The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth


The Unreal and the Real is a major event not to be missed. In this two-volume selection of Ursula K. Le Guin's best short stories?as selected by the National Book Award winning author herself?the reader will be delighted, provoked, amused, and faced with the sharp, satirical voice of one of the best short story writers of the present day. Where on Earth explores Le Guin's earthbound stories which range around the world from small town Oregon to middle Europe in the middle of ...
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The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth

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The Unreal and the Real is a major event not to be missed. In this two-volume selection of Ursula K. Le Guin's best short stories—as selected by the National Book Award winning author herself—the reader will be delighted, provoked, amused, and faced with the sharp, satirical voice of one of the best short story writers of the present day. Where on Earth explores Le Guin's earthbound stories which range around the world from small town Oregon to middle Europe in the middle of revolution to summer camp.

Companion volume Outer Space, Inner Lands includes Le Guin's best known nonrealistic stories. Both volumes include new introductions by the author.

Praise for Ursula K. Le Guin's short story collections:

"An important writer. Period."—The Washington Post

"Witty, satirical and amusing. Yet it is the author’s more serious work that displays her talents best, as she employs recurring themes and elements-cultural diversity, unlikely heroes and heroines, power’s ability to corrupt, love’s power to guide-and considers characters and types (women, children, the differently sexed and gendered) so often disenfranchised by other, more technologically oriented SF writers. . . . [A] classy and valuable collection."—Publishers Weekly

"Her characters are complex and haunting, and her writing is remarkable for its sinewy grace."—Time

"Le Guin's prose is so luminous and simple, and she always tells the truth, and when I'm with her people, I'm with living people, on worlds as solid and real as my own. Le Guin has a gift, which is to transform words into worlds."—Molly Gloss

"A master of the craft."—Neil Gaiman

"[E]verything Le Guin does is interesting, believable, and exquisitely detailed."—Los Angeles Herald Examiner

"Delicious ... her worlds are haunting psychological visions molded with firm artistry."—Library Journal

"There is no more elegant or discerning expositor than Le Guin."—Kirkus Reviews

Ursula K. Le Guin has received the PEN–Malamud and National Book Awards, among others. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The Unreal and the Real guns from the grim to the ecstatic, from the State to the Garden of Eden, with just one dragon between. (Every collection needs one dragon.) In every good career-spanning collection, you can observe an author growing into her authority. Here, every story, in its own way and from its own universe, told in its own mode, explains that there is no better spirit in all of American letters than that of Ursula Le Guin."

"A century from now people will still be reading the fantasy stories of Ursula K Le Guin with joy and wonder. Five centuries from now they might ask if their author ever really existed, or if Le Guin was an identity made from the work of many writers rolled into one. A millennium on and her stories will be so familiar, like myths and fairytales today, that only dedicated scholars will ask who wrote them. Such is the fate of the truly great writers, whose stories far outlive their names."
The Guardian

Publishers Weekly
The first of a two-volume collection focuses on stories that are occasionally tinged with magic but remain primarily realistic. Drawing from works already printed in well-known collections, Le Guin looks at lives in such settings as desolate blue-collar towns and the crumbling Soviet empire, often constrained and oppressed, offered promises of liberation betrayed by politics and weakness but not without occasional moments of hope. “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” provides a moment of the fantastic, though it leads only to a bitter denouement. This volume shows that SFWA Grand Master Le Guin can make as great a mark outside genre fiction as she did within it, but her fans will find no exciting rarities or additional critical or biographical material that might make the collection stand out from its predecessors. (Dec.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781618730343
  • Publisher: Small Beer Press
  • Publication date: 11/20/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 533,100
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Ursula K.  Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin: Ursula K. Le Guin has published eleven short story collections, twenty-one novels, essays, poetry, translations, and books for children, and has received the PEN-Malamud and National Book Awards, among others. Also due this year is Finding My Elegy, New and Selected Poems. She lives in Portland, OR.


Speculative fiction, magic realism, "slipstream" fiction -- all these terms could apply to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. Unfortunately, none was in common use when she started writing in the early 1960s. As a young writer, Le Guin weathered seven years of rejections from editors who praised her novels' elegant prose but were puzzled by their content. At a time when the only literary fiction was realistic fiction, as Le Guin later told an interviewer for The Register-Guard in Portland, Oregon, "There just wasn't a pigeonhole for what I write."

