Science Fiction Studies

#7 = Volume 2, Part 3 = November 1975

Darko Suvin

Editorial Introduction

One of the contributors in this issue (see Note 2 in Nudelman's article) has fortunately supplied SFS with an excellent rationale for having taken as the subject of its first special issues the opuses of Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin. Both of these leading American SF writers of the last 15 years write out of and react against historically the same human--psychological and sociopolitical--situation: the experience of the terrible pressures of alienation, isolation and fragmentation pervading the neo-capitalist society of the world of the mid-20th century. But while Dick is a "romantic" writer, whose energy lashes out in a profusion of incandescent and interfused narrative protuberances, Le Guin is a "classical" writer, whose energy is as fierce but strictly controlled within a taut and spare architectural system of narrative cells. While both have--as any significant writer must--a fixed creative focus, Dick writes centrifugally, as it were in revolving sectors (say of a radar sweep) whose apex is always the same but whose field may differ, whereas Le Guin writes centripetally, in a narrowing spiral (say of a falcon circling to a swoop) delineating ever more precisely the same object. The main strength of the first lies in the recording of breakdowns in the old individualist system of interhuman relationships; of the second, in the quest for, and indeed (in the very midst of such a breakdown) in the first sketching of, a new collectivist system. (Dick's fascination with simulacra or super-aliens and Le Guin's with time or the forest-minds do not at all contradict the assertion that their subject is interhuman relationships, to which--as in any writer--all other relations can only be analogies; I argued that for Dick in SFS #5, and will argue it for Le Guin in this issue.) Conversely, Dick gets less believable when he tries to focus on undegraded human relationships, a new collective (as in Galactic Pot-Healer)--he is not a bearer of good news--and Le Guin when she tries to focus on a Dickian world in degradation from which the individual must secede (as in The Lathe of Heaven and "Those Who Walk Away from Omelas")--she is not a bearer of bad news. Both writers seem to have felt this, and Galactic Pot-Healer is finally negated by a down-beat ending just as the Le Guin novel and story are by upbeat ones--types of endings really more congenial to the basic creative vision of each. Characteristically, the three works mentioned are those in which the visions of Dick and Le Guin have been invaded by a not wholly assimilated alien vision: by Jung's in the case of Dick, by Dick's in the case of LoH, and by Dunsany's in the case of "Omelas." Concurrently, the stylistic danger for Dick is murkiness and prolixity, for Le Guin brittleness and curtness. Or, to simplify: Dick sees a world of addition and multiplication, so he reproduces it in his narrative forms; Le Guin sees a world of subtraction and division, and she also started by reproducing it--but it seems to me and many collaborators in this issue that as of The Left Hand of Darkness she has increasingly expressed the complementary urge toward integration. At any rate, we need seers of both the Le Guin and the Dick type, for their visions help us to define and thus master our common world.

These and many other points are argued abundantly and I think often splendidly in this special issue. My thanks go to all its contributors (a number of them new to the pages of SFS), and my regrets to those we could not accommodate. I am particularly pleased that we can print the contribution of Rafail Nudelman, not only because it is our first one from the USSR, but even more important, because it shows that Republic of Letters is truly one in spite of all difficulties; my cordial thanks go to Alan G. Myers who translated this delayed addition quickly and yet so well. On the unfulfilled, I'm sorry that we couldn't find anybody to integrate the Earthsea trilogy with Le Guin's SF. This and a number of other aspects of Le Guin, a constantly evolving writer, remain to be elucidated. Le Guin--herself a brilliant critic, as witness the items in the General section of Levin's bibliography--will contribute a rejoinder in our next issue.

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