East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Ursula K. le Guin’s dreams and explanations

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As expected, reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Dreams must explain themselves is proving a highly satisfactory, sometimes baffling, and thoroughly humbling experience. And while I expected it, it’s still hitting me hard.

As I have always said, I prefer Le Guin’s non-fiction to her fiction – and the massive volume collecting about thirty years of articles, speeches, reviews and introductions is perfect for someone like me that so far accessed Le Guin’s non-fiction digging into magazines, or in slim volumes published in the ’80s.

It is impossible to ignore, while going through these papers, how Le Guin changed through the years – and progressing through the collection her approach to narrative, fantasy and the politics thereof became more sophisticated, more demanding and more complicated. Her approach to fantasy remains strong and illuminating, and it leads me to ask myself a lot of questions – like, am I writing good stories, or am I just trying to please a certain sector of the readers.

Because Le Guin is clear – pleasing the readers is only part of the game, and her definition of hackwork is chilling, when you’ve been writing fast and loose for two years. This is probably the biggest take away from the book – writing fantasy is serious business ad pleasing the readers is not enough.

Another (minor, probably) thing that appears evident is how Le Guin was dismissive of Roger Zelazny – which probably explains why I prefer her non fiction to her fiction, and Zelazny’s fiction to her fiction.

But Dreams must explain themselves is like a breath of fresh air, and the demonstration that there exists a serious criticism of fantasy that is not mummified in academia and can provide insight and ideas and not just ramblings about post-modernism. Well worth the money and the time.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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