Always Coming Home, the Kafka Award-winning novel published in 1985, marks a departure for one of the world's foremost science fiction and fantasy authors. Often criticized for having too many male protagonists in her novels Ursula K. Le Guin answers with two particularly strong women in this complex and difficult novel. Like many of her other novels, Always Coming Home deals with the duality of everything (life, sex, love, faith, fear), the individual's need to belong, and the interconnection of life with the universe. Le Guin uses the strong female characters Stone Telling and Pandora to explore a culture that is different, yet very familiar, to modern American society. The novel does not have one single story line, but is made of a collection of stories, poems, maps, dictionaries, charts, and songs held together by the three parts of Stone Telling's narrative and Pandora's footnotes and journal entries. Critics raved over the beauty of the poetry and the innovative narrative style, but did voice concern over the novel's difficulty.
Long heralded as America's J. R. R. Tolkien Le Guin has produced Always Coming Home, which is most often compared to Tolkien's Silmarillion—a difficult, but brilliant anthropological exploration of Middle Earth. In her novel, Le Guin envisions a post-apocalyptic world, but one created by natural events and human evolution, not nuclear war. The Kesh live in a future time in what used to be Northern California. Their culture is technologically nonexistent, but socially and personally advanced far beyond twentieth-century American culture. The Valley of the Kesh is a world in which Le Guin can argue for sexual equality, spiritual renewal, environmental awareness, and Utopian ideology. By casting this novel as the work of an objective scientist, she can also explore the thin line between science fact and science fiction.