I generally enjoy Ursula K Leguin…in that I like her writing more than I don’t. And that more or less explains my feelings for this one. It started off very slowly and meh-ly for me….in fact I stopped part way through and read different books. But then toward the end, as we started getting closer to the meat and the explanation in the novel I really got into it.
This is one of her Hainish novels, but the setup and delivery could very well take place on Earth. A traveler from the Moon of a given planet lands in a semi-abandoned airstrip. He’s a scientist, he gets adopted by a local university, and is set to teach there. As he begins his culture from the long separate lunar colony (a kind of subsistence Communist setup) which thrives on order, shared values, complete lack of waste and a moral order based in thrift and efficiency compared to that of the planetary utopian wasteland (literally a land that wastes) sets him in opposition in meaningful ways. Alongside this narrative, we also get the years on his home world and how they shaped him as a scientist, how he became disenchanted the politics he found there, and how he decided to come to the planetside.
This book shares a lot with contemporary Robert Heinlein, especially The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land, but where those novels are more parodic and almost satirical in their tone, this one is both serious, but also deeply conscientious by its nature. I am being purposely vague about the contents of his science, his mission, and other things, because I found their reveal to be satisfying.