Four Ways to Forgiveness

Four Ways to Forgiveness is a collection of four short stories and novellas by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin. All four stories are set in the future and deal with the planets Yeowe and Werel, both members of the Ekumen, a collective of planets used by Le Guin as part of the background for many novels and short stories in her Hainish Cycle. In 2017 it was reissued as an e-book, augmented with a fifth related story by Le Guin, as Five Ways to Forgiveness.

Four Ways to Forgiveness
Cover of the first edition
AuthorUrsula K. Le Guin
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3562.E42 F68 1995
Preceded byThe Word for World is Forest 
Followed byThe Telling 


The stories in the book are set on two planets in a distant solar system, Werel and Yeowe, inhabited by humans placed there by the ancient Hainish. (This 'Werel' is not the same as the world called Werel in Le Guin's Planet of Exile and City of Illusions.) Werel has a long history of institutional enslavement of its lighter-skinned ethnic groups by its darker-skinned ethnic groups (the latter's derogatory term for the former is "dusties"). When the Ekumen recontacted the Werelians, the shock spurred one of the Werelian nations, Voe Deo, to develop a space program and settle the other inhabitable planet in the system, Yeowe, transporting a primarily slave population to do so. Eventually the slaves on Yeowe conducted a successful revolt and gained their independence, an event that occurred in the fairly recent past of the four stories. The nations of Werel are nervous that the "assets" on that planet might attempt the same thing for themselves.


  1. "Betrayals" - The story of Yoss, an elderly, retired science teacher who lived through Yeowe's War of Liberation, and her neighbour Chief Abberkam, a disgraced leader from that war and an opponent of contact with the Ekumen, both living in a desolate area of the planet. Abberkam rescues Yoss's pet cat from an accidental fire which destroys her hut; Yoss then moves into Abberkam's house.
  2. "Forgiveness Day" - Solly, a woman of half-Terran ancestry and space-travelling parents, faces problems as Envoy to the small kingdom of Gatay on Werel.
  3. "A Man of the People" - Havzhiva is a man who grows up on Hain, is educated there and then works for the Hainish embassy on Yeowe. It contains the most extensive description of Hain's environment and culture in Le Guin's work.
  4. "A Woman's Liberation" - Rakam, a woman born as a slave on Werel, tells of her life and her growing self-awareness. Also published in the anthology A Woman's Liberation: A Choice of Futures By and About Women (2001).
  5. "Old Music and the Slave Women"* focuses on Esdardon Aya, also known as 'Old Music'. It is set somewhat later in time than the other four stories. Le Guin writes, "the character called Old Music began to tell me a fifth tale about the latter days of the civil war . . . I’m glad to see it joined to the others at last."[1]
    * Only in Five Ways to Forgiveness, not Four Ways...; published earlier in the collection The Birthday of the World.

The second, third, fourth, and fifth stories have some characters in common. Havzhiva from story #3 works for Solly from #2. He is also the lover of Rakam in #4, and mentioned but not named in #3. Both of them know Dr Yeron, and also Esdardon Aya, 'Old Music'. 'Old Music' is a minor character in #2, and the protagonist in #5.

The book ends with "Notes on Werel and Yeowe", giving details of the two planets and their solar system.


The common themes of the stories revolve around the concepts of freedom and slavery. For thousands of years, the dark-skinned owners of Werel held the light-skinned assets in slavery. However, in recent years, following the colonization of the second planet, Yeowe, things have begun to change on Werel. The Yeowans have gained freedom and are struggling to establish their own government and identity, and gain admittance into the Ekumen of worlds.

Gender relations are another area examined by the stories. In its initial years of settlement, only male slaves were transported to Yeowe, leading to a hypermasculine culture and formalized homosexual relationships among them, both of which had a strong impact on later gender relations on Yeowe. In the second story of the book, Solly associates with a Werelian member of a class of traditional transvestite entertainers, and the fourth story features Rakam reflecting on how her new experience of freedom from formal slavery is conditioned by her position as a woman in a still-sexist society.

