The world of speculative fiction starts with that question and imagines a world to answer it. Ursula K. LeGuin is variously seen as a writer of fantasy or science fiction, but most of her work falls into the realm of speculative fiction – imagining a change in what we call human or how we see the world and then watching it play out. Some of those changes may just be an accurate look into our near future; others may be fundamental changes in our world (or set on other worlds).
“The Left Hand of Darkness” imagines a world without gender, in which humans go into heat but are otherwise asexual, and a world whose tropical regions look like earth’s polar regions, with the polar regions colder yet. How would that world play out?
“The Dispossessed” imagines an earth we have destroyed, a revolution ending in stalemate, and an anarchist rebel group settling on the moon while the capitalist rulers remain on earth. The two groups initially have nothing to do with each other, but what happens if your interests and knowledge are shared primarily by those on the other world?
“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” posits a world with no animal life – only plants. Humans arrive to explore the world and slowly discover it is not what it seems initially. The world begins to appear to be interconnected and plants communicate with each other. This idea may have been far-fetched when written, but we now know that Aspen groves are clones – a single organism with a single underground root structure and many stems. We also know there is a vast underground fungal network and that trees share nutrients via this network – amd they are not just single-organism stands like the Aspens.
“The Word for World is Forest” (which I mis-remembered as the story above, so I re-read it recently) posits a world colonized by humans, inhabited by creatures humans think of as subhuman, and how formerly peaceful people rebel against that subjugation. The book was written during the war in Viet Nam and could be seen as an allegory for that war.
In “The Matter of Seggri”, LeGuin builds a world in which men live inside of a walled city and women live outside the walls. Male children are sent to be with other men at age 11. Women vastly outnumber men and men are used primarily to sire children (and also for recreational sex, working in “fuckeries”) and to provide entertainment via sports. The tale is told from multiple viewpoints (from the logs of explorers who visit the planet) and the world appears vastly different depending on who is telling the story.
LeGuin’s parents were anthropologists and studied the interaction between the modern world and the indigenous peoples of California and South America, so it seems an extension of their work that she plays with the interaction between colonizing humans and other worlds. She wrote many books and stories based on the Hainish universe, an interstellar network of humans, with the center of their civilization being the planet Hain, and Earth being one of the worlds colonized by them in the distant past.
Half-fast fall colors tour
Being (mostly) old retired people, we decided to do our annual half-fast fall colors ride twice. Episode One was this week. Four of us headed out after breakfast at the Jaybird Cafe (resurrected from the old Blue Spoon Cafe, an experiment by Culver’s that did not survive the
We realized en route that we retired in the opposite of age order, meaning the nearly 74 year old Rollie Fingers is still working, and the merely 65 year old Tim Buctoo has been retired for years.
We headed across the Wisconsin River via a route that required crossing it a second time (via ferry) before lunch. There was a chill in the air as the fog lifted. Tights, jackets, and full fingered gloves were in order until lunch at the Little Village Cafe in Baraboo. This time we saved room to split a slice of pumpkin bourbon cheesecake before the ride back to Prairie du Sac. We traveled in a counter-clockwise direction, saving the hills for after lunch. A bottle of bubbly was chilling for the end of the ride. Life is tough when you’re retired.
Episode Two will be in a couple more weeks. You’ll hear about it here first.