PM Press’ edition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Wild Girls” reprints her Hugo award-nominated novelette as part of its Outspoken Authors series; a selection of short works by acclaimed authors such as Michael Moorcock and Cory Doctorow. Each volume in the series reprints a short work of fiction along with extra material in the form of short essays and lecture transcripts, and an original interview conducted by series editor Terry Bisson.
The titular story follows the lives of two young girls from an indigenous culture who are abducted by a slaving party from the nearby city. Stripped from their cultures, renamed and plugged into a civilization of complex hierarchies, the girls (now named Mal and Modh) are torn between the society they live in and the culture they come from. Rather than a simplistic parable of the dangerous excesses of imperialism, Le Guin’s story addresses also the differences in the quality of living between the different cultures and castes. In the opening chapter, a man formerly of one of the local tribes now living among the cityfolk addresses concerns that during the slaving raid he may try to escape: “Am I not man of the City? Is not my sister your brother’s wife? […] Why would I run away from our City to those ignorant people who starve in the wilderness, eating mudroots and crawling things?” As the dual identities of the characters drive toward a harrowing climax, Le Guin raises a number of questions regarding race, gender and economics, none of which have easy answers.
Accompanying the story are two essays, “Staying Awake While We Read,” originally printed in Harper’s, and “The Conversation of the Modest,” new to this volume. The former addresses some ideas regarding the changing shape of the literary landscape, offering some ideas as to the social factors that drive the market for print. Taking a look at the way we present ourselves, “Conversation” deals with the difference between modesty and humility and how the meaning of both the words and the practice has changed over time. Rounding out the rest of the book are a short section of poems by the author as well as the interview. Sadly, Bisson’s style of interview fails to draw anything of substance out of Le Guin, and it comes across as the weakest content in the book.
Despite the lackluster conversation, Le Guin on her own is in top form, and “The Wild Girls” is an excellent missive of ideas for Le Guin’s fans new and old. (Greg Baldino)
“The Wild Girls”
By Ursula K. Le Guin
PM Press, 112 pages, $12