Cascadian Literature 101: Ursula K. Le Guin

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Ursula K. Le Guin is our greatest living Cascadian author.

 

 

She has written “fantasy” and “science fiction” (whatever those terms mean). She has written essays, and “straight fiction” (whatever that means), and poetry.


 

She creates whole new cultures, based on entirely different assumptions than the ones we’re used to. She plays games with political systems. (“The Left Hand of Darkness” creates a planet with a feudal hierarchy alongside a drab vaguely-Soviet bureaucracy. “The Dispossessed” features one planet with lots of different Earthlike governments – capitalism, pseudo-communism, etc. – and another with an anarchist government. If you’ve ever wondered what it might look like if the anarchists take over, read “The Dispossessed.”)


 

She uses a backstory for some of her novels, that goes like this: A million or so years ago, a humanoid culture colonized Earthlike planets all over the galaxy. Then, for some reason, they withdrew. Then, a million years later, they come back sheepishly: Look! We’re your relatives! And you have cousins all over the place!

 

 

But we all evolved, hm, differently.


 

Some of us evolved hermaphroditically.

 

 

Some of us have cultures in which sex is completely open.


 

Some of us have religions in which numbers are an expression of the divine.


 

My favorite of her books is “Always Coming Home.” It is, in the author’s words, “a story about some people who might be going to have lived a long time from now in Northern California.” It’s sweet and strange and very solemn, and it feels very real. They have some technology, lots of folklore, and a deeply soulful lifestyle. Le Guin gives us their recipes and their holiday celebrations and their beliefs. And she ends with this plaintive refrain:


 

From the beginning, from the beginning,

We are your children.

 

 

Go read her, kids.

 


 

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About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

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