Papers, SFF

Worldbuilding in Ursula K. Le Guin

I have a new paper out! “Environmental Change as a Catalyst for Worldbuilding in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home” has just been published. You can find it in Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Francesca T. Barbini for Luna Press Publishing.

I have to admit, Always Coming Home is not my favourite Le Guin book. It’s actually quite far from my favourite. (That will forever be The Tombs of Atuan.) And if I’m being absolutely, perfectly honest, I find Always Coming Home to be over-detailed for my tastes. However, it is an absolutely excellent example of worldbuilding, and one that stems from cataclysmic environmental change. It’s part purported history, part thought experiment, part possible future, and what I find compelling amidst all that welter of detail is just how far the worldbuilding spreads. I mean, I know that in some corners of speculative fiction, writers will rabbit on forever and fucking ever about extraneous bits of encyclopaedia that are only marginally masked as story, but rarely is the focus so broad. Environmental change, in Le Guin, changes everything. Economics, family life, art, science… it’s all affected.

As an academic, that fascinates me. I’m interested in how speculative fiction deals with environmental change, and Always Coming Home is a deeply considered example of it written by someone much cleverer than me. Now, if only it had that creepy labyrinth…