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Worlds Apart. Environmental Change as Catalyst for Worldbuilding in Le Guin’s Always Coming Home

Luna's fifth Call for Papers, Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction is now in pre-order and will be released on Tuesday 27th of July. Here is a chance to discover the 14 brilliant papers you will find in the book in the order they appear.

Today, we would like to introduce you to Octavia Cade, presenting the paper: "Environmental Change as Catalyst for Worldbuilding in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home"


Ursula K. Le Guin, in her novel Always Coming Home, constructs a future anthropological textbook describing the fictional Kesh people, one which contains records of their culture. That culture is post-apocalyptic, although within the histories of the surviving population no record of that apocalypse remains. Nonetheless, it is clear from the text that the disaster was environmental in nature, with tectonic change and rising sea levels changing the geography of the world. The Kesh, unmoored from their pre-apocalyptic history, and existing in a fundamentally different ecology, have developed a society adapted to their new environment. Le Guin therefore uses devastating environmental change as a catalyst for cultural change, and her interest in anthropology – derived from her father Alfred Louis Kroeber, who was an anthropologist himself – has resulted in a holistic approach to worldbuilding. The impact of apocalyptic change has been so immense that it reverberates through all aspects of Kesh life – including art, music, human reproduction, labour relations and housing – and by treating worldbuilding as an exercise in anthropology, Le Guin has created an entirely fictional culture that contains artefacts of modern life but is not defined by it. This worldbuilding, predicated as it is on a new way of interacting with a new environment, shines a light on the tensions and problematic relationships of human interactions with the natural world today.

Octavia Cade is a New Zealand writer. She’s had over 40 short stories published, in venues such as Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Strange Horizons. A non-fiction collection on food and horror was published in 2017, and several papers on speculative fiction have been published in Scandinavica, Horror Studies, and the BFS Journal. She’s won three Sir Julius Vogel awards, and has been shortlisted for a BSFA award. She attended Clarion West 2016.

Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction

is now in pre-order!


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