The Unreal and the Real

The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin

The titles of the two parts of this selected edition of Le Guin’s stories are Where on Earth and Outer Space, Inner Lands—Le Guin leaves it to the reader to decide which of these is real and which unreal. I’ll confess I’m drawn to the second half, and especially to the Hainish stories; it’s especially satisfying to read so many of them back to back and see how she used the barest scaffolding of a universe to build so many extraordinary tales. Among my favorites are The Shobies’ Story, which tells of a ship that travels instantly from one point to another; and Solitude, which takes place on a planet where women often live alone. One of the final stories in the collection, Sur, is among the finest short stories I’ve ever read: it tells of a group of women who ventured to the South pole before anyone else, but who kept the tale of their adventure to themselves. I’ve read it many times, and it has settled into my brain as history rather than fiction—both real and unreal at once.