The Hainish Cycle
is the setting for a number of science fiction
novels and stories of Ursula K. Le Guin
. Most of them are not set on Hain, but have it as a rather distant background. People from Hain are often present but mostly as secondary characters.
In keeping with Le Guin's soft science fiction style, the setting is used primarily to explore anthropological and sociological ideas.
Notable and award-winning Hainish novels are The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. The short novel The Word for World is Forest and the short story The Day Before the Revolution have also won awards.
Sequence of writing
In the first three novels - Rocannon's World
, Planet of Exile
, City of Illusions
there is a League of Worlds
: in City of Illusions
it seems to have been conquered or fragmented. In the fourth, The Left Hand of Darkness
, it seems the planets of the former League of Worlds have re-united as the Ekumen. The fifth, The Dispossessed
, is the earliest chronologically in the Hainish Cycle. Both the League of Worlds
and the 'ansible
' are dreams that seem on the verge of becoming real. The sixth, The Word for World is Forest
, has the League of Worlds and the ansible
as new creations. The term 'Ekumen' is not used.
Later novels and short stories speak only of the Ekumen, which now includes the Gethenians who were the subject of The Left Hand of Darkness.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the people of Hain
colonised a large number of worlds, including Earth
. Most of these were similar enough that humans from one world can pass as natives of another, but on some the Old Hainish 'Colonisers' used genetic engineering
. At least one of the various species of Rokanan are the product of genetic engineering, as are the 'hilf' of Planet S (whose story has not so far been told), and the androgynes
in The Left Hand of Darkness
. The Ekumen do not know whether the Colonisers sought to adapt humans to varied worlds, experimented with different sexual patterns, or had other reasons.
Hainish civilization subsequently collapsed and the colony planets (including Earth) forgot that other human worlds existed. The Ekumen stories tell of the efforts to re-establish a civilization on a galactic scale through NAFAL (Nearly As Fast As Light) interstellar travel taking years to travel between stars (although only weeks or months from the viewpoint of the traveler, because of time dilation), and through instantaneous interstellar communication using the 'ansible'.
This seems to have happened in two phases. First the League of All Worlds is formed, uniting the "nine known worlds - along with colonies, presumably. By the time of Rocannon's World it has grown but is also under threat from a distant enemy. In City of Illusions it is recalled as a league of some 80 worlds.
The second phase begins with The Left Hand of Darkness. The 80-plus planets seem to have reunited as the 'Ekumen' – a name derived from the Greek "oikoumene", meaning "the inhabited world". Genly Ai recalls the 'Age of the Enemy', but we do not get a detailed history.
Planets of the Hainish Cycle
The Hainish Cycle contains a very large number of planets and is continually exploring new ones. Genly Ai in The Left Hand of Darkness
explains that there are 83 planets in the Ekumen, with Gethen a candidate for becoming the 84th. There are an unknown number of other inhabited planets not in the Ekumen; probably not many. But further planets being explored or contacted across the centuries. Some of those mentioned in the stories above are:
A monoethnic world that recently underwent an aggressive revolutionary change in technological status, during which almost all of the traditional culture was abandoned. Aka is governed by a despotic state which mandates a form of scientific theism and aims to turn its citizens into ideal producer-consumers, with the ultimate goal of attaining advanced spaceflight capabilities. Aka is the setting of most of The Telling
A forest planet (whose name means "forest"), also known as 'World 41' and called "New Tahiti" by Terrans. Athshe is peopled by a small, furred group of high-intelligence life forms. It was exploited for its timber resources before a native revolt expelled the Terrans, as described in The Word for World is Forest
Athshe's plants and animals are similar to those of Earth, placed there by the Hainish people in their first wave of colonisation that also settled Earth. The Cetian visitor also states categorically that the native humans "came from the same, original, Hainish stock". It is not explained why they are green-furred and only one meter tall. The Hainish routinely genetically modified their offspring in strange ways for strange worlds, but on the other hand, enough time has passed since the original settlement for the locals to naturally evolve away from mainstream humans in response to their different environment.
A world that had a high technology and then a massive crash. A strange introverted new culture has emerged, with women living alone and unwilling to talk to visitors. The post-collapse culture is described in the short story Solitude
. Its people are of Hainish descent and briefly had the maximum population density of any known planet.
- The greatest cities ever built on any world, covering two of the continents entirely, with small areas set aside for farming; there had been 120 billion people living in the cities, while the animals and the sea and the air and the dirt died, until the people began dying too.
