Like several other novels of the Hainish series, The Telling brings a representative of the Ekumen, a benevolent interplanetary organization, into a cultural conflict on an alien planet. Sutty Dass is insecure in her first assignment, mainly because of scars that she carries from growing up on Earth. She spent her childhood in India and Canada, fleeing the Unists, Christian fundamentalists bent upon world domination, on destroying all knowledge except the one true book, the Bible. She was a lesbian at a time when the Unists were attempting to erase all sexual “deviance.” Perhaps the most traumatic event of her life was the Unist-inspired terrorist bombing of her university, in which her partner of several years was killed.
On the planet Aka, she finds an opposite tyranny, a secular materialist, corporation state that is bent upon destroying “The Telling,” the ancient culture of the planet that is preserved in a highly inclusive canon of stories, images, myths, parables, and legends, a fragmentary and gigantic collection of cultural memory. She expected to find a planet where her sexual orientation would not matter, but she finds a culture of rigidly enforced heterosexuality.
Both the Unists and the dominant culture of Aka are animated by a desire to impose a rational order on a world that to them seems threatening because it evades intellectual control. Both are reactionary, in that what they care most about are the hardest to...
(The entire section is 428 words.)