by Ursula Le Guin
Published by Ace Books in 2000.
Sutty comes from a tumultuous time in Earth’s history, where religion has bombed libraries and universities. She comes the planet Aka as an observer in hopes of studying a world of rich history, where equality is paramount. Except by the time her ship finally arrives, the world does not match the reports of the original Ekumen observers. Technology has utterly transformed it. The Corporation strictly monitors the citizens in their March to the Stars, and all books and stories of their history has been banned and eradicated. Her first few months is spent under rigid control by the authorities, where she is given propaganda and nothing that she can truly study. However, Corporation bureaucrats suddenly grant passage out of the capital city and north to a small town in the foothills of the mountains. Here she uncovers the once rich society of the the Telling. People here risk much to keep their stories alive, and intrigued by their beliefs, Sutty joins them on a sacred journey into the mountains. It is there, deep in the highest caverns of the mountains, that she delves deep into her past, these peoples’ past, and how it all intertwines here on this planet far from Earth.
The book itself is short but is a fascinating trip through philosophy and societal change. The characters are vibrant and interesting, full of quirks and flaws. Even the Monitor — one of the Corporation’s agents — has incredible depth, once Sutty has the chance to truly talk to him outside of the strict confines of the Corporation. All of the dissendents — the Maz, storytellers — have a richness of personality and character. The characters just leap off the page. The discovery Sutty makes surprised me a bit and added further depth to the world. It’s such a small book, and yet the richness of the world-building and the characters is displayed so brilliantly.
I highly recommend the novella as it’s masterfully woven, each page begging to be turned. It’s science fiction at its best — exploring humanity in all its depths.