From a collection of LeGuin’s earliest published stories, ‘The Wind’s Twelve Quarters’. This story is beautifully constructed, and as happy a combination of SF and fantasy as I’ve come across. The SF is the broadest context, and the whole idea of the story is stated by Rocannon, (a minor character here who went on the be the focus of LeGuin’s first novel) a ‘League Scientist’ from an advanced, star-faring civilisation:
What I feel sometimes is that I … meeting these people from worlds we know so little of, you know, sometimes … that I have as it were blundered through the corner of a legend, or a tragic myth, maybe, which I do not understand …
Nice enough to have the idea, although not so extraordinary. What sets LeGuin apart is that she does successfully create a legend in this little corner. Somehow rather than being merely derivative of Tolkien’s elves, dwarves and heroes, or of someone in the Greek pantheon padding about the place, she takes this influence to create something with her own flair. The story moves like a classic myth – and Semley is somehow both foolishly vain (at her cost) and enough of a goddess to remain admirable.
The device of having much of the story from her perspective works really well in a few ways. It strips away details that don’t matter to her, letting the story be a short one, flowing easily from scene to scene in an almost dreamlike way, so it’s not a gripping travel story so much as a fable. This perspective also is a nice alternative method of showing her character. We also get to enjoy the way that, for Semley, this is not an SF story, but very much a classic one, where a fatal flaw brings a real tragedy. The only thing that matters to her is the necklace – warp drives and federations of alien worlds are utterly secondary to her story – and while for the reader this may be about FTL travel, for her it’s the curse that came with pride. Technology is vital to the story, but only as background, only as a servant.
I liked it when I read it. I think I liked it more when I reread it. And I think I’m liking it even more on reflection. LeGuin can do this – not consistently – but to do it at all is wonderful.