The Prose, Poetry, and Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin

The Wild Girls

by Alison Hallett
The Portland Mercury
May 12th, 2011

In 2002, Ursula K. Le Guin published the short story The Wild Girls, a brief, powerful parable about a city in which some people are born to be slaves, and others to be gods; in which certain social structures are so institutionalized that most slaves aren’t capable of recognizing that there exists a “space in which there is room for justice.” The Wild Girls won several awards—the Portland author and sci-fi legend has collected six Nebulas, five Hugos, a National Book Award, and plenty more honors during her lengthy, prolific career.

The Wild Girls is a slim volume published as part of PM Press’ “Outspoken Authors” series, which offers a shorthand look at the breadth and depth of material Le Guin produced over the years. In addition to The Wild Girls, which opens the book, the volume collects “Staying Awake While We Read,” a 2008 Harper’s article about the state of the publishing industry; “The Conversation of the Modest,” an original essay about the virtue of modesty in the age of advertising; a handful of poems; and a Q&A conducted by fellow sci-fi writer Terry Bisson.

Most relevant is the Harper’s article, which challenges the idea that publishing can or should function as a growth-oriented industry. “I keep hoping that corporations will realize that publishing is not, in fact, a sane or normal business with a nice healthy relationship to capitalism,” she writes. It’s not idle musing: A basic skepticism of corporate motives was certainly a factor in Le Guin’s recent, vocal opposition to the proposed Google Books settlement.

The only disappointment here is the Q&A that concludes the volume. Terry Bisson’s questions are glib (“What have you got against Amazon?” “Have you ever been attacked by lions?”) and most of Le Guin’s answers are correspondingly terse. She does, however, deliver quite the stern rebuke to those “literary fiction” fans who laud her writing while snubbing genre fiction as a whole:

“The only means I have to stop ignorant snobs from behaving toward genre fiction with snobbish ignorance is to not reinforce their ignorance and snobbery by lying and saying that when I write sci-fi it isn’t sci-fi, but to tell them more or less patiently for 40 or 50 years that they are wrong to exclude sci-fi and fantasy from literature, and proving my argument by writing well.” And that’s why she’s a legend.

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