Book Review: “The Unreal and The Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin”

This set consists of two volumes. Volume one is Where on Earth, volume two is Outer Space, Inner Lands.

All of these short stories have been published before. What’s interesting about these volumes is that le Guin selected each of these as a story that she really liked. No one else helped her select stories or choose the order in which they’re published and which volume they occupy. It undoubtedly says a lot about her thought processes and interests; particularly about her fluid and amorphous boundaries between realism, fantasy and science fiction.

The stories include well-known ones such as “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?” and little-known ones that she wanted to put before readers.

She writes in a clear, distinctive style that varies little from story to story. It varies so little that I found it difficult sometimes to keep the stories separate. Reading too many of them in one sitting can make them all sound alike.

If you’ve not read any of le Guin’s stories, slap yourself (you deserve if for neglecting one of our great modern writers), Then read these volumes, followed by some of her novels. These have stuck with me the longest:

  • The Word For World Is Forest
  • The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia
  • The Left Hand of Darkness
  • The Lathe of Heaven
  • The Books of Earthsea
    • A Wizard of Earthsea
    • The Tombs of Atuan
    • The Farthest Shore

In her introduction to these two volumes, she says that she deliberately left out her favorite story form, the novella. “Each novella would crowd out three, four, or five short stories.” These volumes left me hoping that she’ll do a similar story selection volume or two focused on her novellas. I also thought, “If these volumes had been thought of as e-books, there’d be no page limit.” So she could have included both the selected short stories her selected novellas. (E-books have made the number of pages meaningless. Books like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was originally intended to be published as a single volume but was broken into three volumes due to the sheer difficulty and cost of publishing thousands of physical pages. So if your primary focus is on e-books, you no longer need to feel constrained by length limits.)

So check out these two volumes and go read some of her great novels. At once, you hear? There you go, good reader! Good reader!

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