I’ve the highest regard for Ursula K. Le Guin. In tandem with that, I have something rather more tangible: one of her volumes of “The Unreal and the Real,” in particular the second volume, called “Outer Space, Inner Lands”. And what a fine volume of short stories it is — if you’ve little experience with shorter fiction, you, my friends, need to buy yourselves some Gaiman, a bit of Poe, Le Guin, a hundred others!
The first story in “Outer Space, Inner Lands” is “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” a Hugo Award-winning piece, very short and all too brilliant. This short story breaks most, if not all of the guidelines your average creative writing class will impose on you; and yet, Le Guin’s story is superb in its prose, skill, and the moral and philosophical quandry it puts forwards.
What price is the happiness of the many worth? And what difference does the knowledge of the price paid make?
This story is a mind-fuck, in other words.
It is also a shining example of what short stories can achieve, the feats they are capable of. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is the kind of short story that, like “The Lottery” will long remain in your minds, for years and years to come.
One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.
Today also marks the day when I finally finished my first proper historical fiction novel: “Dunstan” by Conn Iggulden!
This one, I got on one of the Audible.co.uk (Audible — it sales books that speak to you!) Daily Deals. It tells the story of Dunstan of Glastonbury, one of England’s most beloved saints. It’s a fictionalised account of the patron-saint of blacksmiths, a man who saw and served in one capacity or another seven kings of England, put the crown on the heads of several of them, and supposedly even held the devil by the face with the help of his tongs.
Wild stuff! This fictionalised account of his life explains away the miracles in ways both amusing and sobering, showing Dunstan to be a man of impressive willpower, action and greatest cunning. It’s this cunning that serves to raise Dunstan from son of a minor Thane to Archbishop and Kingmaker. A very fine novel, though it took me a while to get into. Perhaps too much time was spent on Dunstan’s childhood but it served to develop his character well.
Dunstan’s sins are many, nearly as many as his great successes. The characters of the myriad kings he served under come alive on the page, and even though I knew what was coming (history nerd alert!) to most of them, I was still overcome by tension — Iggulden’s easy prose and the wry tone of his narrator, an older, experienced Dunstan at the dusk of his life, did much to make this a captivating listen.
The narration was also fantastic — thank you, Geoffrey Beevers!
“What is a first line, but a door flung open by an unseen hand?”
I’m just excited to have finally taken my first steps into the unimaginably vast, detailed world of historical fiction. I’ll be reading (or listening to) more Iggulden in the future…but first, I think, it’s time to explore Ken Follet. It’s been a long time coming.