Always Coming Home cover (Image via Grafton/Harper Collins)
6. Always Coming Home
At first, you may not realize that Always Coming Home is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Written by Ursula K. LeGuin, the daughter of noted anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, the novel often comes off as a cultural study. After all, it does set out to describe the life of a people known as the Kesh, who “might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.”
However, details throughout the story hint at the events that must have occurred between now and the emergence of the Kesh. They use some technology that appears eerily familiar, such as guns, rail transport, electricity, and even limited computers. However, the Kesh reject other more familiar aspects of our modern Western society. They recoil at the thought of cities and hierarchies. And while other neighboring societies have no qualms about militarism or patriarchy, the Kesh are a largely secular, egalitarian society.
It soon emerges that Always Coming Home is set in a post-apocalyptic world so far into the future that the events of the apocalypse are nearly forgotten. A scattering of tales recall the distant past and the people who brought about the end, but that is all. Other than the aforementioned computer system and the occasional bit of styrofoam, we are forgotten by the Kesh.
Perhaps that sounds tragic to you, but I take comfort in a fictional society that has learned to move on. The Kesh and their neighbors certainly aren’t perfect, to be fair. For one, they suffer from accumulated genetic defects that produce a sky-high infant mortality rate. However, they appear to be far more peaceful and thoughtful that the ancient society that preceded them.