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"An experiment in the superorganic": empire and political evolution in Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Universe



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ABSTRACT Ursula K. Le Guin is an American author of novels, short stories, poems, children's books, and essays; she predominantly writes science fiction and fantasy. Le Guin first began publishing in the 1960s and continues her work today including speaking engagements in and around her home in Portland, Oregon. Her most recent publication is The Real and Unreal: Selected Stories (2 vol) from 2012. Le Guin is particularly known for her books set in the Hainish Universe. These short stories and novels comprise what is sometimes referred to as the Hainish Cycle and discuss various themes of gender, ecology, religion, and politics. The universe is believed to be seeded from and governed principally by the world known as Hain. The Hainish global government undergoes a transformation from its original iteration as the imperial League of All Worlds into the more cosmopolitan peace-keeping Ekumen and while the publication chronology of the works and the internal chronology of the universe differ there is a notable political evolution from the League to the Ekumen. By studying the characters of Raj Lyubov, Genly Ai, and Havzhiva from the novels The World for World is Forest (1972), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995) this paper will examine assumed cultural understandings regarding themes of empire, imperialism, cosmopolitanism, and governance by building on the criticism of James W. Bittner and David M. Higgins. I will utilize the theoretical science fiction frameworks of Steve Shaviro and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. in conjunction with Michael Ignatieff's theory Empire Lite to demonstrate Le Guin's capacity to continually envision new parameters for alien contact and negotiation and explain how her work in world building and character development challenges readers to question existing concepts of empire through the evolution and exhaustion of two systems of global governance.



Le Guin, Empire, Hainish Universe, Hainish Cycle, The Left Hand of Darkness, Four Ways to Forgiveness, The Word for World is Forest



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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