat of the Council of World Governments on Urras. It is therefore home to many foreign embassies, including that of Terra. The city itself is heavily wooded with pine trees, so much so that their presence has a misty, narrowing effect on the streets. Like Nio Esseia, Rodarred is described as having many ornate and elaborate towers (the text is ambiguous as to whether these are skyscrapers, as it is noted that they ring bells indicating the hour of the day). The city itself has seven bridges leading into it, and the remnants of older castles and towers lie in the shadow of newer roadways and buildings (as is the case with the Terran embassy, housed in an old castle). It is located on a river.
Being the smaller body of a double planet system, Anarres is largely covered by land while having two large seas as the biggest bodies of water. While its society is egalitarian, there still exists a center, namely Abbenay, the capital city, where a spaceport and several central facilities are located.
It was settled by Odonian separatists coming from Urras. Ever since, contact to Urras has been strictly limited by a treaty, the only point of contact being Urrasti freighters landing and exchanging cargo at the spaceport in Abbenay.
Odonianism was developed by anarchist philosopher Laia Odo, who lived in the propertarian nation-state of A-Io on the planet of Urras. Odonians speak the Pravic language, which fits their outlook and social structure and is described in considerable detail.
Cetians appear or are mentioned in various other tales, mostly without specifying which world they come from. But in "The Shobies' Story", the Cetian Gveter is an Anarresti. 'Churten theory' was developed on his world, which evidently keeps its Odonian views on cooperation and objects to 'propertarian habits'.
Werel / Alterra
Werel is the homeworld of the Alterrans, a hybrid race of Terrans and the original native HILFs. Also referred to as Alterra, and mentioned under this name in The Left Hand of Darkness. The third planet of the star Gamma Draconis, it is the setting for Planet of Exile. Its later history is given in City of Illusions.
Yeowe and Werel
Yeowe and Werel are the third and fourth planets, respectively, of a single star system described in Four Ways to Forgiveness. Yeowe was settled from Werel, which has no connection with Werel / Alterra. The dominant race of Werel have black or bluish skins. They have enslaved the white-skinned Werelians as well as the children of unions between slaves and masters, who are described as having "clay-coloured" skins.
A later short story titles "Old Music and the Slave Women" which appeared in The Birthday of the World deals with a civil war on Werel. In this story it is explained that the white-skinned Werelians, known as "dusties" are the remnants of an ancient, vanquished culture. At this point so much rape or concubinage of slave women has occurred that there are very few people with white skins left.
Beldene, Chiffewar, Cime, Ensbo, Four-Taurus, Gao, Gde, Huthu, Kapetyn, Kheakh, Orint, Ollul, Prestno, S, Sheashel Haven, Ve and Uttermosts are additional planets mentioned in one or more tales of the Hainish cycle. They have not, so far, been the setting for a story.
The Left Hand of Darkness has Genly showing pictures of various worlds, some described in later stories but including Chiffewar, Cime, Ensbo, Four-Taurus, Gao, Gde, Kapteyn, Ollul, S, Sheashel Haven and 'the Uttermosts'. Little is said about most of them. We are told that Gde wrecked its natural balance tens of thousands of years ago and is mostly sand and rock deserts; that Ollul is the closest world to Gethen, 17 light-years away; and that Chiffewar is a "peaceful" planet.
We hear no more about most of these planets, though in the short story "The Matter of Seggri", it is mentioned that 4-Taurus is also known as Iao. Argaven XVII visits Ollul in the short story "Winter's King", a trip of 24 light-years each way; this contradicts the stated fact in The Left Hand of Darkness that Ollul is 17 light-years away from Gethen. As for S, it is possible that S is another name for Athshe.
Some additional worlds are mentioned in later short stories:
- In "Dancing to Ganam", a world called Orint is mentioned in passing. It is "the only world from which the Ekumen has yet withdrawn", foreseeing a disaster in which "the Orintians destroyed sentient life on their world by the use of pathogens in war". A few thousand children were saved, being taken off the world with the consent of their parent.
- The "Solitude" which appears in The Birthday of the World mentions "the tree-cities of Huthu", which is near Eleven-Soro.
- In "Forgiveness Day" which appears in Four Ways to Forgiveness, a planet called Kheakh is mentioned as having destroyed itself some time ago, as Orint had earlier.
- In "A Man of the People" which appears in Four Ways to Forgiveness, Ve is described as the next planet out from Hain. It has mostly been a satellite or partner of Hainish civilisations and is at that time inhabited entirely by historians and Aliens. This is told from the viewpoint of a Hainish man, so non-Hainish peoples must be meant.
- In The Word for World is Forest, Prestno is mentioned as a world close to Athshe. It is also called 'World 88'.
- In "Vaster than Empires and More Slow" which appears in The Wind's Twelve Quarters, one crew member comes from "Beldene, the Garden Planet", which "never discovered chastity, or the wheel".
- "Solitude", first printed in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1994. Reprinted in The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology. Ed. Gordon Van Gelder. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications (ISBN 9781892391919), 2009.
- A Man of the People
- A Man of the People: Kathhad and Ve
- A Man of the People: first section
- "The Matter of Seggri" in the collection The Birthday of the World
- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, p.2f
- Cadden, Mike. Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults, (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005) page 174.
- The Left Hand of Darkness, chapter 3. Uttermosts is mentioned as 'the Uttermosts' and might be a term for several different worlds