At long last, two of her stories were accepted for publication, one at a literary journal and one at a science-fiction magazine. The literary journal paid her in copies of the journal; the science-fiction magazine paid $30. She told The Register-Guard, "I thought: 'Oooohhh! They'll call what I write science fiction, will they? And they'll pay me for it? Well, here we go!' "

Le Guin continued to write and publish stories, but her breakthrough success came with the publication of The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969. The novel, which tells of a human ambassador's encounters with the gender-changing inhabitants of a distant planet, was unusual for science fiction in that it owed more to anthropology and sociology than to the hard sciences of physics or biology. The book was lauded for its intellectual and psychological depth, as well as for its fascinating premise. "What got to me was the quality of the story-telling," wrote Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. "She's taken the mythology, psychology -- the entire creative surround -- and woven it into a jewel of a story."

Since then, Le Guin has published many novels, several volumes of short stories, and numerous poems, essays, translations, and children's books. She's won an arm's-length list of awards, including both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and a National Book Award for The Farthest Shore. Over the years, she has created and sustained two fictional universes, populating each with dozens of characters and stories. The first universe, Ekumen, more or less fits into the science-fiction mode, with its aliens and interplanetary travel; the second, Earthsea, is a fantasy world, complete with wizards and dragons. As Margaret Atwood wrote in The New York Review of Books, "Either one would have been sufficient to establish Le Guin's reputation as a mistress of its genre; both together make one suspect that the writer has the benefit of arcane drugs or creative double-jointedness or ambidexterity."

More impressive still is the way Le Guin's books have garnered such tremendous crossover appeal. Unlike many writers of science fiction, she is regularly reviewed in mainstream publications, where her work has been praised by the likes of John Updike and Harold Bloom. But then, Le Guin has never fit comfortably into a single genre. As she said in a Science Fiction Weekly interview, "I know that I'm always called 'the sci-fi writer.' Everybody wants to stick me into that one box, while I really live in several boxes. It's probably hurt the sales of my realistic books like Searoad, because it tended to get stuck into science fiction, where browsing readers that didn't read science fiction would never see it."

Le Guin has also published a translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, a book that has influenced her life and writing since she was a teenager; she has translated fiction by Angelica Gorodischer and a volume of poems by Gabriela Mistral; and, perhaps most gratifyingly for her fans, she has returned to the imaginary realm of Earthsea. Tehanu, which appeared in 1990, was subtitled "The Last Book of Earthsea," but Le Guin found she had more to tell, and she continued with Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. "I thought after 'Tehanu' the story was finished, but I was wrong," she told Salon interviewer Faith L. Justice. "I've learned never to say 'never.' "

Good To Know

The "K" in Ursula K. Le Guin stands for Le Guin's maiden name, Kroeber. Her father was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber; her mother, the writer Theodora Kroeber, is best known for the biography Ishi in Two Worlds.

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    1. Hometown:
      Portland, Oregon
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 21, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt


