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Always Coming Home

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,622 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home is a major work of the imagination from one of America's most respected writers of science fiction. More than five years in the making, it is a novel unlike any other. A rich and complex interweaving of story and fable, poem, artwork, and music, it totally immerses the reader in the culture of the Kesh, a peaceful people of the far futur...more
Paperback, 542 pages
Published January 1st 1986 by Bantam Books (first published 1985)
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Community Reviews

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It is unfortunate but my “book-reading biorhythms” rarely coincide with the books being read by the various groups I belong to here on GR so I missed out on the reading of Always Coming Home that took place in the Always Coming Home group a few months ago. I originally read the book nearly 20 years ago, probably in my first year or two of graduate school, and it didn’t lodge itself overly much in my conscious but what a difference twenty years makes. My latest nonfiction reading has focused on t...more
There are few books I have read, none of them being fiction until now, that have required such a concerted effort of study on my part to even read through the book.

If it wasn't Ursula... I doubt I would have bothered. But it was, and I did, and of course it was well worth the effort.

The woman has created an entire culture. I don't know when I will have enough time to create an entire culture in my own head and then write a novel about it, but the fact that another woman had the time and did it...more
Though the introduction describes this as 'an archaeology of the future', it's no such matter. It's an ETHNOLOGY of (part of) the future, after the style of the Bureau of American Ethnology Reports, to which LeGuin has no doubt had access for most of her life. Most people who read LeGuin's works apparently are unaware that she is the daughter of the famous anthropologist AL Kroeber, and of the writer Theodora Kroeber, both of whom specialized in Northern Alta California. AL Kroeber was a friend...more
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
It's a great mistake to try to read this book as a "novel", since it isn't one. It's purported to be more like an anthropologist's notebook of field work: a collection of cultural facts, legends, poetry and song, writings--and obliquely, the story of one woman raised among the Kesh people who rebels against their close-knit Valley community and seeks something "outside the world." The "coming home" referenced in the title is her journey of discovery from adolescent rebellion to mature choice-mak...more
It took me a really long time to finish this book. The first time I tried to read it at the age of 13 the changing styles made it very difficult to follow. However, when I picked the book up again I finished it in a matter of days. The combination of characters, pieces of culture and storytelling create a whole that is difficult to appreciate if you are too eager to know the outcome and jump over sections of the book that seem unrelated to anything else. [return][return]I would definitely recomm...more
I have to admit -- I didn't finish it. I did enjoy what I read. It felt like getting to look through a viewfinder at a future tribalistic society. The trouble is, I always hated seeing Native American museum dioramas and glass cases full of spears and pottery. In some ways, this book gave me that same sense of ennui. Why? Because it takes a mostly anthropological approach to the fictional world she's created. While I believe LeGuin aims to celebrate this culture, she ends up creating something r...more
I expected to take a long time over Always Coming Home. In a way, I wish I had: there's a lot in it, and a lot to reward a slower, careful reading -- this time I went plunging through it for the narrative, such as it was, enjoying the layers of understanding that came to me, imagining and figuring out what I didn't know. I didn't read the "Back of the Book" section, this time: another time, I think I will. I just wanted to fly through it, this time, total immersion in a culture that does not exi...more
Sort of an exercise in building a low-tech society set after our industrial modern age. The people of the Valley live a largely peaceful, non-hierarchical communal life that prioritizes listening and understanding, and considers being generous synonymous with wealth. The poor are those who do not give; giving makes one rich. It's fascinating, and I loved the ways the world building was woven into Stone Telling's story, and how the world building sections (hundreds of pages of an anthropologist's...more
Mar 15, 2011 Cass rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cass by: Ceridwen Robot Smash
This book is officially being abandoned by me. I can see someone would try to read this. I mean if this was a book by David Gemmell or Anne McCaffrey (authors that I love) I might see myself pushing on, almost as if I owed the author.

