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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guernica interviews Ursula K. Le Guin. Via Enter the Octopus.

Guernica: Do you ever feel that the way your work has been cordoned at times as science fiction is a deflection by the mainstream of the very serious critiques these novels contain of our society?

Ursula K. Le Guin: Yes. I do.

Guernica: Or is it sexism?

Ursula K. Le Guin: Yes. It is.

Guernica: Was there a moment when you realized the shift in the way you were being treated, when you became taken more seriously by the literary establishment, and do you remember it precisely? To an outsider, it appears recent.

Ursula K. Le Guin: Actually, I haven’t felt a major shift. I am still mostly referred to (dismissed) as a “sci fi writer.” When Margaret Atwood writes a serious review of one of my books for the New York Times, it is printed under the title “The Queen of Quinkdom,” to make sure nobody takes it seriously. I am shortlisted for major awards, but the awards go to people like De Lillo and MacCarthy who also write science fiction, using the tropes and loci and metaphors of science fiction, but fastidiously keep their literary skirts from being defiled by the name of genre.

I admire Doris Lessing for calling her science-fiction books science fiction; I only wish I liked the books. Atwood herself has walked a very fine and sometimes wavering line trying to keep her science fiction books out of the genre ghetto without trashing the people who live in the ghetto. I can’t wait for people like Michael Chabon to finish chainsawing that damn thorn hedge and knocking down all the genre walls. Now, there’s a man with courage, Chabon. He just joined the Science Fiction Writers Association. He steps over the walls in both directions.

Most recently, my three books of the Annals of the Western Shore have been ignored by both the science fiction community and the literary critics, because they are published as “young adult.” The label YA actually means nothing except that the protagonists, or some of them, are young. Publishers like it because it is a secure marketing niche. But the cost of security is exclusion from literary consideration. The walls of disdain around any book perceived as being “for children” are much higher than they were when I began publishing the Earthsea books, forty years ago. Oh, Joshua, won’t you blow your horn?