Weeding Womb

The Building

The Building by Ursula K. Le Guin. Despite appearances to the contrary, this is not a story by Ursula K. Le Guin. Oh, sure, Ms. Le Guin wrote it. But there's no story here.

The story, such that it is, is nothing but a description of this race of people and how they travel from here to Hell and back again for no reason but to quarry stone used in the building of a giant complex. Thing is, they don't use this complex. It's not even built the right size for them. And the one race that can live comfortably in it isn't anywhere near the complex.

This text reads like a Discovery Channel show on some obscure ant species. However, the Discovery Channel does things like show the wonder of the natural world and explain our reasoning and theories behind why the creatures do the odd things they do. Not here. There's no explanations, and barely any theorizing. I don't read stories so the author can set up a Mysterious Behavior, then shrug in the last act and say 'I don't know why it happens either'. Man, even on detective/mystery shows* shows where I don't watch for the mystery, I'd be severely ticked off if they didn't explain whodunnit in the last scenes.

(*Nero Wolfe, which I did not watch for the mysteries - they tended to be bland. I watched it to see Nero acting like a prima donna, for the highly amusing interaction between Nero and Archie Goodwin, and to stretch my vocabulary a bit. But I still watched the finale to see who the killer was.)

And there's no wonder at the natural world, since the race of creatures isn't particularly wonderful. I think I could pull a nondescript race of intelligent beings out of any orifice of my body and write up a description of some Mysterious Behavior for which there's no rhyme or reason. Hell, if I knew it'd sell I'd have two anthologies full of nondescript beings doing weird things. One would build buildings, one would kill its elders when they reached a certain age, one would be seasonal nomads who build their temporary homes wherever a certain species of buffalo-like beast had grazed the night before, and one would only have sex in public (that's the sexy story to sucker the audience in).

I do admit that a lot of work went into setting up the environment - almost 100% of the story's text, actually - but there's no story here. While some Tolkein fans talk about how it's the complexity and detail of Middle Earth that really intrigue them, how many of them would be fans if Lord of the Rings never happened? If Middle Earth was just this place where people lived and everyday stuff happened? How many people would sit down and read a thousand pages with no Frodo, no Gandalf, no Sauron, no Ruling Ring? If Tolkien's entire fantasy output had been a dry essay on this place were hobbits live and what languages people there spoke?

(Proverbial light goes on.) That's what this is! It's an essay! I want to read a story, not an essay.

(Note to the audience: I wasn't even going to review this story, but then I read something else....)

The Archon

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