(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

At the beginning of Always Coming Home, in a section titled “A First Note,” Le Guin alerts her readers to her book’s uniqueness. Its first sentence reads, “The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.” The unusual, conditional verb phrase in this sentence splices together past and future, as Le Guin continues to do throughout the book.

Always Coming Home, richly illustrated by Margaret Chodos and with maps by the author, was marketed originally with an accompanying cassette of Kesh music by Todd Barton. The book generally is called a novel but is so heterodox in structure that it virtually creates a new fictional genre, in the same manner as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966) and Rolando Hinojosa-Smith’s still-incomplete, multivolume work, the Klail City Death Trip, begun in 1973.

Le Guin, daughter of noted anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and novelist Theodora Kracaw Kroeber, applies the techniques of field anthropology, both physical and cultural, to a future rather than past culture. She drifts easily through nonlinear time, creating a philosophical-fictional world that includes artifacts from two cultures, contemporary and future, unified by Pandora’s narration and Stone Telling’s story, the four major parts of which are interspersed throughout the novel. Between Stone Telling segments, Le Guin constructs the Kesh culture that has grown...

(The entire section is 514 words.)