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The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction.

This impressive collection of speeches and essays is enough to make even a hard-nosed realist turn to science fiction (SF) with greater respect and curiosity. Ursula K. LeGuin has brought this genre out of hiding and into the mainstream of literature. She has taken a strong stand, in part to oppose the kind of thinking expressed by the librarian who, when asked where the SF section in the library was, replied: "Oh, we don't allow children to read escapist literature."

LeGuin makes a formidable case through these witty, insightful, and mythic declarations about literature as entertainment and art, trash literature that promises to sell well in the plastic marketplace and then is forgotten, and literature that seeks to discover and know the truth while still entertaining the reader. As an author who has won seven national awards, LeGuin is qualified to write that, in SF, as in more traditional literature, the myths that guide a people are being made up all the time.

The term "fantasy" also preoccupies several of her pieces. In "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" she analyzes distrust of fantasy as a consequence of the Puritan work ethic, profit-mindedness, and, most distressingly, the American male's fundamental distrust of imagination itself. So, fiction reading is not profitable. The great American male's fiction, she maintains, is the stock market report and sports page. In "Dreams Must Explain Themselves," she ends by claiming that "as all great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope."

An even bolder expression of science fiction's importance appears in "Myth and Archetype in SF." Here, LeGuin observes that it is the mythology of the modern world, giving rise to hero-worship in the figures of Superman and Batman, figures who, by their presence as symbols, give us "a nonintellectual mode of apprehension." Her sentiments echo Joseph Campbell's idea of myth when she writes that, "when a genuine myth rises to consciousness, its message is always the same: you must change your life." It is in the mythic dimensions of SF, drawn deeply into the individual via imagination, that we find a connectedness among us, for the myths show us where we are united in our humanity.

"The Stalin in the Soul" paints the darkest portrait of censorship in literature. Praising Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We as the best work of science fiction ever written, LeGuin compares it to the trivial intentions of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, pap fiction that is, in its own way, a censoring of the truth through cliche in order to sell. To keep Stalin out of the soul is to guard against forms of censorship that come from the marketplace, to avoid writing for "sale." Stalin is the image of censorship in all of its forms, including economic. LeGuin's is a powerful voice of persuasion for taking the genre of science fiction seriously.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Slattery, Dennis Patrick
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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