“We can’t drive to the river on Sunday,” the baron said, “because we’re leaving on Friday.” The two little ones gazed at him across the breakfast table. Zida said, “Marmalade, please,” but Paul, a year older, found in a remote, disused part of his memory a darker dining-room from the windows of which one saw rain falling. “Back to the city?” he asked. His father nodded. And at the nod the sunlit hill outside these windows changed entirely, facing north now instead of south. That day red and yellow ran through the woods like fire, grapes swelled fat on the heavy vines, and the clear, fierce, fenced fields of August stretched themselves out, patient and unboundaried, into the haze of September. Next day Paul knew the moment he woke that it was autumn, and Wednesday. “This is Wednesday,” he told Zida, “tomorrow’s Thursday, and then Friday when we leave.”
“I’m not going to,” she replied with indifference, and went off to the Little Woods to work on her unicorn trap. It was made of an eggcrate and many little bits of cloth, with various kinds of bait. She had been making it ever since they found the tracks, and Paul doubted if she would catch even a squirrel in it. He, aware of time and season, ran full speed to the High Cliff to finish the tunnel there before they had to go back to the city.
Inside the house the baroness’s voice dipped like a swallow down the attic stairs. “O Rosa! Where is the blue trunk then?” And Rosa not answering, she followed her voice, pursuing it and Rosa and the lost trunk down stairs and ever farther hallways to a joyful reunion at the cellar door. Then from his study the baron heard Tomas and the trunk come grunting upward step by step, while Rosa and the baroness began to empty the children’s closets, carrying off little loads of shirts and dresses like delicate, methodical thieves. “What are you doing?” Zida asked sternly, having come back for a coathanger in which the unicorn might entangle his hoof. “Packing,” said the maid. “Not my things,” Zida ordered, and departed. Rosa continued rifling her closet. In his study the baron read on undisturbed except by a sense of regret which rose perhaps from the sound of his wife’s sweet, distant voice, perhaps from the quality of the sunlight falling across his desk from the uncurtained window.
In another room his older son Stanislas put a microscope, a tennis racket, and a box full of rocks with their labels coming unstuck into his suitcase, then gave it up. A notebook in his pocket, he went down the cool red halls and stairs, out the door into the vast and sudden sunlight of the yard. Josef, reading under the Four Elms, said, “Where are you off to? It’s hot.” There was no time for stopping and talking. “Back soon,” Stanislas replied politely and went on, up the road in dust and sunlight, past the High Cliff where his half-brother Paul was digging. He stopped to survey the engineering. Roads metalled with white clay zigzagged over the cliff-face. The Citroen and the Rolls were parked near a bridge spanning an erosion-gully. A tunnel had been pierced and was in process of enlargement. “Good tunnel,” Stanislas said. Radiant and filthy, the engineer replied, “It’ll be ready to drive through this evening, you want to come to the ceremony?” Stanislas nodded, and went on. His road led up a long, high hillslope, but he soon turned from it and, leaping the ditch, entered his kingdom and the kingdom of the trees. Within a few steps all dust and bright light were gone. Leaves overhead and underfoot; an air like green water through which birds swam and the dark trunks rose lifting their burdens, their crowns, towards the other element, the sky. Stanislas went first to the Oak and stretched his arms out, straining to reach a quarter of the way around the trunk. His chest and cheek were pressed against the harsh, scored bark; the smell of it and its shelf-fungi and moss was in his nostrils and the darkness of it in his eyes. It was a bigger thing than he could ever hold. It was very old, and alive, and did not know that he was there. Smiling, he went on quietly, a notebook full of maps in his pocket, among the trees towards yet-uncharted regions of his land.
Josef Brone, who had spent the summer assisting his professor with documentation of the history of the Ten Provinces in the Early Middle Ages, sat uneasily reading in the shade of elms. Country wind blew across the pages, across his lips. He looked up from the Latin chronicle of a battle lost nine hundred years ago to the roofs of the house called Asgard. Square as a box, with a sediment of porches, sheds, and stables, and square to the compass, the house stood in its flat yard; after a while in all directions the fields rose up slowly, turning into hills, and behind them were higher hills, and behind them sky. It was like a white box in a blue and yellow bowl, and Josef, fresh from college and intent upon the Jesuit seminary he would enter in the fall, ready to read documents and make abstracts and copy references, had been embarrassed to find that the baron’s family called the place after the home of the northern gods. But this no longer troubled him. So much had happened here that he had not expected, and so little seemed to have been finished. The history was years from completion. In three months he had never found out where Stanislas went, alone, up the road. They were leaving on Friday. Now or never. He got up and followed the boy. The road passed a ten-foot bank, halfway up which clung the little boy Paul, digging in the dirt with his fingers, making a noise in his throat rrrm, rrrrm. A couple of toy cars lay at the foot of the bank. Josef followed the road on up the hill and presently began expecting to reach the top, from which he would see where Stanislas had gone. A farm came into sight and went out of sight, the road climbed, a lark went up singing as if very near the sun; but there was no top. The only way to go downhill on this road was to turn around. He did so. As he neared the woods above Asgard a boy leapt out onto the road, quick as a hawk’s shadow. Josef called his name, and they met in the white glare of dust. “Where have you been?” asked Josef, sweating.