Title: The Birthday Of The World And Other Stories
Published: Gollancz, 2003
Purchased: Waterstones, Cambridge, 2004-02-26, £6.99
If there's one common theme of these stories, it's that of exploring possible societies. Not all very nice, either.
Coming of Age in Karhide deals with a society wherein the people grow up not set as male or female, but changing to one or the other as they 'come into heat', and with the viewpoint character's first sexual encounters.
In The Matter of Seggri, again the sexual balance is strange. However, in this case, there are very few males, and they are effectively imprisoned in 'castles', where they are expected to train as athletes, and to come into town only to mate with the females. A set of sketches shows how this society changes over the years, and how it's going to take a lot longer to reach any form of equality.
Unchosen Love and Mountain Ways both deal with a world where marriage is complicated - not only do marriages include two pairs of male and female, but one of each sex must be 'Morning', the other 'Evening', and you are 'Morning' if your mother was 'Morning', otherwise 'Evening'. The complications and compromises that this brings to marriage are interestingly explored in both stories.
Solitude deals with a people ... no, not with a people, because the members deny strongly that they are a people. This story is quite possibly the most disturbing of all, because the normally unspoken agreement that we are larger because of our fellows is here denied, and the results described.
Old Music and the Slave Women deals with a society riven by civil war - between the slave holders, and their former slaves. It is, perhaps, the most straightforward story.
The Birthday of the World sees a Pharaonic civilisation come crashing down into chaos, even though the apparent divinity of the sibling rulers is rightly overturned.
And finally, Paradises Lost deals with the fifth generation aboard a generation ship, some decades yet before planetfall, and how the supposedly rational structures set up when it left Earth start to crumble in the face of a new religion which literally doesn't believe in anything outside the ship.
All except the last assume, if sometimes only in the distant background, the Ekumen, a star-spanning society that works despite the complete lack of FTL travel, but with instant communication in the form of the ansible. The last is the odd one out, because it's set so much earlier, though it too lacks FTL.
All in all, an interestingly themed set of stories.