Ursula Le Guin rebuts charge that science fiction is 'alternative fact'

Replying to newspaper claim that SF has much in common with the variant accounts of reality offered by Trump staff, author says ‘a fact has no alternative’

Science fiction has nothing in common with the Trump administration’s “alternative facts”, distinguished sci-fi novelist Ursula Le Guin said this week.

The hugely influential author dismissed claims of a relationship between the two after the Oregonian newspaper published a letter that said that the “alternative facts” of the US president and allies including press secretary Kellyanne Conway – who first coined the phrase – had much in common with sci-fi and fantasy writing.

“The comparison won’t work,” Le Guin wrote to the paper in reply. “We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real – all invented, imagined – and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact,” she added.

The 87-year-old author, whose bestselling novels include The Earthsea Chronicles and The Left Hand of Darkness, called out the phrase alternative facts as a disguise for lies that “are seldom completely harmless, and often very dangerous”. She added, in what appeared to be a direct reference to the new president, that peddlers of alternative facts were liars, whom most people consider “contemptible”.

One of the most influential writers working in the genre, Le Guin said that while sci-fi and fantasy authors may refer to their novels as “alternative histories” or have created alternate universes, they did not pretend their fiction was anything other than made up.

“The test of a fact is that it simply is so – it has no ‘alternative’,” she wrote. “To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or ‘alternative fact’) is a lie.” She also sought to clarify the difference between fiction and lies, which she defined as deliberately told untruths aimed at scaring, fooling or otherwise manipulating another person. “Santa Claus is a fiction. He’s harmless,” she added. “In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible.”

Le Guin is one of only two living authors published by the Library of America, the other being Philip Roth. This is not her first skirmish with rightwingers, as she is known for tackling themes such as feminism, environmentalism and anarchy in her novels. Last year, she clashed with Oregon militia after they occupied a local wildlife refuge, writing another letter to the Oregonian – her local paper – describing the militia as parroting the meaningless rants of a flock of Right-Winged Loonybirds”.

In 2014, she attacked publishers, including her own, for treating books as commodities. “The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism,” she told an audience of science-fiction luminaries at the 2014 US national book awards. “Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art – the art of words.”


Danuta Kean

The GuardianTramp

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