Monday, May 4, 2009


I have just finished reading Ursula K. LeGuin's YA novel Powers, which won this year's Nebula. It was with decidedly mixed feelings that I put the book down.

I love LeGuin's writing. I have loved it for 40 years, since The Left Hand of Darkness blew me away when it was first published in 1969 (I was three years old). In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that I think she's the best SF writer we have ever had. Nonetheless, I was disappointed in Powers.

The book revisits the territory she covered so brilliantly in the novellas of Four Ways Into Forgiveness, specifically in "A Woman's Liberation." The plot is exactly the same: the protagonist is a slave in a "good" house and unthinkingly accepts being a slave; something happens so that the house becomes less good; the protag then tries living with various different groups in different degrees of freedom, although always more so for men than women; eventually the slave grows into true freedom and awareness. In "A Woman's Liberation" the character is female, in Powers male, and of course details are different for the various cultures depicted. But despite LeGuin's lovely prose, I couldn't escape the feeling that she has covered this ground before, better, and more succinctly.

I seem to be alone in this judgment. The paperback comes covered with glowing accolades, and the book did win the Nebula. Which raises another interesting point: It's YA. And on the Hugo ballot, three of the five novels are YA: Powers, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. What happened to the supposition that kids no longer read?


Frank Böhmert said...

YA = young feeling adults :-)

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Dear me, Nancy... LeGuin is the best sf writer of all time?

You should read some more Heinlein. You really should. (grinning smiley)

Koke said...

You list three of the Hugo finalists as YA. However, Scalzi's Zoe's Tale is on the Locus Poll short list as a YA nominee. Is there some reason you don't count it among YA novels?

Nancy Kress said...

Koke -- I haven't read ZOE'S TALE and so didn't realize it was YA. Thanks!

Nathaniel Somers said...

I haven't read Le Guin's Powers yet, but I did read her Gifts and was left with similar impressions.

I think you hit the snail on the head when you suggested that the reason might lie with the age group.

While on one hand, I'm a bit disappointed with the idea that YA fiction needs to be "toned down" in order for the audience to grasp the main themes but I am very glad that Le Guin continues to create enjoyable, accessible fiction like that when I first sat down and read Wizard of Earthsea about 25 years ago.

She's truly a great author but I have a hard time labeling her as the "best" after finishing Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.