LeGuin's _Always Coming Home_

Steve Witham (sw@tiac.net)
Sat, 30 Nov 1996 00:37:16 -0500

>From: "Grahame, Bob D." <bdg@mm-croy.mottmac.com>
>Date: Mon, 18 Nov 1996 9:47:10 -0500
>Subject: Re: the robot scenario
> [...]
>While not at all Extropian in
>content, I'd recommend a reading of the unusual fantasy novel
>"Always coming Home" by Ursula LeGuin. While set in a "primitive" human
>future, it slowly becomes clear that there has been a split during the
>singularity in which "The city of Mind" (computer enhanced intelligences)
>has long since left Earth, but remains (just) in contact with "the city
>of Man", who stick (by choice) with their purely human emotions and
>motivations. They [the computers? -sw] regard the remaining bands
>of humans as a small but vital part of the Earth ecosystem which they
>[the computers? -sw] have rebuilt after a collapse. I'm pretty sure that
>LeGuin meant the readers to identify with
>occupants of the City of Man... My mileage certainly differed.

I got a completely different reading, confirmed by a question-answer
period at the end of a reading (of other stuff) by LeGuin herself.

As I read it, at some point in the past, humans had "tamed" technology,
"put it in its place," and that place was mostly to store archives and do
science. After taming technology, the humans had gone back to ways of
life that respected the ecology, etc., and this is what restored the Earth.

So in the story there were islands where there were computers and people
who used them, and computers on space probes, and otherwise most people
had little use for computers or any high tech stuff.

I remember thinking that this dismissed the question of taming technology
pretty lightly, so I asked LeGuin, was it just a literary device to get
tech out of the way and focus on the main issues of the story, or...?

At this point she got quite incensed (sp?). She said no, it was the whole
point of the book: technology should be put in its place. If so, I don't
remember the book giving much of a clue how. Perhaps the story was meant
to show *why* it would be better that way, but how? With this and Bob
Grahme's interpretation, I have two reasons to reread the book.

Btw, I recommend it to people who have Taoist leanings, who yearn for
simplicity. Get the version with the audio cassette. *As I recall*, the
book is written from the point of view of an anthropologist from...?...and
the cassette is excerpts from her field tapes. They sound like real tapes
of real people from a culture you've never heard of, and the sense that
you're listening to voices and sounds from the future that's in
this book is really cool.


sw@tiac.net                                    http://www.tiac.net/users/sw
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