—“In the Great Woods,” Stanislas answered, “that grove there.” Behind him the trees gathered thick and dark. “Is it cool in there?” Josef asked wistfully. “What do you do in there?”—“Oh, I map trails. Just for the fun of it. It’s bigger than it looks.” Stanislas hesitated, then added, “You haven’t been in it? You might like to see the Oak.” Josef followed him over the ditch and through the close green air to the Oak. It was the biggest tree he had ever seen; he had not seen very many. “I suppose it’s very old,” he said, looking up puzzled at the reach of branches, galaxy after galaxy of green leaves without end. “Oh, a century or two or three or six,” said the boy, “see if you can reach around it!” Josef spread out his arms and strained, trying vainly to keep his cheek off the rough bark. “It takes four men to reach around it,” Stanislas said. “I call it Yggdrasil. You know. Only of course Yggdrasil was an ash, not an oak. Want to see Loki’s Grove?” The road and the hot white sunlight were gone entirely. The young man followed his guide farther into the maze and game of names which was also a real forest: trees, still air, earth. Under tall grey alders above a dry streambed they discussed the tale of the death of Baldur, and Stanislas pointed out to Josef the dark clots, high in the boughs of lesser oaks, of mistletoe. They left the woods and went down the road towards Asgard. Josef walked along stiffly in the dark suit he had bought for his last year at the University, in his pocket a book in a dead language. Sweat ran down his face, he felt very happy. Though he had no maps and was rather late arriving, at least he had walked once through the forest. They passed Paul still burrowing, ignoring the clang of the iron triangle down at the house, which signalled meals, fires, lost children, and other noteworthy events. “Come on, lunch!” Stanislas ordered. Paul slid down the bank and they proceeded, seven, fourteen and twenty-one, sedately to the house.
That afternoon Josef helped the professor pack books, two trunks full of books, a small library of medieval history. Josef liked to read books, not pack them. The professor had asked him, not Tomas, “Lend me a hand with the books, will you?” It was not the kind of work he had expected to do here. He sorted and lifted and stowed away load after load of resentment in insatiable iron trunks, while the professor worked with energy and interest, swaddling incunabula like babies, handling each volume with affection and despatch. Kneeling with keys he said, “Thanks, Josef! That’s that,” and lowering the brass catchbars locked away their summer’s work, done with, that’s that. Josef had done so much here that he had not expected to do, and now nothing was left to do. Disconsolate, he wandered back to the shade of the elms; but the professor’s wife, with whom he had not expected to fall in love, was sitting there. “I stole your chair,” she said amiably, “sit on the grass.” It was more dirt than grass, but they called it grass, and he obeyed. “Rosa and I are worn out,” she said, “and I can’t bear to think of tomorrow. It’s the worst, the next-to-last day—linens and silver and turning dishes upside down and putting out mousetraps and there’s always a doll lost and found after everybody’s searched for hours under a pile of laundry—and then sweeping the house and locking it all up. And I hate every bit of it, I hate to close this house.” Her voice was light and plaintive as a bird’s calling in the woods, careless whether anybody heard its plaintiveness, careless of its plaintiveness. “I hope you’ve liked it here,” she said.
“Very much, baroness.”
“I hope so. I know Severin has worked you very hard. And we’re so disorganised. We and the children and the visitors, we always seem to scatter so, and only meet in passing. . . . I hope it hasn’t been distracting.” It was true; all summer in tides and cycles the house had been full or half full of visitors, friends of the children, friends of the baroness, friends, colleagues and neighbors of the baron, duck-hunters who slept in the disused stable since the spare bedrooms were full of Polish medieval historians, ladies with broods of children the smallest of whom fell inevitably into the pond about this time of the afternoon. No wonder it was so still, so autumnal now: the rooms vacant, the pond smooth, the hills empty of dispersing laughter.
“I have enjoyed knowing the children,” Josef said, “particularly Stanislas.” Then he went red as a beet, for Stanislas alone was not her child. She smiled and said with timidity, “Stanislas is very nice. And fourteen—fourteen is such a fearful age, when you find out so fast what you’re capable of being, but also what a toll the world expects. . . . He handles it very gracefully. Paul and Zida now, when they get that age they’ll lump through it and be tiresome. But Stanislas learned loss so young.

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Table of Contents

Introduction by Ursula K. Le Guin
Brothers and Sisters
A Week in the Country
Unlocking the Air
Imaginary Countries
The Diary of the Rose
The Direction of the Road
The White Donkey
Gwilan’s Harp
May’s Lion
Buffalo Gals
Horse Camp
The Lost Children
The Water is Wide
Hand, Cup, Shell
Ether, OR
Half Past Four
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