The winner of the National Book Award, Ursula K. Le Guin has created a profound and transformational literature. The award-winning stories in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea range from the everyday to the outer limits of experience, where the quantum uncertainties of space and time are resolved only in the depths of the human heart. Astonishing in their diversity and power, they exhibit both the artistry of a major writer at the height of her powers and the humanity of a mature artist confronting the world with her gift of wonder still intact.
In her introduction to this reprint collection of eight of her more recent SF stories, Le Guin (Tehanu) defends the best work of the genre as ``beautiful.'' It is critics and reviewers, she claims, who miss that beauty by emphasizing SF's role as an expositor of ideas. In any case, it's clear that the stories presented here show the softer side of the genre at its best. ``The First Contact with the Gorgonids'' and ``The Ascent of the North Face,'' the two entries that Le Guin calls ``funny stories, silly stories,'' are just that-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. From the briefest nonhumorous story here (``The Kerastion,'' about a silent flute made of human skin) to the longest, eponymous one, Le Guin ponders the nature of art and how life should be lived. Always, her stories are about people, not technologies, and it is this emphasis, as well as her accomplished prose, that makes this such a classy and valuable collection.