Title: Planet of Exile
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Sci-Fi/ Fantasy
First Publication date: 1966
The Earth colony of Landin has been stranded on Werel for ten years–& ten of Werel’s years are over 600 terrestrial years. The lonely & dwindling human settlement is beginning to feel the strain. Every winter–a season that lasts for 15 years–the Earthmen have neighbors: the humanoid hilfs, a nomadic people who only settle down for the cruel cold spell. The hilfs fear the Earthmen, whom they think of as witches & call the farborns. But hilfs & farborns have common enemies: the hordes of ravaging barbarians called gaals & eerie preying snow ghouls. Will they join forces or be annihilated?
I started Planet of Exile by Ursula Le Guin convinced I wouldn’t like it. After all, the previous book was a great disappointment for me. Funny enough, I was surprised.
The Hainish Cycle is a series of short novels connected only by the author’s name and a few distant connections between characters and places. So essentially you don’t have to read the other books to understand this one. From one side this is awesome since every book would be expected to provide a satisfying ending and resolution of the plot. On the other side, each book is too short for me to really fall in love with the characters or the story. And I don’t get to read about them again so even if I do, I’ll be left wanting more.
The story revolves around three races that inhabit a planet with exceptionally long seasons. A single season there is around 15 years and at the time of the story Winter is Coming (haha, that’s for you GoT fans). One of the races are humans, like us, who had come from the stars on a spaceship hundreds of years ago. The second race is humanoid people, hilfs, who look like humans, talk like humans and pretty much live like them during the winter when they settle down (the rest of the time they are nomads). The only difference I noticed was in their eyes — they have golden eyes. Other than that they only differ in their believes, traditions and way of life. The third group are the bad guys, the gaals — again, they look like humans but during winter they hunt and kill other people and take their stuff to survive which automatically makes them the bad guys. There may be some fundamental biological differences between the humans and the natural inhabitants of that planet but Le Guin doesn’t go into detail there. It just feels like you’re reading about three human groups with different ethnicity.
So the story switches mainly between Jakob, one of the leaders of the Earthmen; Rolery, a hilf girl that falls in love with him (mutual); and Wold, the very old leader of the hilfs and also Rolery’s father. Unlike Le Guin‘s other books here we have all the ingredients for an exiting plot — forbidden love affair, clash between cultures, hard weather to make things worse and to top it all off, we have an army of barbarians marching towards them, ready to kill the men, enslave the women and take their provisions. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? It was. For the first time there was a real battle, uncertainty, fighting and death. With her other books all of those things are also somewhat present but it felt like they were happening to somebody else or that the outcome was certain and the hero was definitely going to win. In Planet of Exile the feeling of danger, of impending death and fear doesn’t leave you until the very end.
There were some minor things that really annoyed me, I must admit. There were scenes that made no sense in the long run or characters that were named but played no role in the plot, just misdirecting you in thinking about why they were important to begin with. Also, this may be due to the length of the book and how fast it all developed, but the ‘relationship’ between Rolery and Jakob was super artificial and weird. Jakob didn’t describe her as super beautiful or anything yet after just two meetings(where he was rude to her) he was madly in love; and after falling in love with him and spending the night with him Rolery seemed to lose all her personality and all she could thing about was him and if she could bear him children. Maybe it was normal for her race, we don’t know since it was never explained, but I find it foolish and offensive that a woman, once she has found a man, stops being a person and becomes his extension.
Anyway, I’ll give Planet of Exile a 4/5 rating since I did like the suspense it kept throughout most of the time. And I honestly love Le Guin‘s style and detailed expression — it is just pleasure to read. If only she could have added a bit more excitement and adventure to the plot (and more interesting characters) then it would have been a five.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on Planet of Exile?