Rocannon’s World is Ursula Le Guin’s first published work, sprung from a short story “Dowry of the Angyar”. That story appears in the prologue of Rocannon’s World as “Semley’s Necklace”. The story is set on the planet Formalhaut II, which resembles the medieval/Bronze age in culture and tech. Semley is a beautiful child from an anciet family, wedded to Dulgar, the Lord of Hallam. Despite their position, they are poor – something that Semley felt acutely, causing her to think of the necklace that her family lost ages ago, that was to be her dowry. One night Semley leaves on a journey to the Clay People, in search of this lost dowry.
The Clay People live underground, and are portrayed as unappealing, but they possess tech that Semley’s people don’t – they have electricity of some sort, and trains. Later it would be revealed that it’s because they had made contact with the “Star Lords”, which is what they call a different, more advanced culture that travels through space. Semley is told that the Star Lords has her necklace in their keep, but she convinces the Clay People to bring her to the Star Lords so that she could make her case to them. Not knowing what’s going on, two of the Clay People take her to a different planet where she meets Rocannon, an ethnologist from the League of All Worlds. Semley’s necklace is being kept in a museum, but Rocannon gives it back to her before she returns to her planet. Throughout this whole exchange, Semley feels like she’s only been gone for the night, but when she reaches Hallen, she finds that decades has passed in her absence. Her husband is long dead, and her children are grown.
While the story begins with Semley, whose later adventures I would really like to read about, the main story is about Rocannon, the Star Lord that she met in her quest for the necklace. While on a survey mission on Fomalhaut II, Rocannon’s spaceship is destroyed by unknown enemies, leaving him the only survivor. Stranded, and resigned to the fact that a rescue mission to retrieve him would take eight years at least to get to Fomalhaut II, he needs to get to the other side of the planet to access an ansible in order to warn the League. And he can only travel by foot, on sea, or by wing-steed (a catlike flying beast), so he puts together a crew of locals (including Mogien, who is Semley’s grandchild) to go on the journey with him.
I am not much of an SF reader, and less of an epic fantasy reader, and because of Le Guin’s almost anthropological approach to science fiction, Rocannon’s World reads like both. And I liked it. I find that when it comes to reading Le Guin, even though the works are people-oriented (she leans more towards the “soft” sciences than the “hard”) I am always more interested in the worlds and cultures she builds, rather than the individual characters. Semley is interesting after a fashion, and Yahan, one of the servants, but most of the characters seem flat to me. It’s a short novel at about 150 pages (less in some editions, I think) and is an enjoyable debut, even if it doesn’t quite stand out against Le Guin’s other works. Plus, it has flying cats that you can ride! Where can I get myself one of those?