Details: (c) Ursula K Le Guin 2002. More stuff on Le Guin's official website (which is pretty, but not very well organized).
Verdict: The Birthday of the World is extremely disappointing. It has its moments but most of it is utter trash.
Reasons for reading it: Cos I'm stupid, and I didn't listen to any of the people who told me that Le Guin isn't any good these days. I refused to believe that she is physically capable of writing anything less than wonderful. Also because the stupid faculty insisted I spend two days last week listening to talks 90% of which had no possible interest or relevance for me, so I smuggled a book in. [Oh dear, just typoed snuggled for smuggled]
How it came into my hands: The library. I'm really very impressed with the central library, for having such a good selection of recent stuff, and quite diverse too.
Almost all the stories in this collection are baaaaaaad and the rest are mediocre. Pretty much all the stories are essentially fanfic set in her various worlds. The kind of fanfic that evokes the reaction, well, that wasn't a bad description of a sex scene, but it would have been better if they'd read the original properly. The first story in the collection, Coming of age in Karhide is the worst; it's set in the Left hand of Darkness world, and not only is it a trashy story about a kid going through puberty and discovering sex, with absolutely no point, the really interestingly portrayed Gethenians (who acquire gender only when they're in heat) have turned into absolutely stock porn androgynes; you lose all the sense of otherness that makes LHoD so special.
The final two stories, the title story and Paradises lost are not quite so bad; the former is the story of the fall of the Inca empire told from the Inca point of view, and the latter a description of the interim generations of an interstellar voyage. Both have some cute ideas but are nothing like what I expect from Le Guin; Paradises lost in particular reads like an early draft of what might eventually have become a good story.
I've not hidden this rant behind a cut tag, because I want to join my voice to the chorus saying, don't bother with Le Guin's recent stuff. And most particularly, don't read this book.