Publication history

The collection was first published by Harper Paperbacks (a division of HarperCollins Publishers) in 1995. Betrayals first appeared in 1994 in Blue Motel. The others appeared in the science fiction magazine Asimov's in 1994 and 1995.

Four Ways to Forgiveness was published in 1995 in a leather-bound, signed edition by Easton Press, who describe themselves as releasing 'works of lasting meaning, beauty and importance.'

Five Ways to Forgiveness was published in 2017 by Penguin Random House via Rakuten Kobo and Library of America eBook Classics, in e-book format only.[2] The Library of America included Five Ways to Forgiveness in the collection Hainish Novels & Stories, Volume Two as well.[3]

Reception and critical analysis

Four Ways to Forgiveness has been referred to as a story-suite by critics, based on Le Guin's own use of the term to describe her deliberate inclusion of linked short stories in book form.[4]:30 Le Guin has remarked that the collections of stories could have been a novel had she focused on a few characters; instead she decided to focus on a work with many voices.[4]:155


  1. ^ Le Guin, Ursula K. (5 September 2017). Five Ways to Forgiveness (Ebook ed.). Penguin Random House. ISBN 9781598535716. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Five Ways to Forgiveness". Kobo Rakuten. Retrieved 24 January 2018. Library of America: See cover photo.
  3. ^ Le Guin, Ursula K. (5 September 2017). Hainish Novels & Stories, Volume Two (Hardcover ed.). New York, NY: Library of America. ISBN 9781598535396. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  4. ^ a b Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-99527-2.

External links

A Man of the People (short story)

"A Man of the People" is one of four connected short stories in Ursula K. Le Guin's Four Ways to Forgiveness. It details the early life, training with the Ekumenical Envoy service, and activities on Yeowe and Werel of Mattinyehedarheddyuragamuruskets Havzhiva, nicknamed "Zhiv", a native of the planet Hain. It contains Le Guin's most extensive description of Hain's environment and culture in her work.

The history of the Hainish people goes back three million years, and they placed colonies on many planets, including Earth and Werel. In the course of this long history civilization has risen and fallen many times, including settlement and terraforming of Ve, another planet in the Hain system.

No human mind could encompass the history of Hain: three million years of it. The events of the first two million years, the Fore-Eras, like layers of metamorphic rock, were so compressed, so distorted by the weight of the succeeding millennia and their infinite events that one could reconstruct only the most sweeping generalizations from the tiny surviving details. And if one did chance to find some miraculously preserved document from a thousand millennia ago, what then? A king ruled in Azbahan; the Empire fell to the Infidels; a fusion rocket has landed on Ve .... But there had been uncountable kings, empires, inventions, billions of lives lived in millions of countries, monarchies, democracies, oligarchies, anarchies, ages of chaos and ages of order, pantheon upon pantheon of gods, infinite wars and times of peace, incessant discoveries and forgettings, innumerable horrors and triumphs, an endless repetition of unceasing novelty. What is the use of trying to describe the flowing of a river at any one moment, and then at the next moment, and then at the next, and the next, and the next? You wear out...

In the time period when the story is set, the Hainish have recontacted their former colonies using Nearly-as-fast-as-light (NAFAL) starships and formed an association of worlds known as the Ekumen. However, the planet's population is divided into two broad groups, the "historians" of the "temples" who have contact with off-worlders and study the planet's past, and the residents of the "pueblos", who use a simple technology and are largely indifferent to the remnants around them:

Stse is an almost-island, separated from the mainland of the great south continent by marshes and tidal bogs, where millions of wading birds gather to mate and nest. Ruins of an enormous bridge are visible on the landward side, and another half-sunk fragment of ruin is the basis of the town's boat pier and breakwater. Vast works of other ages encumber all Hain, and are no more and no less venerable or interesting to the Hainish than the rest of the landscape.Zhiv begins life as a pueblo-dweller but follows a lover to the temple society and thence into Ekumenical service.


An ansible is a category of fictional device or technology capable of near-instantaneous or superluminal communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay, even between star systems. As a name for such a device, the word "ansible" first appeared in a 1966 novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. Since that time, the term has been broadly used in the works of numerous science fiction authors, across a variety of settings and continuities.