Has a prominent place in Rocannon's World - a young planet which embarks on a career of interstellar war and conquest and constructs a secret base on the backward world where the book takes place, from which destructive ships could be launched to numerous targets while the League spends its force on subduing their home world. The planet being named for a famous Earth physicist evidently indicates that it was originally discovered and named by Terrans, who introduced its inhabitants to interstellar civilization (the Faradayans are specifically mentioned as having learned chess-playing from Terrans). Faraday seems loosely modeled on Imperial Japan - i.e., a relative late-comer to an existing civilization, which quickly takes up new technologies, builds up aggressive armed forces in order to carve out a bigger place for itself in that established civilization, oppresses weaker cultures and peoples which it encounters, and makes use of fanatic pilots ready to embark on suicide missions. The act of Rocannon at the end of the book results in the destruction of their secret base; Faraday's aggressive designs are evidently checked, and the planet is not heard of again in later books.
Ganam / Tadkla
Ganam is a very diverse world with some high technology. The inhabitants, or one group of them, are called the Gaman
. Ancient Hainish records refer to it as 'G-14-214-yomo' and also Tadkla
. The tale of the first two Ekumen visits is told in Dancing to Ganam
. It is described as one of the outermost seedings of the Hainish Expansion
, and lost from the human community for five hundred millennia
The planet is also known as "Winter". A very cold, glacier-covered planet, inhabited by an androgynous intelligent species. Gethen appears in The Left Hand of Darkness
, and in the short stories Winter's King
and Coming of Age in Karhide
The Prime World. Also known as Davenant
. The oldest culture in the Ekumen and supposedly the ultimate source of most intelligent life in the planets of the Ekumen. Observers for the Ekumen are trained on Hain.
New South Georgia
The location of the League HILF Survey Base for Galactic Area 8, in "Rocannon's World". Its chief city is Kerguelen. From the names, evidently a world discovered and settled by Terrans. (The real-life islands of South Georgia have a base of the British Antarctic Survey.)
A planet four light years from Hain, described in the title-story of the collection A Fisherman of the Inland Sea
. Its people are known as ki'O and it is notable for its unusual four-person marriage system. Two more tales about this world and its customs are found in the collection The Birthday of the World
The second planet of the star Fomalhaut
, peopled by at least three high-intelligence life forms. The setting of Rocannon's World
. The planet is sometimes listed as Rocannon's World
, but Le Guin's books always call it 'Rokanan', which is Rocannon's name among the native Gdemiar.
This is a planet noted for its extreme gender segregation, and for having sixteen adult women for every adult man. Its history is told in a longish short story, The Matter of Seggri
. The people are of Hainish descent. A Hainish visitor believes that the imbalance of the sexes is another ancient genetic experiment of her remote ancestors.
- My ancestors must have really had fun playing with these people's chromosomes. I feel guilty, even if it was a million years ago.
The third planet of the Solar system, homeworld of Terrans. People from Earth appear as aggressive settlers in The Word for World is Forest
. In The Dispossessed
, Cetians know it as a place with interestingly different ideas about physics. A very different Earth is seen in City of Illusions
. Various individuals from Earth play a part in other stories. In The Telling
, Earth's incorporation into the Ekumen is briefly explained. Also, the main character in The Left Hand of Darkness
is from Terra.
A double planet system (the people of each regard the other as their moon) in orbit around the star Tau Ceti
. The Cetians who inhabit both worlds are a very hairy humanoid race which is scientifically advanced.
Urras is divided into many countries with a variety of political systems; Anarres is peopled by the Odonians, an anarchist group in voluntary exile from Urras. The action of The Dispossessed takes place on Urras and Anarres.
Urras is also seen in The Day Before the Revolution in the short-story collection ''The Wind's Twelve Quarters.
is the homeworld of the Alterrans, a hybrid race of Terrans and the original native high-intelligence life forms. Also referred to as Alterra
, and mentioned under this name in The Left Hand of Darkness
. The third planet of the star Gamma Draconis
, it is the setting for Planet of Exile
. Its later history is given in City of Illusions
The third and fourth planets, respectively, of a single star system described in Four Ways to Forgiveness
. Yeowe was settled from Werel
, which has no connection with Werel / Alterra
. The dominant race of Werel is black and has imposed slavery on other Werelians who are white or mixed.
A later short story - Old Music and the Slave Women - deals with a civil war on Werel.
, Chiffewar, Cime, Ensbo, Four-Taurus, Gao, Gde, Huthu, Kapetyn, Kheakh, Orint, Ollul, Prestno, S, Sheashel Haven, Ve
are additional planets mentioned in one or more tales of the Hainish cycle. They have not, so far, been the setting for a story.
The Left Hand of Darkness has Genly showing pictures of various worlds, some described in later stories but including Chiffewar, Cime, Ensbo, Four-Taurus, Gao, Gde, Kapteyn, Ollul, S, Sheashel Haven and 'the Uttermosts'. Little is said about most of them. We are told that Gde wrecked its natural balance tens of thousands of years ago and is mostly sand and rock deserts; that Ollul is the closest world to Gethen, 17 light-years away; and that Chiffewar is a "peaceful" planet.
