I have broken this into two sections because the book itself, whether it’s the one volume version or not was broken into two volumes for the audiobook.
The best thing about both of these collections is that Ursula K Le Guin wrote a sizable introduction to both and explained how she edited these. What came across in these introductions is that she likes and respects her Earthbound stories more so, and I think are maybe closer to her heart, but that she recognizes that her space or science fiction stories pushed their respective fields in more meaningful directions.
So taking these two collections and splitting them along these same lines what are we left with. In the Earthbound collection we have a much shorter book with fewer stories, and some retread from the novella collection that came out last year. Particularly, we have the story “Buffalo Girls Won’t You Come Out Tonight” which was my least favorite of all the novellas int he collection. But we also have very successful stories like “May’s Lion” which plays more so with form and structure than the others. The best novella from the novella collection in my mind is “Hernes” and in this collection we have some more stories from that set of narratives. I think what comes out of the earthbound stories ultimately is that Ursula K Le Guin is a sort of inverse of a lot of serious non-genre writers who dabble in science fiction and fantasy and produce something interesting and good. Ursula K Le Guin’s strengths lie in science fiction particularly (I will say more in a minute) but when she gives “serious” fiction a go the output is also very strong.
The space collection is just so good and so impressive and the ways in which she’s pushed those genre’s, even in what might feel like minor stories, is too important to ignore. While I don’t think first two Hain novels are that good, the story that revisits that world, a kind of science fiction fantasy blend, is very very. But even right from the get go we have “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas” so you already know you’re in for it. It’s a very good thought-provoking piece, even if it’s not a strict narrative. And from there we get several more very good stories. There are few here and there that felt not that memorable, but there were many felt super strong. I think the ways in which she’s clearly influenced several accomplished writers still working today is very apparent. There’s some stories here that really fell like they account for all of Connie Willis, and Iain M Banks, and Peter Hamilton, and others of that generation of writers who learned how to explore concepts in science fiction without sacrificing the actual need to tell a story worth telling.
These are satisfying collections, and I think making one’s way through them would yield a lot of positive results. I think revisiting them (had they not been audiobooks) skipping around, especially moving between the two main sections would have alleviated some of the tedium.