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An indispensable two-volume collection for fans of speculative fiction
on December 6, 2012
Most every serious fan of science-fiction and fantasy is aware of the impact Le Guin's fiction has had on the genres, but many have not delved further than her classic novels like 'The Disposessed' or the 'Earthsea' cycle. I would argue that some of her very best, most powerful and imaginative work was in the short form, and these two volumes (sold separately) provide the perfect evidence. The 38 stories found within would serve as an excellent introduction for newcomers to her work, and as a definitive collection of Le Guin's best short fiction for the more serious fan.
The first volume, subtitled 'Where on Earth,' collects her more literary and experimental fiction, as opposed to the more science-fiction-based second volume. Many of the stories here blur the line between "serious" literature and science-fiction, as evidenced by the first four stories, all set within the fictional country of Orsina. But while the setting may be fictional, these four stories deal with very real, human issues, such as freedom and what it is to be human. Some of the stories are very moving, like "Buffalo Gals," in which a small child, lost in the desert, finds a new mother-figure in Coyote, the trickster god. Others are rather strange and surreal, such as "Either, OR," about a small town that's constantly on the move. Every story here is unique and well worth reading, not to mention beautifully written, and I imagine even sf-only readers will find much to love.
'Outer Space, Inner Lands' collects Le Guin's more sf-based works, though only a few would be considered "straight" or "traditional" science-fiction. Le Guin, more often than not, used science-fiction as a launching pad to explore philosophical themes that would otherwise be much more difficult to accomplish effectively. "Mazes," about an alien "lab rat" forced to perform tests for a researcher who will never understand it, no matter how hard the alien tries, is a powerful meditation on language barriers and communication breakdown. Also included are the classics "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," an abstract, philosophical tale of a utopian city, and "Nine Lives," a highly effective and moving story dealing with cloning and human bonding. Both of these stories have been reprinted dozens of times in various anthologies, and with good reason, as they're both essential reading for fans of speculative fiction.
These two volumes do an amazing job of collecting the very best short fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin, and cover a wide spectrum of moods, genre, and style, which makes for a nearly overwhelming, kaleidoscopic read, and one that deserves to be read not only by fans of science-fiction and fantasy, but by fans of just-plain-great writing and storytelling. While I've been an admirer of her work for a long time, that admiration has reached a whole new level after having read these two superb collections. And I have a pretty strong feeling many others will be feeling the exact same way in the not-too-distant future.