Sunday, 30 November 2014

Ursula Le Guin - my hero

Ursula Le Guin was recently awarded the National Book Foundation's  Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. I think it's safe to say that her acceptance speech has ruffled a few feathers

"I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality." 
                                          Ursula K. Le Guin, 65th National Book Awards. Nov 19, 2014.

What is the point of speculative fiction? Why bother writing for a genre still viewed with some disdain? It has long been dismissed as ray guns and ponies, After all, as with other heretics isn't it easier to label and ignore challenging ideas than to listen and engage with them? Other genres, called more "realistic" do still tell stories from a particular viewpoint after all, and speculative fiction is a reminder that this viewpoint is only one of many and can be challenged.

Speculative fictions can be used to challenge orthodoxy of thought, can challenge a narrative that makes people so fearful of their neighbours that they will consider them to be less than human. Speculative fiction can show the possible mirror or progression of that thought, a dystopian world, or an alternative vision of what could be. Given the multiplicity of speculative fiction writers specifically addressing questions of gender, race, economy and class fictions can question everything we think we know about the way our world is shaped. And then, after reading and maybe having your own views challenged, there is the possibility of meeting others who might think the same way. Ursula went on to say

"We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words".

Her words were brave, delivered in a roomful of publishers and powerful people, especially in the economy that we now inhabit. The full speech, far better to hear from Ursula herself, is available on the National Book Foundation website