Three Hainish Novels (Hainish Cycle, #1-3) - Ursula K. Le Guin Three Hainish Novels is an omnibus collection of UKL’s early novels Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions.

Rocannon’s World: This is the earliest and the least satisfying of the three. Rocannon is an ethnologist of the League of All Worlds (what would become the precursor of the Ekumen of later novels when Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle actually took shape) who’s intrigued by the natives of Fomalhaut II when one of its representatives visits the nearest League outpost. Coupled with his interest is the League’s in recruiting allies in a coming war with a vaguely defined enemy so an expedition is eventually dispatched. Said expedition is destroyed by the enemy and the only survivor is Rocannon. He enlists the aid of one of the native species (the Angyar) to reach the enemy’s base and use their ansible (UKL invented the “ansible,” an instantaneous communications device that ties the Hainish worlds together; the humanities are limited to the speed of light otherwise.) to contact the League.

It’s an old-fashioned quest story and, while Rocannon is a sympathetic character, it would be an otherwise forgettable novel except that it lays the foundation for how the worlds of the League develop mindspeech, telepathy. In the course of his journey, Rocannon encounters the third and least understood species of Fomalhaut II and learns how to communicate telepathically. His new-found skill allows him to penetrate the enemy’s base and alert the League.

Planet of Exile: The second novel takes place at a later time on the world of Werel, γ Draconis (about 150 LYs from Earth). The planetary year lasts for about 60 Earth years with correspondingly longer seasons. When the story opens, Autumn is ending, and the natives are preparing for the coming Winter. The southern cultures have traditionally holed up in largely subterranean fortresses. In part, this is to survive the Winter; in part, this is to survive the depredations of their northern cousins, who are fleeing the cold. In this cycle, however, the northerners have been united under a Genghis Khan-like figure who is destroying the Winter refuges, slaughtering the men and enslaving the women and children.

Added to the complications is the presence of a colony of exiles. Humans who were stranded on the planet several seasons ago when the long-anticipated war with the “enemy” came and Werel was cut off from the League.

Relations between these humans and the natives are strained but largely peaceful. The entente is threatened by the northerners and – on a more personal level – the relationship between the leader of the humans, Jakob Agat, and Rolery, a little-regarded granddaughter of the natives’ leader.

In terms of the overall cycle, this story lays the groundwork for the Werelians development of mental disciplines that will be instrumental in finally defeating the “enemy.”

City of Illusions: The most polished of the three novels, City takes place over a thousand years later. The League has been destroyed by the “enemy,” who finally receive a name – the Shing. Their ability to lie (Actually, it’s not so much that the Shing can “lie” but that their minds are so different than the Hainish’s that deception and misdirection are possible.) with mindspeech has allowed them to shatter the League and isolate its worlds, which they rule over, strictly controlling technology and not allowing the emergence of any large center of power. The book opens on Earth, where a nameless amnesiac is discovered by a human settlement. Eventually, this man – named Falk by his discoverers – decides to set out for the Shing city of Es Toch and tries to recover his identity.

It turns out that Falk is one of two survivors of a Werelian expedition and a descendant of Jakob Agat and Rolery from Planet. The Shing will not kill (directly, at any rate) so they wiped his memories and turned him out to live or die. The mental disciplines developed on Werel over the centuries allow him to overcome the Shing and escape back to Werel. Presumably – since later stories take place in a free Ekumen – the Werelians are able to break the Shing hegemony.

As standalones, all three novels are decent reads and would earn my recommendation to Le Guin fans and, I think, SF enthusiasts in general.