THE LANGUAGE OF THE NIGHT
Essays On Fantasy And Science Fiction
Ursula K. Le Guin
If you want evidence that people are thinking and writing about science fiction these days with sophistication and good sense, you need go no further than this volume. But if you want evidence that these qualities have not necessarily percolated through the science-fiction readership, you also need look no further than to see how it's edited. Assembled and very solemnly introduced by Susan Wood of the University of British Columbia, the material itself ranges from the sublime to the superfluous. The 24 selections, arranged in five not-very-convincing categories, include award-acceptance speeches, book reviews, introductions to reprints, and both substantial and slender contributions to science-fiction journals and symposiums. At their best they are eloquent examples of an unashamed humanism rarely encountered today. Fantasy and science fiction, Le Guin has long been telling us, are really about ourselves. Fantasy at its best reminds us all "that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived." Science fiction with all its incongruities is "a broken mirror" each of whose fragments "is capable of reflecting, for a moment, the left eye and nose of the reader, and also the farthest stars shining in the depths of the remotest galaxy." But the nearest Susan Wood can come in six introductions, is the observation that the writer's duty pace Le Guin is to express "a clear moral vision in the most artistically satisfying way possible." Wood's choices are often exasperating too; she gives us much more of Le Guin the priggish deplorer of commercialism and masscult than of Le Guin the daring and unsentimental romantic. The author is also rather ill-served by the repetitiveness of the selection (the imaginary "Belch the Barbarian" of one paper turns up as "Barf the Barbarian" in another). Just how much better Wood might have done can be surmised from Jeff Levin's invaluable Le Guin bibliography, reprinted here as an appendix.