Always Coming Home

Always Coming Home is a 1985 science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is written in parts narrative, pseudo-textbook and pseudo-anthropologist's record. It describes the life and society of the Kesh people, a cultural group who live in the distant future long after modern society has collapsed.[1]

Always Coming Home
First edition cover
AuthorUrsula K. Le Guin
IllustratorMargaret Chodos
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
Published1985 (Harper and Row)
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)
813/.54 19
LC ClassPS3562.E42 A79 1985
Californie submergee simulation
Submerged California, the setting of the book. The Old Straight Road is the SR 29, the Grandmother Mountain (Ama Kulkun) is Mount Saint Helena.
Double spirale
Heyiya-if, a holy symbol for the Kesh.
Kesh aiha LeGuin Always Coming Home alphabet
The Kesh aiha alphabet


The book is divided into two parts: The first part is a personal history, narrated by a woman called Stone Telling. The second part is an account of the Kesh people of the Valley of the Na River, collected by someone using the pen name "Pandora". Stone Telling's autobiography fills less than a third of the book, interspersed throughout it with large gaps; the rest is a field-journal edited by Pandora, who seems to be an anthropologist or ethnographer from the readers' contemporary culture, or a culture very close to it.

The setting

The book's setting is a time so post-apocalyptic that no cultural source can remember the apocalypse, though a few folk tales refer to our time. The only signs of our civilization that have lasted into their time are indestructible artefacts such as styrofoam and a self-manufacturing, self-maintaining, solar-system-wide computer network. There has been a great sea level rise since our time, flooding much of northern California, where the story takes place.

The Kesh use technological inventions of civilization such as writing, steel, guns, electricity, trains, and a computer network (see below). However, unlike the neighboring societies – like the Dayao – they reject governance, disallow any non-laboring caste, do not expand their population or territory, consider disbelief in what we consider “supernatural” absurd, and deplore human domination of the natural environment. Their culture blends millennia of human economic culture by combining aspects of hunter-gatherer, agricultural, and industrial societies, but rejects cities (literal “civilization”). In fact, what they call “towns” would count as villages for the reader – a dozen or a few-dozen multi-family or large family homes. What they call “war” is a minor skirmish over hunting territories, and is considered a ridiculous pastime for youngsters, since an adult person should not throw his life away.

Pandora observes that a key difference between the Kesh and the readers' [her?] society is the size of their population: "There are not too many of them.".[2] Their low population density means that they can feed themselves from their land. The Kesh maintain this low population without coercion, which would be antithetical to their loosely organized society. They carry a large accumulation of genetic damage, which leads to fewer successful pregnancies and higher infant mortality. They also have social taboos against multiple siblings and early pregnancies; a third child is considered shameful, and the Dayao's practice of large families is referred to as "incontinence".

Narrative part

The first part of the book weaves around the story of Stone Telling, who spent her childhood with her mother's people in The Valley, and as a very young woman lived several years with her father's people in The City. The two societies are contrasted through her narrative: the Kesh are tolerant, peaceable, and self-organized, whereas the Dayao or Condor people of The City are rigid, patriarchal, hierarchical, militaristic, and expansionist.

Ethnographic part

The second part of the book presents cultural lore, with the format and attributions or annotations that an ethnographic fieldworker might make. It includes Kesh cultural lore, essays on Kesh culture, and the musings of a different narrator, Pandora, who is the fictional editor of that section. Pandora describes the book as a protest against contemporary civilization, which the Kesh call "the Sickness of Man".

The cultural lore includes history and legends, mythos, village layout and landscaping, family and professional guilds, recipes, customary celebrations, rituals, spiritual groups, and song lyrics and poetry.[a] Some editions of the book were accompanied by a tape of Kesh music and poetry.

A number of these are attributed by Pandora to a Kesh woman named Little Bear Woman;[b][3] these are:

  • Shahugoten. As told by Little Bear Woman of Sinshan to the Editor pp. 57–59 [a legend]
  • Coming Home to Up the Hill House. By Little Bear Woman p. 258 [a poem]
  • The Writer to the Morning in Up the Hill House in Sinshan. By Little Bear Woman p. 258 [a poem]
  • A Song to Up the Hill House in Sinshan. By Little Bear Woman p. 259 [a poem]
  • Some of the paths around Sinshan Creek. A Kesh map of the watershed of Sinsham [sic] Creek, given to the Editor by Little Bear Woman[b] of Sinsham [sic]


The novel received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and was a runner up for the National Book Awards.[4][5]

Literary significance and criticism

It has been noted that Always Coming Home underscores Le Guin's long-standing anthropological interests. The Valley of the Na [River] is modeled on the landscape of California's Napa Valley, where Le Guin spent her childhood when her family was not in Berkeley.[6]

