Werel (Alterra)

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Not to be confused with Werel (Voe Deo).

In the 'Ekumen' science fiction stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, Werel is the colloquial name[1] for Alterra, a fictional planet of the star Gamma Draconis.[2] It is one of two planets called Werel in that series.[3] The name is an informal (though standard) one and means just "the world".[2]

History[edit]

It is the setting for Planet of Exile, and its later history is given in City of Illusions. The third planet of the star Gamma Draconis, it has an elliptical orbit lasting sixty Earth-years. Also a moon with an orbit 400 days long, leading to some wild weather. It was settled after the invention of the ansible and was planned as a defence against the enigmatic 'enemy'. But there was no contact after the first ship, consisting entirely of people from Earth. These colonists settled in a town called Landin, and tried to co-exist with the native high-intelligence life forms.

As Alterra, Werel is also mentioned in The Left Hand of Darkness and Four Ways to Forgiveness. Le Guin has made clear that it should not be confused with the Werel of Four Ways to Forgiveness, which is a planet with very different characteristics.[2]

At first the Earth-human population dwindled. Then they formed a close alliance with one of the native tribes[4] and also found that they could interbreed,[5] which had previously been thought impossible. On this basis, they recover and unify the world.

After 1200 years, the Alterrans send a ship to Earth, using a near-light-speed system. They are attacked and all but two perish. One of these outwits the alien Shing, oppressors of Earth, and returns to fetch help.[4] Presumably he succeeds: Genly Ai in The Left Hand of Darkness comes from Earth and remembers the 'Age of the Enemy' as something terrible, but also now over.

Science[edit]

The long orbit is scientifically correct, since Gamma Draconis is a giant star and a habitable world would have to be much further away from its sun. Eltanin, a name given in City of Illusions, is one of the star's traditional names. Its distance from Earth is given as 142 light-years, which is close to the current estimate.

On the other hand, giant stars last 100 million years or so, which is much less time than Earth needed to evolve complex life. It is possible that the native humanoids are of Hainish origin, modified as some other planetary populations have been modified. This would account for the successful imbreeding, which should not be possible if they had evolved from completely different biospheres.

In 1.5 million years, Eltanin will pass within 28 light years of Earth. At this point it will be as bright as Sirius. This would be long after Le Guin's tales and is not mentioned in her fiction.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Erlich, Richard D. (2009). Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Milford series: Popular writers of today 72. Wildside Press. p. 53. ISBN 9781434457752. 
  2. ^ a b c Erlich, Richard D. (2009). Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Milford series: Popular writers of today 72. Wildside Press. p. 432. ISBN 9781434457752. 
  3. ^ Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. p. 174. ISBN 0-415-99527-2. .
  4. ^ a b Wood, Susan (1979). "Discovering Worlds: The Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin". In Clareson, Thomas D. Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers, Volume 2. Popular Press. p. 160. ISBN 9780879721350. 
  5. ^ Erlich, Richard D. (2009). Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Milford series: Popular writers of today 72. Wildside Press. p. 433. ISBN 9781434457752.