I feel like the author is having a fleet of fancy, writing a book that noone can read in a bizarre 'not really a book' kind of way. I get the idea, it is a textbook written about the future, it is a compilation of anthropological notes and stories. The book has a co...more
"The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California. . . The difficulty of translation from a language that doesn't yet exist is considerable, but there's no need to exaggerate it."

So begins one of my favorite books by Ursula LeGuin, and probably one of her lesser-known works, "Always Coming Home." She calls it "an archaeology of the future," and it's a beautiful example of world-creation. The main narrative of the book is the autobiography of...more
Kelly Lynn Thomas
Read for my Ecofem lit class. I don't have a Bible, but if I did, it would be this book. In it, Le Guin explores an "archaeology of the future" through her character/alter ego Pandora, who studies the Kesh people of California. The book, therefore, contains life stories, information on Kesh culture, practices, medicine, etc., recipes, poems, Kesh literature, plays, a glossary, pictures, music (the first edition came with a cassette tape and you can buy the CD from the website), etc.

I read this i...more
This book is a work of genius. I think Le Guin may have here beaten Tolkien for large-scale, complex, and detailed world-building - and considering that Tolkien recorded some 3,000 years of fictional history and created a handful of fictional languages, that's saying a lot.

It should be noted that this, like Tolkien's denser stuff, is not an easy read. There isn't really much of a plot, and I was often about to put the book down because I was so bored. Even if you like Tolkien's History of Middle...more
William Leight
Utopias have been present in science fiction for almost as long as the genre has existed. After all, if you're going to imagine a future, why not imagine a really good one? The tricky part comes in getting a story out of your utopia. Some authors follow the example of Edward Bellamy in "Looking Backward" and barely even try: the focus is mainly on describing the utopia. While the result may be successful from a political point of view, its literary merit is likely to be somewhat questionable. Un...more
Superb stuff. The "future anthropology" text mixed in with the novel proper works very well indeed, showing (apparently) the influence of Le Guin's parents, Alfred L. and Theodora Kroeber, as well as her own first-rate imagination. I love how Le Guin reveals her world slowly, or "mindfully" as a character in the book might put it. The fact that there are robot cities, a computer network, email and spaceships comes as a surprise, but it all emerges quite naturally and never seems at all inappropr...more
An amazing and deeply affecting book about a once and future America.
it's pretty self-indulgent but I love it anyway.
I first attempted to read Always Coming Home well over a decade ago, bringing a copy home from the library, not knowing what to expect except that I liked Ursula Le Guin and this was a Le Guin book I had not read. I think I got through the first chapter and then realized there was no way I was going to read it in the three weeks I could have it checked out, and I returned it. 12 years later it took me 2 months to read, and I doubt I could've done it quicker and still really appreciated it.

This is a novel set in the Napa Valley in the far future. Assuming that the people living there then are descended from the people living there now, more time must have passed between then and now than between now and the breakup of Proto-Indo-European: in the two major languages of California, numbers 2 and 3 are tu and θri and dos and tres, both derived from the Proto-Indo-European dwo and trei; in their language they are hú and íde. Surprisingly, the California condor survives, and so does th...more
An imaginative and comprehensive example of how to world build. Unfortunately I lost interest a little over half way in and had to stop. I think the problem is that Always Coming Home is presented to readers as a collection of translated primary sources, as a result I was unable to connect with any of the recurring characters, or their world in general. While its clear that Le Guin has arranged these "sources" in a way that is intended to slowly reveal information and meaning to readers as they...more
Oct 28, 2008 Bria rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: transhumanists
Although I found the poetry boring and could not really appreciate the format, this book highlighted some of the assumptions of my thinking about the future. I continually forget to examine how to actually live life in my frantic attempts to bring about the singularity. Always Coming Home examines (albeit a little too indirectly for my tastes) what happens to the other half of the human species after the split. I habitually focus on those of us that merge with technology and move forward in evol...more
This was really interesting. It did take awhile to get into, because she builds a culture from the ground up (although yeah, there's a lot of the Native American in there) I actually got the CD that goes with the book, but it's definitely not necessary to have with it. But gives you a look at what the instruments and language of the Kesh sound like...pretty cool. The book is a mixture of life stories, poems, and anthropological reporting on the people called the Kesh, who inhabit the area around...more
Paul Dejean
This is my favorite Ursula book. It's true it doesn't read like a regular book, but that just adds to the richness.

