Nine Lives by Ursula LeGuin

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Allow me to indulge in three of my favorite things in life: alliteration, science fiction, and short stories.

“Nine Lives” by Ursula LeGuin.

In Ursula LeGuin’s “Nine Lives” ten clones arrive at the Libra Exploratory Mission Base to assist the singleton humans Owen Pugh and Alvaro Guillen Martin in their scientific work. The clones are dizzyingly alike and individual at the same time, each possessing perfectly bronzed skin, black hair and distinct features. The first image that comes to mind is that of a terrifying yet oh-so-beautiful ancient Egyptian-alien-robot. Ahem.

The clones quickly create an atmosphere of distrust and doubt between Pugh and Martin, yet they are relying on the clones’ collective genius in multiple fields of study to assist them in mining uranium in a most ominous mine quite far away that Martin has dubbed “Hellmouth”. Nothing would make you want to stay away from a place more than learning that the locals call it “Hellmouth” but they have no choice.

An unforeseen earthquake traps the group in Hellmouth and takes the lives of nine of the clones. The remaining clone, Kaph, goes through the horrifying experience of re-living each of their deaths through multiple seizures; Martin and Pugh watch him succumb to each death, consisting mostly of suffocations and the like. Neither Kaph, Martin nor Pugh had any idea that the clones would still be so interconnected even after death. Although Kaph wishes he were dead with them, he now faces life virtually alone and is forced to come up with one identity for his new life as a singleton. Pugh and Martin had believed the clones to be robots, disturbingly fake and obscene, yet they came to see them as true personages, maybe closer to humans than they’d realized.


*This story along with dozens of other science fiction short stories can be found in: Eric Rabkin, ed., Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology

4 thoughts on “Nine Lives by Ursula LeGuin

  1. Nice Post!
    Never had th chance to read U le Guin.
    Unfortunately, some 2ndhand bkshops just don’t stock women SF authors
    If & when I can find them, I plan to read Left Hand of Darkness (1969) & Lathe of Heaven (1971) (her 2 top-rated titles) but now I will look out for this 1!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I recommend “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Le Guin for a good introduction to her work, it is a short and powerful piece. The others you mention I still need to read as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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