Like much of Le Guin's work, Always Coming Home follows Native American themes. According to Richard Erlich,[7] "Always Coming Home is a fictional retelling of much in A. L. Kroeber's [Ursula's father] monumental Handbook of the Indians of California." There are also some elements retrieved from her mother's The Inland Whale (Traditional narratives of Native California), such as the importance of the number nine, and the map of the Na Valley which looks like the Ancient Yurok World.[8] There are also Taoist themes: the heyiya-if looks like the taijitu, and its hollow center (the "hinge") is like the hub of the wheel as described in the Tao Te Ching. Le Guin had described herself "as an unconsistent Taoist and a consistent un-Christian".[9]

One of its earliest reviews, by Samuel R. Delany in the New York Times, called it "a slow, rich read... [Le Guin's] most satisfying text among a set of texts that have provided much imaginative pleasure"[10]

Box set and soundtrack

A box set edition of the book (ISBN 0-06-015456-X), comes with an audiocassette entitled Music and Poetry of the Kesh, featuring 10 musical pieces and 3 poetry performances by Todd Barton. The book contains 100 original illustrations by Margaret Chodos. As of 2017, the soundtrack can be purchased separately in MP3 format (ISBN 978-1-61138-209-9). A vinyl record was also released, together with a digital album for streaming and download in several formats. That combination sold out, but the digital album by itself remains available, and a second pressing of the vinyl, plus the digital, is scheduled to ship "on or around 25 May 2018".[11]

Stage performance

A stage version of Always Coming Home was mounted at Naropa University in 1993 (with Le Guin's approval) by Ruth Davis-Fyer. Music for the production was composed and directed by Brian Mac Ian, although it was original music and not directly influenced by Todd Barton's work.

Publication history


  • Italian: "Sempre la valle", Mondadori, 1986
  • Spanish: "El eterno regreso a casa", Edhasa, 1989.
  • Danish: "Altid hjem", Klim, 1990
  • Serbian: "Stalno se vraćajući kući", Polaris, 1992
  • Polish: "Wracać wciąż do domu", Prószyński, 1996
  • Russian: "Всегда возвращаясь домой", Polaris, 1997; Eksmo, 2005
  • French: "La Vallée de l'éternel retour", Actes Sud, 1994, Mnémos, 2012


John Scalzi, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, wrote in his introduction to the 2016 edition that he discovered the book as a teenager, and calls it "a formative book...sunk deep in [his] bones", one to endlessly return to, always coming home.[12]


  1. ^ Le Guin also separately published a Kesh-like spiritual poem "Totem", relating to the Mole Society (a cult), in her poetry collection Hard Words.
  2. ^ a b The name "Little Bear Woman" is a fair equivalent of Ursula, the author's first name, which is Latin for "little she-bear": ursa "a she-bear" + -ula fem. form of -ulus "diminutive"


  1. ^ Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 19–20.
  2. ^ Le Guin, Ursula K. (1986). Always Coming Home. Bantam Spectra. p. 509. ISBN 0-553-26280-7.
  3. ^ "Always Coming Home" (2001 ed.) – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "National Book Awards list". National Book Foundation. 1985.
  5. ^ "Kafka Recipients".
  6. ^ Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood. p. 19. ISBN 9780313332258.
  7. ^ Erlich, Richard D. (1997). "Always Coming Home". Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. The Milford Series Popular Writers of Today. Wildside Press. p. 247. ISBN 978-1-4344-5775-2. ISSN 0163-2469. Archived from the original on 2012-03-18. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
  8. ^ Kroeber, Theodora (1963). The Inland Whale. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 10.
  9. ^ letter responding to the chapter about The Left Hand of Darkness in David Ketterer's book, New Worlds For Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature, see Le Guin, Ursula K. (July 1975). "Ketterer on The Left Hand Of Darkness". Science Fiction Studies. SF-TH. 2 (6): 139.
  10. ^ Delany, Samuel R. "PAPERBACKS; THE KESH IN SONG AND STORY". Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  11. ^ "Music and Poetry of the Kesh by Ursula K. Le Guin & Todd Barton". Bandcamp. Archived from the original on 2018-04-05. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  12. ^ Le Guin, Ursula K. (2016). Always Coming Home. ISBN 9781473205802.
  • Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33225-8.
  • Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-99527-2.

External links

1985 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1985.


AIHA may refer to:

Agudas Israel Housing Association

Albany Institute of History & Art

AIHA Singapore, Singapore Ice Hockey Association

American Industrial Hygiene Association

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (Auto-Immune hemolytic anemia abbreviated as AIHA)

Aaiha (or Aiha), village, plain, lake, and temporary wetland in Lebanon

Aiha script, the writing system of the fictional Kesh language in the novel Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin

Alan Doyle

Alan Thomas Doyle (born May 17, 1969) is a Canadian musician and actor, best known as the lead singer of Canadian folk rock band Great Big Sea.


An ansible is a category of fictional device or technology capable of near-instantaneous or superluminal communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay, even between star systems. As a name for such a device, the word "ansible" first appeared in a 1966 novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. Since that time, the term has been broadly used in the works of numerous science fiction authors, across a variety of settings and continuities.

