Ursula K. LeGuin: Hainish Novels & Stories from Library of America is a slipcased, two volume set collecting LeGuin’s Hainish fiction along with a number of relevant essays and introductions. It includes the Nebula and Hugo winning The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed along with 32 additional novels, short stories, essays and introductions. Editor Brian Attebery previously worked with LeGuin and Karen Joy Fowler editing the Norton Anthology of Science Fiction. Working on this set must have been a delight, something akin to reuniting the worlds of the Ekumen themselves.
The stories are notionally a collection of tales about the peoples of the world Hain, which colonized the stars and forgot that fact, only to spend a great deal of effort rediscovering it. But that makes it sound more coherent than it is. LeGuin’s Hainish stories do not occupy an intentional shared universe, but rather a repurposed one, a casual one, tightly interwoven here and vaguely notional over there. She muddled timelines, forgot things, changed things and reinvented things. It is one of the reason’s LeGuin herself rejects “The Hainish Cycle” for the collected title of these works. A cycle implies intent and deliberate connection which she just did not have. The works were also published over her career from just starting out through celebrated and accomplished, as such, they represent the author at different levels of accomplishment and stages of her own life. This diversity in timeframes and publications has made gathering them together something of a quest. Between 1964 and 2002, you would need to track down nine novels from five publishers and 13 stories published in 13 separate publications The collections, Worlds of Exile and Illusion, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, and The Birthday of the World could help you carve the task down to just nine volumes.
The Hainish books are thematically and stylistically diverse as well. Reading them straight through will not take you on anything approaching a coherent journey. In addition to dealing with the many stories she told within the shared worlds of the Ekumen, you also get to play hopscotch from adventure yarn to anarchist utopia and points beyond. But that has always been true of these stories. You found them, you read them, because you wanted to go on those journeys and having read one, you trusted LeGuin to take you on another. So in that sense, this set has made it easier.
The two volumes of Ursula K. LeGuin: Hainish Novels & Stories has made the journey easier in another way. Attebery has selected the essays and original introductions in the appendices of the two volumes with an eye toward the preservation of LeGuin’s ideas and motives as the author saw them at the time. In the additional introductions and essays by LeGuin, she affirms this choice eschewing revisionism for relevance and rediscovering for herself her own assumptions and intentions. With the final two introductions dated November and December 2016, they speak not just with authorial authority, but with no small measure of finality.
Above all, as the final essay, “On Not Reading Science Fiction,” affirms, these particular “stories about ideas” are not just stories about ideas. Science fiction is so often viewed, judged and sometimes even created, around this residual pulp aesthetic. These stories can and should be enjoyed as literature, for their playfulness, for their verisimilitude and for their humanism, even when she has to make it an alien concern for us to explore it. The series has lowly beginnings, starting as one short story in Amazing Stories and two un-agented publications as Ace Doubles, an imprint so near to pulp fiction as to be occasionally indistinguishable. The entire field grew up and into her work, maturing as she wrote. If, as LeGuin points out, the language of science fiction moved on from quaint notions and dry language, then LeGuin is one of the greats that helped it get there. Thus by nestling the works and the ideas in additional material so snugly in one place, this two-volume set is both the journey and the road taken.
Ursula K. LeGuin: Hainish Novels & Stories from Library of America tables of contents:
Rocannon’s World (1966, Fomalhaut II)
Planet Of Exile (1966, Werel)
City Of Illusions (1967, Terra)
The Left Hand Of Darkness (1969, Gethen)
The Dispossessed (1974, Anarres | Urras)
“Winter’s King” (1975, Gethen)
“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” (1971, World 4470)
“The Day Before the Revolution” (1974, Urras)
“Coming of Age in Karhide” (1995, Gethen)
Introduction to Rocannon’s World (1977)
Introduction to Planet of Exile (1978)
Introduction to City of Illusions (1978)
Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness (1976)
“A Response, by Ansible, from Tau Ceti” (2005)
“Is Gender Necessary?” Redux (1987)
“Winter’s King” (1969 version)
The Word For World Is Forest (1972, Athshe)
“The Shobies’ Story” (1990, M-60-340-nolo)
“Dancing To Ganam” (1993, Ganam)
“Another Story Or A Fisherman Of The Inland Sea” (1994, O)
“Unchosen Love” (1994, O)
“Mountain Ways” (1996, O)
“The Matter Of Seggri” (1994, Seggri)
“Solitude” (1994, Eleven-Soro)
Story Suite: Five Ways To Forgiveness
“Betrayals” (1994, Yeowe)
“Forgiveness Day” (1994, Werel)
“A Man Of The People” (1995, Yeowe)
“A Woman’s Liberation” (1995, Werel)
“Old Music And The Slave Women” (1999, Werel)
Notes on Werel and Yeowe
The Telling (2000, Aka)
Introduction to The Word for World Is Forest (1977)
“On Not Reading Science Fiction” (1994)