Catwings is a series of four American children's picture books written by Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, and originally published by Scholastic from 1988 to 1999. It follows the adventures of kittens who were born with wings. Catwings is also the title of the first book in the series. The series is in print from Scholastic as of August 2015.In Britain the series was published in two omnibus volumes as Tales of Catwings and More Tales of the Catwings (Puffin/Penguin, 1999 and 2000). In America the 2003 editions were available in a boxed set of four with slipcase title The Catwings Collection (Orchard/Scholastic), listed as Catwings Set by Powell's Books.Scholastic classifies the Catwings books as fantasy and classifies the first two by "interest level" as "grades 2–5", the last two as "grades preK–3" (children of ages about 7–11 and 4–9 respectively). The series is covered by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, which classifies the volumes as short fiction and as chapbooks.Scholastic Book Guides, a series for schoolteachers, includes one Catwings volume.In 2002 and 2003 as Catwings 5 and Catwings 6, Le Guin published online editions of picture books "by Mrs. Katz's First Grade Class".Ten years after their last Catwings volume, Le Guin and Schindler created another picture book featuring a cat: Cat Dreams (Orchard/Scholastic, 2009), with "easy rhyming text" and "realistic, full-bleed watercolor illustrations".

Grand prix de l'Imaginaire

The grand prix de l'Imaginaire (GPI, "grand prize of the Imaginary"), until 1992 the grand prix de la science-fiction française, is a French literary award for speculative fiction, established in 1972 by the writer Jean-Pierre Fontana as part of the science fiction convention of Clermont-Ferrand.

Initially purely a science fiction award, the award's scope was widened to encompass all fields of speculative fiction in 1992. From 2000 to 2010 it was awarded as part of the Utopiales festival in Nantes. It is now part of the Étonnants Voyageurs festival of Saint-Malo.

Hainish Cycle

The Hainish Cycle consists of a number of science fiction novels and stories by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is set in an alternate history/future history in which civilizations of human beings on planets orbiting a number of nearby stars, including Terra (Earth), are contacting each other for the first time and establishing diplomatic relations, setting up a confederacy under the guidance of the oldest of the human worlds, peaceful Hain. In this history, human beings did not evolve on Earth but were the result of interstellar colonies planted by Hain long ago, which was followed by a long period when interstellar travel ceased. Some of the races have new genetic traits, a result of ancient Hainish experiments in genetic engineering, including people who can dream while awake, and a world of androgynous people who only come into active sexuality once a month, not knowing which sex will manifest in them. In keeping with Le Guin's style, she uses varied social and environmental settings to explore the anthropological and sociological outcomes of human evolution in those diverse environments.

The Hainish novels The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974) have won literary awards, as have the novella The Word for World Is Forest (1972) and the short story "The Day Before the Revolution" (1974).

Le Guin herself discounted the idea of a "Hainish Cycle", writing on her website that "The thing is, they aren't a cycle or a saga. They do not form a coherent history. There are some clear connections among them, yes, but also some extremely murky ones."

Old Music and the Slave Women

"Old Music and the Slave Women" is a science fiction story by Ursula K. Le Guin. It was first published in the 1999 collection Far Horizons, edited by Robert Silverberg, and anthologized multiple times in collections of Le Guin's works. The story is set on the planet of Werel in the fictional Hainish universe, created by Le Guin. That planetary system is also the setting for Le Guin's 1995 story suite Four Ways to Forgiveness. The economy of Werel is based on slavery, and during the period in which the stories are set, the society is experiencing upheaval and revolution.

"Old Music and the Slave Women" tells the story of Sohikelwenyanmurkeres Esdan, a native of Hain, nicknamed "Old Music", who appears as a peripheral character in three of the previous stories set in that system. Fed up with a civil war on Werel which has trapped him in the embassy of the Ekumen, he leaves to meet with the leaders of the revolution, but is captured and taken to an old slave estate. There, he is tortured by government agents, and befriends the few women slaves who remain.

