A long, long time from now, in the valleys of what will no longer be called Northern California, might be going to have lived a people called the Kesh.
But Always Coming Home is not the story of the Kesh. Rather it is the stories of the Kesh – stories, poems, songs, recipes – Always Coming Home is no less than an anthropological account of a community that does not yet exist, a tour de force of imaginative fiction by one of modern literature’s great voices.
‘Her most important book since ALWAYS COMING HOME and her most satisfactory collection since her first, the brilliant THE WIND’S TWELVE QUARTERS. A formidable and rewarding work, a prime candidate for best SF collection of the year. An essential book.’ LOCUS
Six of the eight piece are set in Le Guin’s classic Hainish cycle. The title story, ‘The Birthday of the World’, stands alone and the final piece, ‘Paradises Lost’, is a new short novel original to the collection, a major addition to the generation starship subgenre of science fiction.
Billy Byrne squared his broad shoulders and filled his deep lungs with the familiar medium which is known as air in Chicago. He was standing upon the platform of a New York Central train that was pulling into the La Salle Street Station, and though the young man was far from happy something in the nature of content pervaded his being, for he was coming home. After something more than a year of world wandering and strange adventure Billy Byrne was coming back to the great West Side and Grand Avenue. Now there is not much upon either side or down the center of long and tortuous Grand Avenue to arouse enthusiasm, nor was Billy particularly enthusiastic about that more or less squalid thoroughfare. The thing that exalted Billy was the idea that he was coming back to show them. He had left under a cloud and with a reputation for genuine toughness and rowdyism that has seen few parallels even in the ungentle district of his birth and upbringing.
A girl had changed him. She was as far removed from Billy’s sphere as the stars themselves; but Billy had loved her and learned from her, and in trying to become more as he knew the men of her class were he had sloughed off much of the uncouthness that had always been a part of him, and all of the rowdyism.
Billy Byrne was no longer the mucker.
An introductory note seems called for to explain to the reader the origin of the following strange document, which I have received from a friend with a view to publication. The author has given it the form of a letter to myself, and he signs himself with his nickname, “Cass,” which is an abbreviation of Cassandra. I have seldom met Cass since we were undergraduates together at Oxford before the war of 1914. Even in those days he was addicted to lurid forebodings, hence his nickname.
My last meeting with him was in one of the great London blitzes of 1941, when he reminded me that he had long ago prophesied the end of civilization in world-wide fire. The Battle of London, he affirmed, was the beginning of the long-drawn-out disaster.
Cass will not, I am sure, mind my saying that he always seemed to us a bit crazy: but he certainly had a queer knack of prophesy, and though we thought him sometimes curiously unable to understand the springs of his own behaviour, he had a remarkable gift of insight into the minds of others. This enabled him to help some of us to straighten out our tangles, and I for one owe him a debt of deep gratitude. He saw me heading for a most disastrous love affair, and by magic (no other word seems adequate) he opened my eyes to the folly of it. It is for this reason that I feel bound to carry out his request to publish the following statement. I cannot myself vouch for its truth. Cass knows very well that I am an inveterate sceptic about all his fantastic ideas. It was on this account that he invented my nickname. “Thos,” which most of my Oxford friends adopted. “Thos,” of course, is an abbreviation for Thomas, and refers to the “doubting Thomas” of the New Testament.
Cass, I feel confident, is sufficiently detached and sane to realize that what is veridical for him may be sheer extravagance for others, who have no direct experience by which to judge his claims. But if I refrain from believing, I also refrain from disbelieving. Too often in the past I have known his wild prophesies come true.
The head of the following bulky letter bears the address of a well-known mental home.