Vaster than empires: Ursula Le Guin introduces her Hainish stories

Hainish box

A big box, big enough to hold a universe of human dreams and dramas, small enough to be held in human hands.

On, the introductions to the new 2-volume boxed set, The Hainish Novels & Stories, from the Library of America, have been posted.  Written by Ms. Le Guin, they give background on how she wrote some of the groundbreaking sf of the 1960s and ’70s, like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.  And how she *didn’t* write them, that is, as a coherent “future history”, leading her to dislike references to a “Hainish Cycle” of stories.

Plus, in the first introduction, she describes her own relationship to the speculative genres, both as fan and writer, and comparing them to her other love, Poetry:

Science fiction was, in this respect, like poetry, a field in which I was then also occasionally getting published: a living literature ignored by most Americans, but read passionately by those who read it.  Both were small worlds, resounding with theories, arguments, friendships, rivalries, flights of praise and volleys of insults, and dominated by figures worshiped by their followers.

Science fiction proved to be the more receptive to her and to her work, though:

Many of the established figures of the genre were open-minded and generous, many of its readers were young and game for anything. So I had spent a lot of time on that planet.

In the second introduction, she discusses her return to the Hainish universe, and the fantasy archipelago Earthsea, after years of not thinking about them:

At the end of that ten-year exploration of my own inner territories, I was able to see my old Earthsea with new eyes, and to return to the worlds of the Hainish descent ready to play very freely with the imaginative opportunities they offered.

One reception offered to her, though, she found not to her liking, coming from her 1977 novel, The Word for World is Forest, about aliens who commune with a vast arboreal landscape that is under assault by Earthlings:

A final note on Word for World: a high-budget, highly successful film resembled the novel in so many ways that people have often assumed I had some part in making it. Since the film completely reverses the book’s moral premise, presenting the central and unsolved problem of the book, mass violence, as a solution, I’m glad I had nothing at all to do with it.

In the long run, I suspect that Ms. Le Guin’s work will survive and thrive in the minds of readers, no matter how her images and imaginative cultures may be adopted and adapted in the speculative efforts of others.


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