Ursula K. Le Guin has moved from the fringes of sci fi to the mainstream of literary fiction, finally garnering the respect that she deserves. This collection of essays and reviews, while in places repetitive, gives the reader some of the nuts-and-bolts of Le Guin’s thinking, and is beautifully written and often breathtakingly insightful. It isn’t the same as reading her regular stories and novels, or any other kind of novel, as it is all nonfiction essays, with very little that could be called a “story” to it, but it is of considerable interest to Le Guin fans and those interested in writing in general.
The book is divided into three parts. The first, and in my opinion by far the best and most interesting section, is titled “Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces,” and it is there that Le Guin lays out her philosophy of writing and publishing. She touches on all kinds of issues, including several discussions of gender in literature, the importance of genre fiction, and the necessity of freedom to publish. The final essay of the section is in fact “Freedom,” her acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, in which she warns that “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now,” and says the now-famous line, “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable–but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”
That essay is probably the high point of the book. The next section, “Book Introductions and Notes on Writers,” is, while perhaps less inspiring than the essays of the first section, full of interesting thoughts about some very interesting writers, some of them well-known, some of them forgotten by time. Combined with the third section, which is made up of book reviews, it gives the reader plenty of ideas for further reading and demonstrates just what a thoughtful and voracious reader Le Guin herself is. All in all, an excellent collection for book lovers to dip into for inspiration and ideas.