Birthday of the World by Ursula K. LeGuin (Greatest Hit)

Here below is a post from my first book review published in my journal. I have had no free time to write my normal Friday article; I thought any new readers might be curious about this Greatest Hit from ten years past. This was written when I was an atheist, by the bye.

Book Review–Birthday of the World by Ursula K. LeGuin

Posted on March 13, 2003 by John C Wright

I am a fan of Ursula K. LeGuin; I read her Earthsea books back when they were the only books that had dragons on the covers. I also enjoyed her LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS immensely, and have always like the stories in her Hainish Ekumen background. Hence, I am disappointed when she uses her work as a platform for preaching against the institution of marriage.

In BIRTHDAY OF THE WORLD, the romantic and marital customs of the worlds of her Hainish Ekumen are explored in a series of short tales. On one planet, marriage is dismissed as a type of wicked magic; on another, marriage is always a foursome of two homosexual and two heterosexual relationships. On yet another planet, men and women hire loveless gigolos to stud them for reproduction, and seek love and romance only in lesbian unions. Far from being ecumenical, the customs of the Ekuman worlds have a monotonous provincialism to them: unromantic, unchaste, unfaithful, and, in a word, unrealistic.

No world is romantic: on the planet Seggr, brides and bridegrooms do not meet in a honeymoon cottage; instead, studs service matrons at a building with the indelicate name of “the fuckery”.

No world has chastity. On the planet O, two males consummate their homosexual passion and share a household and a bed without the benefit of the sacrament of marriage. Strangely, the main plot point in this tale is the difficulty of the homosexual lovers to find two acceptable lesbian partners to complete the four-way marriage quartet. Since there is no risk of pregnancy nor illegitimacy, and marriage is not a bar to sex-play, one wonders what purpose marriage custom allegedly serves in this society.

No world has fidelity. Even on the world of Gethen (whose people are neuter except when in monthly heat) each individual has a plethora of short-term sexual partners, with no courtship, no permanence, and no concern for who is fathering a child on whom.

In short, no world has laws or customs that tie sexual behavior to the realities of sexual reproduction. No world has a moral code that ties the act of sexual reproduction to the romantic and erotic passions that drive it.

Male readers will be particularly annoyed to note that no world has fathers raising the children they father, or cleaving only to the mother of his children, forsaking all others; and yet, somehow, inexplicably, the paternal instinct is strong enough to establish a custom that step-fathers are willing to raise the bastard children of their unfaithful bisexual lovers.

The message here is that typical humbug of the Left, that homosexuality is merely an alternate lifestyle, as arbitrary as which side of the road to drive on. The method of the message is also so familiar as to be wearisome: the author merely presents homosexuality as one of several quaint customs of quaint peoples, without any particular attention or emphasis, as if to acclimate her readers to the idea without ever noting what absurdities the idea involves.

Sadly, this message slowly leaches the stories of their entertainment value. After the fifth or sixth pointless slight against marriage, the book becomes a sermon we have all heard before.

If this is a sermon you like, you will like the book. If not, pass it by.

The tales are well written; indeed, certain of the passages are pure poetry. But Ursula LeGuin employs her considerable talents to a purpose unworthy of her gift. There is wit and charm and human warmth in LeGuin’s story-telling, but none of the stories are witty or charming enough to overcome the absurdity of the premises, the drudgery of the sermon, or the shallow inhumanity of the message.