What I think puts this above her other books, is that the cultures she details in her other books are the cultures of alien races. The culture she details in Always Coming Home is magnificently detailed and incredibly human.

When I finished this book (which was quite some years ago) I truly believed "things don't have to be this way."
Silvio Curtis
I was happy to find such a setting-focused book. It's not nearly as much so as The Silmarillion, but the only book I know of so far where the comparison even makes sense.

This book explores in great detail a culture which Le Guin invents to inhabit one small valley in California in the distant future. This culture is supposed to be a utopia, though it's way too complicated to be my utopia. This culture's spirituality, which is described as not a religion but a "working metaphor", ties into every...more
Emma lent this to me at the beginning of last school year and I just finished it. It is not a book to be read quickly. It is, however, a wonderful book and a great idea.

Let it be said that I am nerdy enough to read an anthropological study of fictional people. They may live in the future after our civilization has destroyed itself, which I suppose makes this technically a post-apocalyptic society--but you only gradually figure that out. They seem like a people who could have lived long ago. Ther...more
Ursula K. Le Guin takes magical realism to a whole new level. She adds a strong anthropological flavour that makes her fiction deliciously rich and immersive, while the hyperbolic amalgamation of badness as portrayed in the Dayao lends the text a refreshing sense of self-reflexivity. The Pandora sections were befuddling (Le Guin seems to be putting herself into two individuals; Pandora and her niece, the Archivist, the latter of whom acknowledges that the Kesh are part-fact, part-fiction) but al...more
It's hard to describe Always Coming Home. Written as an anthropological study of a future, fictional group of people, the Kesh, in factual terms, the novel is slow-paced and deep. The centering story is an autobiography of a member of the Kesh, Stonetelling, which is written in three parts and scattered between histories, poetry of the Kesh, dramas, foods they eat, etc. I have never read a more deeply and completely imagined society, nor a more humane one. Ursula Le Guin amazes me. The novel lea...more
Joseph Schlesinger
Found this sitting on a windowsill at the Evanston, IL post office several years ago; very appropriately, the book had a sticker attached. Took me the better part of a year & a half to get through it--that's how complex it is. In this work, set on the Pacific Coast at an unspecified time long after some cataclysmic event has wiped out the old social order, LeGuin has created a new race of humans, complete with their own social customs, language, religious beliefs, &...more
James Hockey
It is many years since I read this and yet of all Ursula Le Guin's books that I have read, and I have read most if not all, this is the one that sticks in my mind, almost I could say haunts me.

It is basically a gentle tale of a gentle future people living simply but with the assistance, if they care to make the journey, of a computer left over from a technologically oriented past. There is not a great deal of excitement and little violence other than that introduced by other groups who have take...more
Oct 07, 2007 Courtney rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with a shitload of patience
There's not real story here, just a collection of anthropological data about a native group on the north coast of California: myths, songs, diagrams for the layout of kivas and villages, descriptions of tribal roles and clan structures, calanders and descriptions of dances, poems, cautionary tales, lists of what foods are eaten when and how they are prepared.

Here's the thing: This culture doesn't exist. LeGuin, as only she can, has created this culture and all it's artifacts for the purpose of t...more
Ursula Le Guin describes what could be her notion of a utopian world. Although there is an actual story woven in amongst the various articles, this novel really is mostly a sociological description of a culture -- the Kesh -- in Northern California a couple centuries in the future after some undescribed apocalypse.

The Kesh more or less live within the ecological bounds of their region, and clearly LeGuin is taking great pains to come to understand how a post-industrial society could exist and fu...more
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As of 2013, Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. Forthcoming...more
More about Ursula K. Le Guin...
A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle, #2) The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3) The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4) The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #5)

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