by Paul Buhle
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Wild Girls, PM Press, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-1604864038, 102pp, paperback
(Swans - April 25, 2011) During the 1970s, when Ursula K. Le Guin was a giant name in Science Fiction, feminism and the post-New Left, some of us already had the bad feeling that the political promise of her radical world view was too good to last. And it was. I now remember that I wrote effusively about her in a soon-to-be-defunct slick magazine, Seven Days, and again in my own little mag, Cultural Correspondence, which took a while longer to defunct itself. Along with Philip K. Dick, she raised the genre up from its pulpy past to serious (and seriously-taken) literature, launching the hopes and prospects of another radical, Kim Stanley Robinson, among the literary youngsters of the day.
This volume is another in PM's Outspoken Authors series, capsule looks at outstanding lefty talents, with novella tucked in alongside an essay, a few poems, a bibliography, and an interview. The Wild Girls is more or less anthropological, typically treating tribes in another time or place (but seemingly on this planet) in their divisions of privilege, poor treatment of women (who respond as creatively as they can, however), wars, and class or clan division. Perhaps she has grown more pessimistic over the decades, and why not. Environmentalism was always a key to her, along with the dangers of militarization.
The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Word for World is Forest, and The Lathe of Heaven, all published during the 1970s, would alone have left a distinguishing mark upon the field of SciFi but also feminist writing. The Word for World is Forest was actually an allegory about the US invasion of Vietnam and The Dispossessed an astonishing journey into attempted utopias (in outer space, that is), her most "political" and perhaps most hopeful (as in Avatar thirty-some years later, the human invaders finally give up; and at least on one desperately poor planet, people share their goods in common). Many of her books in later years were for young readers, an important task in itself.
Le Guin gives up as little as possible in the interview conducted by Terry Bisson. She's affable, actually quite funny, secure in her sense of literary self at age 80, and unwilling to be too candid about her process in writing or much else. It begins with Bisson asking what she has against Amazon, and her answering, "Nothing, really, except profound moral disapproval of their aims and methods, and a simple loathing of corporate greed." Actually, I think she resent the theft of the legendary Amazons, those women who chose to live alone rather than put up with dominant males.
It's a thin book, but a fine tribute. And a reminder: no matter how many terrible SciFi films and TV series appear (alongside a small handful of good ones, Avatar for some of us, Dark Skies and The 4400 on television a few years back), Science Fiction can pack a wallop.
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About the Author
Paul Buhle retired from college teaching to produce radical comics fulltime. His latest include Studs Terkel's Working, A Graphic Adaptation [reviewed in these pages], The Beats, A People's History of the American Empire (aka an adaptation of Howard Zinn's classic) and a pictorial biography of his childhood hero, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman. Buhle is working on his ninth comic book. (back)