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'Genre fiction was looked at as a ghetto'

13 December 2014

‘I didn't follow the sf rules and conventions unless I felt like it; essentially I went on writing what I wanted to write, and they could call it what they liked. To publish genre fiction of course branded me as a sub-literary writer in the eyes of the literary establishment, critics, award-givers, etc., but the great potentialities of the field itself, the open-mindedness of its editors and critics, the intelligence of its readers, compensated for that. Genre fiction was looked at as a ghetto, but I wonder now if realist fiction, sealing itself off in the glum suburbs of a dysfunctional society, denying the uses of imagination, was the ghetto...

I've always been interested, the way anthropologists are, in the different things people do and the different ways they do them, which led me, as a fiction writer, into thinking about different ways they could do them, and inventing different societies and cultures. I was inventing - not in a didactic, prescriptive way, but descriptively, in the thought-experiment mode. What would it be like if we did it differently? What would an ungendered society, or an anarchist society, actually be like to live in? How would it work? What kind of problems would it run into?

There's still a whole range of options for professional writers - between the poet who has no "market" at all, yet writes and publishes for love of the art, through the ordinary novelist who tries to balance artistic standards and conscience with demands for easy saleability, to writers eager to sell themselves and their product to the highest bidder. E-publication has changed the rules, and made self-publication temptingly easy. It's not easy to know how to be an author these days! I'm way too old to give any advice on the matter to anyone. All I can do is keep on going as I always did, in the direction that seems to promise the most freedom.'

Ursula Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness and Lavinia in Salon