We hear no more about most of these planets, though in The Matter of Seggri, it is mentioned that 4-Taurus is also known as Iao. Argaven XVII visits Ollul in Winter's King, a trip of 24 light-years each way; this contradicts the stated fact in The Left Hand of Darkness that Ollul is 17 light-years away from Gethen. As for S, it is possible that S is another name for Athshe.
Some additional worlds are mentioned in later stories:
- In the short story Dancing to Ganam, a world called Orint is mentioned in passing. It is "the only world from which the Ekumen has yet withdrawn", foreseeing a disaster in which "the Orintians destroyed sentient life on their world by the use of pathogens in war". A few thousand children were saved, being taken off the world with the consent of their parent.
- The short story Solitude mentions "the tree-cities of Huthu", which is near Eleven-Soro.
- In Forgiveness Day, a planet called Kheakh is mentioned as having destroyed itself some time ago, as Orint had earlier.
- In A Man of the People, Ve is described as the next planet out from Hain. It has mostly been a satellite or partner of Hainish civilisations and is at that time inhabited entirely by historians and Aliens. This is told from the viewpoint of a Hainish man, so non-Hainish peoples must be meant.
- In The Word for World is Forest, Prestno is mentioned as a world close to Athshe. It is also called 'World 88'.
- In Vaster than Empires and More Slow, one crew member comes from "Beldene, the Garden Planet", which "never discovered chastity, or the wheel".
Societies tend to use sophisticated but unobtrusive technologies. Most notable is the ansible
, an instant-communication device that keeps worlds in touch with each other.
Physical communication is by NAFAL ships, Nearly As Fast As Light. The physics is never explained: the ship vanishes from where it was and reappears somewhere else many years later. The trip takes slightly longer than it would to cross the same distance at the speed of light, but ship-time is just a few hours for those on board. It cannot apparently be used for trips within a solar system,. Trips can begin or end close to a planet, but if used without a 'retemporalizer', there are drastic physical effects at the end of long trips. It is also lethal if the traveler is pregnant.
City of Illusions mentions automatic death-machines that work on the ansible principle and can strike instantly at distant worlds. Such a device is clearly used in the events of Rocannon's World. They are not mentioned again in later books.
Churten theory, as developed by the physicists of Anarres, should allow people to go instantly from solar system to solar system. It is a development of the work of Shevek, whose tale is told in The Dispossessed. Shevek's work made the ansible possible - it is mentioned in his tale that engineers decided they could build it once the correct theory was found. Churten theory offers a way to move whole spacecraft instantaneously, but there are side-effects. These are described in two short stories, The Shobies' Story and Dancing to Ganam.
The idea of post-technological societies
and social collapse comes into several of these stories:
- In City of Illusions, Earth has suffered some sort of collapse in a distant future, losing contact with the stars.
- In Another Story in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, it is mentioned that Earth still suffers badly from pollution.
- Eleven-Soro had a high technology and then a massive crash, as is told in the short story Solitude.
- Hain itself has gone back to a simpler life with high technology only where it is justified, as is told in the first part of A Man of the People in Four Ways to Forgiveness. This also seems to apply to planet Ve.
- Orint and Kheakh are mentioned in passing as worlds that have totally destroyed themselves.
Most of the people in the tales have a common descent from Hain
, which settled many surrounding worlds. Mostly they remain similar and can marry and have children. The unusual hairyness of the Cetians is mentioned in The Word for World is Forest
and The Dispossessed
- though to Cetians, it seems that other types of human have unusually little hair. The Telling
includes the detail that the people of Chiffewar
are all bald.
There are some cases of ancient biological manipulation:
- Unique among known humans, the Hainish have complete voluntary control of their fertility. In order for a Hainish man and woman to reproduce, they must both consciously choose to produce viable genetic material, which they learn to do in adolescence. The required genetic changes to the Hainish population were made in the far distant past, and apparently took many generations to accomplish.
- The Left Hand of Darkness mentions that the 'hilfs of S' must have been produced by human genetic manipulation by the ancient Hainish people, along with the Gethenians and the degenerate winged hominoids of Rokanan.
- The hermaphrodite humans of Gethen may have been produced as an adaptation to a harsh climate, or an experiment to see how people would live without gender. Both ideas are mentioned and nothing is definitely settled.
- The degenerate winged hominoids are seen in Rocannon's World.
- We hear no more about the 'hilfs of S', unless these are the same as the small furry natives of Athshe (who are of Hainish descent, like the various other humans and quasi-humans).
- The Matter of Seggri tells us that the extreme gender imbalance of the people of Seggri may be another case of genetic manipulation.
Alterrans with their distinctive cat-like eyes are nevertheless able to breed with Earth-humans. They may be another case of genetic manipulation, or a natural adaptation.
The Shing of City of Illusions seem to be of some other origin: they cannot interbreed with Earth-humans.
Writing for Science Fiction Studies
in March 1975
, Ian Watson
proposed the following chronology for the first six novels.
List of books
The order presented here is the internal chronology of the series, not the order in which the books were written.
In publishing order.