Recently, after Richard finished reading a novel, I asked him if he would recommend I read it. He replied that he thought I'd be too irritated by the central theology, and probably wouldn't enjoy it. The story was fine and all, solid, but I would freak out. Which all lead me to my new-found theory of irritants. Even in genres or styles one typically enjoys, there's always that one idea that, rationally or irrationally, sets a reader off and negates the enjoyment. I hate cats in fiction, hate the furry bastards. It takes a pretty extreme set of circumstances for me to overcome this, and mostly I don't even bother.
There's a lot of fiction under the sun, and many different reasons for reading it. There's stuff you you read because you should, stuff that makes you think, and stuff that makes you not-think. I read a lot of genre fiction, because I've read a lot of genre fiction, and I feel like I know the genre fiction language, whatever that is. But there's always things, irritants, that will set me off and render stuff unreadable; things that null all the voids of disbelief. Stupid arbitrary magic. Stupid, arbitrary gender roles. Take Eragon: stupid magic, arbitrary gender roles, and a "racial sensitivity" that translates to some sort of whitewash. Look, I made a girl and a brother king and queen! They're, like, black, but still get to be rulers, cuz they're noble! Also, they have no identity based on shared culture and a historic experience of oppression! Good job, Chris, how's the puberty coming?
Anyway, using Eragon as a straw doll probably isn't fair, and isn't what I'm supposed to be talking about. I'm supposed to be talking about Le Guin. I read for all kinds of reasons, but Le Guin is close to my heart, or maybe more correctly, close to my mind. I love the way she thinks. I love what she thinks about. I love the experience of reading her books because I love being in her mind. I've read almost all of her fiction, (not including Catwings, because cats are an irritant I'm not sure even Le Guin can overcome for me) and even the failures have been interesting and though provoking. Powers
is the third book Le Guin has written in the Annals of the Western Shore. It's young adult, in the way that most Le Guin's young adult fiction is, which is too say too important for adults. She's been musing about slavery in these novels, thinking about what it does to people, what the different types of ownership do to Justice and Love.
This novel centers on a young man abducted into slavery in a Renaissance-ish town. He's educated, expected to be the teacher to a town-sized collection of slaves and Family. The owner family are not monsters, but distant, theoretical to the young man. He believes in the order of society, the way one does, until that gets all wrecked by the crappy crappiness of a society based on slavery. At that point the story becomes a little Picaresque, and he learns how to rejoin society.
It's not a perfect book, but I almost don't care. The final confrontation is almost too metaphorical, the ghosts of slavery and all that. It's not my special irritant; it might be someone else's. There's nothing irritating to me the way LeGuin observes the minutiae of culture and the things people say and don't say. I love that she bothers with how people make food, whom they give gifts to, who does the sweeping up. It matters, and it matters when it's not there, too.