As with the stories of the linked story suite, "Old Music and the Slave Women" examines themes related to revolution and reconstruction in slave society. It explores the consequences of war and responses to violence, and suggests that cultural change is a gradual process. The story was positively received. While the length of the story received some criticism, reviewers praised the character of Esdan and Le Guin's depiction of the culture of Werel, with one critic describing it as "painfully real, at once beautiful and deplorable."

Planet of Exile

Planet of Exile is a 1966 science fiction novel by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, part of her Hainish Cycle. It was first published as an Ace Double following the tête-bêche format, bundled with Mankind Under the Leash by Thomas M. Disch. In 2017, the rights for a movie have been acquired by Los Angeles Media Fund.

Planets of the Hainish Cycle

Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle takes place in a science fiction universe that contains a number of planets, some of which have been explored and made part of an interplanetary group called the League of All Worlds and its successor, the Ekumen; others are explored and re-explored by the League and the Ekumen over a time frame spanning centuries. Le Guin has used approximately a dozen planets as primary settings for her novels; as such they have detailed physical and cultural descriptions. Le Guin reveals in The Left Hand of Darkness that at that narrative-time, there were 83 planets in the Ekumen, with Gethen a candidate for the 84th.

Prometheus Award

The Prometheus Award is an award for libertarian science fiction novels given annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which also publishes the quarterly journal Prometheus. L. Neil Smith established the award in 1979, but it was not awarded regularly until the newly founded Libertarian Futurist Society revived it in 1982. The Society created a Hall of Fame Award (for classic works of libertarian science fiction, not necessarily novels) in 1983, and also presents occasional one-off awards.

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories is a collection of short fiction by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, first published in March, 2002 by HarperCollins. All of the stories, except "Paradises Lost", were previously published individually elsewhere.

The collection was also published in London by Gollancz, an imprint of the Orion Group, in 2003. A softcover edition was published by Perennial in 2003.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (; October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018) was an American novelist. She worked mainly in the genres of fantasy and science fiction, and authored children's books, short stories, poetry, and essays. Her writing was first published in the 1960s and often depicted futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds in politics, the natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality, and ethnography. In 2016, The New York Times described her as "America's greatest living science fiction writer", although she said that she would prefer to be known as an "American novelist".She influenced Booker Prize winners and other writers, such as Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell, and science fiction and fantasy writers including Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks. She won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award, each more than once. In 2014, she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In 2003, she was made a Grandmaster of Science Fiction, one of a few women writers to take the top honor in the genre.

Ursula K. Le Guin bibliography

Ursula K. Le Guin was an American author of speculative fiction, realistic fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, librettos, essays, poetry, speeches, translations, literary critiques, chapbooks, and children's fiction. She was primarily known for her works of speculative fiction. These include works set in the fictional world of Earthsea, stories in the Hainish Cycle, standalone novels and short stories. Though frequently referred to as an author of science fiction, critics have described her work as being difficult to classify.Le Guin came to critical attention with the publication of A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968, and The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969. The Earthsea books, of which A Wizard of Earthsea was the first, have been described as Le Guin's best work by several commentators, while scholar Charlotte Spivack described The Left Hand of Darkness as having established Le Guin's reputation as a writer of science fiction. Literary critic Harold Bloom referred to the books as Le Guin's masterpieces. Several scholars have called the Earthsea books Le Guin's best work. Her work has received intense critical attention. As of 1999, ten volumes of literary criticism and forty dissertations had been written about her work: she was referred to by scholar Donna White as a "major figure in American letters". Her awards include the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal, and multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards. Feminist critiques of her writing were particularly influential upon Le Guin's later work.Le Guin's first published work was the poem "Folksong from the Montayna Province" in 1959, while her first short story was "An die Musik", in 1961; both were set in her fictional country of Orsinia. Her first professional publication was the short story "April in Paris" in 1962, while her first published novel was Rocannon's World, released by Ace Books in 1966. Her last publication was a 2018 collection of non-fiction, titled Dreams Must Explain Themselves and Other Essays 1972–2004. This bibliography includes all of Le Guin's published novels, short fiction, translations, edited volumes, and all collections that include material not previously published in book form, as well as any works mentioned in commentary about Le Guin's writings.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.