Spanning two volumes, The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula Le Guin is the first major retrospective collection of Le Guin’s short fiction—something that’s been a long time coming, considering her significant contributions to the world of American letters. These volumes, Where on Earth and Outer Space, Inner Lands, have been arranged by Le Guin and are published in handsome hardcover editions by Small Beer Press (who make very lovely books, and have done so again this time around). Both volumes were released in late November, and all-together they collect nearly forty stories from across Le Guin’s expansive career.
The first volume, Where on Earth, focuses “on Le Guin’s interest in realism and magic realism,” including her “satirical, political, and experimental earthbound stories”—as the flap copy says. In her own introduction, Le Guin explores how she chose the pieces and their arrangement, a multi-step process that took into account a number of things (no novellas, no stories too heavily connected to other universes, etc.) and eventually resulted in the first volume’s focus on realistic or “mundane” fiction. (Of course, that’s not necessarily accurate—but we’ll get into that later.) She also introduces and gives brief thoughts on the stories in question that provide the reader a bit of context before they dive into the fiction.
And then, it is time to dive into the fiction.