Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ursula Le Guin on SF and Writing

Ursula Le Guin is the author of our next book, The Lathe of Heaven, published in 1971. Here's a link to an interesting recent interview of the author in Vice Magazine. In it she is asked what constitutes science fiction, and this is her response:

"Science fiction—and the correct shortcut is “sf”—uses actual scientific facts or theories for the source ideas or framework of the story. It has some scientific content, however speculative. If it breaks a law of physics, it knows it’s doing so and follows up the consequences. If it invents a society of aliens, it does so with some respect for and knowledge of the social sciences and what you might call social probabilities. And some of it is literarily self-aware enough to treat its metaphors as metaphors."

Asked how she can keep straight the many worlds that she has created in her fiction, the author shows her wit as well as her mastery of writing:

"No, no, thank you for saying so, Steve, but if I really had, I would admire myself tremendously. I would be in awe of my own staggeringly great mind. What I did was give the illusion of there being all those different worlds. That’s called art, or fiction, or something. The rule is, you only invent what you have to. And that’s pretty much what’s right in front of the reader. Let’s say it’s an ansible. I do not, in fact, invent the ansible. I do not explain how it works. I cannot, but shhh. I simply present the device as working, and as coming from a society which is far in advance of ours in science and technology, having spaceships that can travel nearly as fast as light, et cetera. And this background or context creates expectation and softens up the readers’ credulity so that they’re willing to “believe in” the ansible—inside the covers of the book. After the ansible had been around for a while, I invented the man who invented it, Shevek, in The Dispossessed. And he and I played around with some pretty neat speculations about time and interval and stuff, which lent more plausibility to the gimmick itself. But all I really invented was a) the idea of an instantaneous transmitter and b) a name for it. The reader does the rest. If you give them enough background/context, they can fill in the gaps. It isn’t just smoke and mirrors. There has to be a coherent vision of how things hang together in that society/culture/world. All the details have to fit together and be thought through as to their implications. But, well... it’s mostly smoke and mirrors. What else is any fiction?"

Asked whether she is pleased with the film adaptations of her books, the author states:

"The only good adaptation to film I’ve had so far is the 1980 Lathe of Heaven from PBS. It’s still available on DVD. It was made on a budget that wouldn’t pay for the hairdressers’ doughnuts these days, but the screenplay’s adequate, the directing is intelligent, the acting is super, and the special effects are really something else. Like, the spaceships are lighted Frisbees, being hurled into the air by Ed Emshwiller’s son. I love it."

To learn more about this author, visit Ursula Le Guin's terrific Web site. It is definitely worth exploring.

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