Always Coming Home – Ursula K. le Guin

There’s a Borges story about a cabal of wise men who write an encyclopedia about a fictional world that somehow consumes the real one. Ursula K. le Guin attempts something similar in Always Coming Home.

Her book is a collection of writings, including novel extracts, folktales and glossaries, about a Californian community called The Valley waiting in the far future. Neither a dystopia or utopia, more an alternatopia where every social attitude and custom is different from our contemporary mores, yet somehow everything manages to even out in moral terms. Their idea of wealth is to share, they have no gods but a complicated spirituality, and although their Earth is depleted of the resources they’d need to develop industrial technology they can always consult an interstellar AI that seemed to have descended from our internet.

Guin’s technique of describing another world through fictional secondary sources recall Defontenay’s lost classic Star, which did the same thing back in the nineteenth century. With this sort of speculative fiction, the main community often ends up working like a protagonist, a really big character made up of normalĀ  people who undergoes character development as their culture changes in response to major events. According to me, this technique is what makes ambitious fictional histories like Last and First Men, The Shape of Things to Come and a lot of Tolkein’s stuff engaging to readers. In contrast, Le Guin’s book focuses more on the average person, and that in conjunction with the few changes that occur in the Valley, means that the whole thing didn’t really appeal to me.

Still, the pictures are very nice, and if there’s one thing I say on an infrequent basis, it’s that speculative fiction needs more illustrations. If you’re a massive fan of Earthsea and love the worldbuilding that went into that series, go pick this one up.

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