Cover of the first edition
|Author||Ursula K. Le Guin|
|Cover artist||Gerald McConnell|
|Published||1966 (Ace Books)|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ4.L518 Ro4 PS3562.E42|
|Followed by||Planet of Exile (1966)|
Rocannon's World is a science fiction novel by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, her literary debut. It was published in 1966 as an Ace Double, along with Avram Davidson's The Kar-Chee Reign, following the tête-bêche format. Though it is one of Le Guin's many works set in the universe of the technological Hainish Cycle, the story itself has many elements of heroic fantasy. The hero Gaveral Rocannon encounters lords who live in castles and wield swords, and other races much like fairies and gnomes, in his travels on a backward planet.
The novel begins with a prologue called "Semley's Necklace", which was first published as a stand-alone story titled "Dowry of the Angyar" in Amazing Stories (September 1964). A young woman named Semley takes a space voyage from her unnamed, technologically primitive planet to a museum to reclaim a family heirloom, not realizing that, while the trip will be of short duration for her, many years will elapse on her planet. She returns to find her daughter grown up and her husband dead.
The story in effect combines the Rip Van Winkle-type fairy tale—where a person goes underground in the company of dwarves or elves, spending an apparently brief time but on emerging finding whole generations had elapsed—with modern science fiction having the same effect through relativity and the time dilation resulting from traveling at near-light velocities.
In the story, the planet's "dwarves" live underground and have an early industrial society that (unlike industrial societies in Earth's history) doesn't interfere with the less-developed societies on the surface. The interstellar society of the League of All Worlds has placed an automated spaceship at the dwarves' disposal, with which Semley travels. Semley descends into the dwarves' tunnels, like Rip van Winkle, from where she makes the flight—and returns after a generation (sixteen years) due to relativistic time dilation.
The novel then follows Gaverel Rocannon, an ethnologist who had met Semley at the museum. He later goes on an ethnological mission to her planet, Fomalhaut II. It was through Rocannon's efforts that the planet had been placed under an 'exploration embargo' in order to protect the native cultures. Unbeknown to him and his colleagues, there is a base on the planet of an enemy of the League of All Worlds—a young world named Faraday, which embarked on a career of interstellar war and conquest, and which chose this "primitive" world as the location of a secret base. After the enemy destroys his ship and his companions, Rocannon sets out to find their base so that he can alert the League of their presence with the enemy's ansible.
However, with his advanced means of transport destroyed, he must use other means of travel, such as on the back of "windsteeds", basically large flying cats, as well as by boat or walking. His long and dangerous quest, undertaken with loyal companions from the Angyar, a local feudal culture, takes him through many lands, encountering various other cultures and species and facing numerous threats having nothing to do with the one he intends to confront. He identifies five species of highly intelligent life forms (hilfs), the dwarfish Gdemiar, the elven Fiia, the rodent-like Kiemhrir, the nightmarish Winged Ones, and the most human species, the Liuar. Increasingly, as the plot progresses, his experiences impact his personality and make him more attuned to the planet's culture and changes him from the interstellar sophisticate he had been. He encounters an entity in a mountainside cave and in exchange for "giving himself to the planet", he receives the gift of Mindspeech, a form of telepathy.
Finally, after traveling halfway across the globe, and suffering much loss and bereavement, he reaches the enemy's stronghold which had been set up in a heretofore unknown land occupied by far distant relatives of the Angyar in whose strongholds in the northern continent his journey had begun.
Rocannon reverts from the effective role of a Bronze Age hero, into which he had been increasingly pushed during most of the book, back to being the resourceful operative of an interstellar civilization. He uses his mindspeech abilities to both plan and successfully infiltrate the enemy base where he uses an ansible in one of the parked ships to alert his people. A Faster-Than-Light (FTL) unmanned ship (as life cannot survive FTL travel in the Hainish universe) destroys the installation following Rocannon's escape. Being telepathic, Rocannon feels the hundreds of deaths which he had caused at the moment when they happen—and while recognizing the need to have taken this action, he feels deeply guilty and is further traumatized, in effect burned out and incapable of ever initiating any further action.
After the completion of his quest, Rocannon retires with the Angyar of the south continent, surrounded by sympathetic people and with a loving woman at his side. When rescuers from the League finally arrive 9 years later, restricted to relativistic travel below light speed, they find him dead, and slowly becoming a part of mythology. He would never know that the planet had been named Rokanan after him.
Literary significance and criticism
Rocannon's World along with its two sequels combine emerging British New Wave science fiction sentiments with established American genre imagery and Le Guin's signature anthropological interests into a tale of loss, companionship, isolation, redemption and love.
One science fiction scholar points out that Rocannon's World, along with Planet of Exile and City of Illusions exhibits Le Guin's struggle as an emerging writer to arrive at a plausible, uniquely memorable and straightforward locale for her stories. The tropes in Rocannon's World adhere closely to those of high fantasy, with Clayfolk resembling Dwarves and the Fiia resembling Elves, especially in their dialogue. Additionally, Rocannon's World is noted to be a lightly disguised fantasy in which the legendary characters are easily interpreted by the readers as characters from the real world's future.
Rocannon's World was initially published with no introduction, but Le Guin wrote an introduction for Harper & Row's 1977 hardcover edition. Rocannon's World was also issued in a 1978 book club omnibus along with Planet of Exile and City of Illusions in a volume called Three Hainish Novels and in a 1996 volume with the same novels titled Worlds of Exile and Illusion.
- Quinion, Michael. "Ansible". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2011-07-10.
- Bernardo, Susan M. & Murphy, Graham J. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), page 17.
- Bernardo, Susan M. & Murphy, Graham J. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), page 16.
- Sawyer, Andy The Mythic Fantasy of Robert Holdstock: Critical Essays on the Fiction, eds. Morse, Donald E. & Matolcsy, Kalman (London: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2011), page 77.
- "Books," Cosmos, November 1977, page 72.
- Bernardo, Susan M. & Murphy, Graham J. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), page 18.
- Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-33225-8.
- Bloom, Harold, ed. (1986). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). New York: Chelsea House. ISBN 978-0-87754-659-7.
- Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-97218-5.
- Le Guin, Ursula K. (May 1992). The Language of the Night (revised ed.). HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-016835-3.
- Le Guin, Ursula K. (1978). Three Hainish Novels (1st ed.). Nelson Doubleday. ASIN B000H6R3Q6.
- Le Guin, Ursula K. (1996). Worlds of Exile and Illusion (1st ed.). New York: Orb. ISBN 978-0-312-86211-4.
- Morse, Donald E.; Matolcsy, Kalman (2011). The Mythic Fantasy of Robert Holdstock: Critical Essays on the Fiction (1st ed.). London: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-4942-2.
- Spivack, Charlotte (1984). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8057-7430-6.