Came Home

Came Home (foaled in 1999) is an American Thoroughbred racehorse that is now retired to stud. He was sired by Gone West, who was recently pensioned at Mill Ridge Farm. Came Home is out of the graded-stakes-winning mare Nice Assay.

Came Home got his name after a series of failed attempts in the sales ring; thus, he was always coming home. One of these sales attempts included Came Home getting spooked and falling down. According to witnesses, the colt got right back up again as though nothing had happened.

Erik Davis

Erik Davis (born June 12, 1967) is an American writer, scholar, journalist and public speaker whose writings have ranged from rock criticism to cultural analysis to creative explorations of esoteric mysticism. He is perhaps best known for his book Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information, as well as his work on California counterculture, including Burning Man, the human potential movement, and the writings of Philip K. Dick.

Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize

The Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize is annually awarded for fiction by an American woman.

The Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of English at the University of Rochester have awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for fiction by an American woman since 1975.

Each winner is awarded $7,500.The prize is named for a 30-year-old editor killed in an auto accident. Family, friends, and associates in the publishing industry endowed the prize as a memorial to Kafka and "the literary standards and personal ideals for which she stood".

The prize is not associated with the similarly named Franz Kafka Prize.


Kesh may refer to:

Kesh (Sumer), an ancient Sumerian city and religious center

Kesh, the former name of Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan

Keş, Azerbaijan

Kesh, County Fermanagh, a small village in Northern Ireland

Kesh Recordings, record label run by British musician and sound artist Simon Scott

Maze (HM Prison), a prison in Northern Ireland sometimes called "Long Kesh"

Kesh (Sikhism), a practice of not cutting hair in Sikhism

Kesh, a fictional human culture and language in Ursula K. Le Guin's novel Always Coming Home

The Empire of Great Kesh, a nation of the world of Midkemia, in books written by Raymond Feist

KESH, the electricity supplier of Albania

Kesh Kumari, an English artist

Keshi, specifically those not marketed in Japan.

List of constructed scripts

This list of constructed scripts is in alphabetical order. ISO 15924 codes are provided where assigned. This list includes neither shorthand systems nor ciphers of existing scripts.

List of social science fiction writers and stories

This is a list of social science fiction writers with their best-known works.

Iain M. Banks - the Culture series

Malorie Blackman - Noughts & Crosses series

Octavia E. Butler - Parable of the Sower

Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451

Renee Gladman – the Ravicka series

Robert A. Heinlein

Aldous Huxley - Brave New World

Ursula K. Le Guin - Hainish Cycle, The Lathe of Heaven, Always Coming Home

Doris Lessing - Canopus in Argos

Lois Lowry - The Giver

George Orwell - Nineteen Eighty Four

Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

Yevgeny Zamyatin - We

Isaac Asimov - Nightfall

José Saramago - Blindness

Janusz A. Zajdel, known as "father" of Polish social science fiction

Odile Crick

Odile Crick (11 August 1920 – 5 July 2007) was a British artist best known for her drawing of the double helix structure of DNA discovered by her husband Francis Crick and his partner James D. Watson in 1953.

Potlatch (convention)

Potlatch was an annual non-profit science fiction convention held in the Pacific Northwest region of North America since 1992. Unlike most SF conventions, Potlatch designates a "Book of Honor" rather than author, editor, fan, and/or artist "Guests of Honor;" the appellation "Book of Honor" does not preclude works from other media receiving the honor, such as films.


A soundtrack, also written sound track, can be recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, book, television program, or video game; a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film, video, or television presentation; or the physical area of a film that contains the synchronized recorded sound.


Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, published by Atheneum in 1990. It is the fourth novel set in the fictional archipelago Earthsea, following almost twenty years after the Earthsea trilogy (1968–1972), and not the last, despite its subtitle.

It won the annual Nebula Award for Best Novel

and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.Tehanu continues the stories of Tenar, the heroine of the second book of the Earthsea series The Tombs of Atuan, and Ged, the hero of the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea.

University of California Press

University of California Press, otherwise known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing. It was founded in 1893 to publish books and papers for the faculty of the University of California, established 25 years earlier in 1868. Its headquarters are located in Oakland, California.

The University of California Press currently publishes in the following general subject areas: anthropology, art, ancient world/classical studies, California and the West, cinema & media studies, criminology, environmental studies, food and wine, history, music, politics, psychology, public health and medicine, religion, and sociology.

It is a non-profit publishing arm of the University of California. Of its authors 25% are affiliated with the University of California. It publishes on average 175 new books and 30 multi-issue journals in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. It maintains approximately 4,000 book titles in print. It is also the publisher of Collabra and Luminos open access (OA) initiatives.

The Press commissioned as its corporate typeface University of California Old Style from type designer Frederic Goudy from 1936-1938, although it no longer always uses the design.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (; October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018) was an American novelist. She worked mainly in the genres of fantasy and science fiction, and authored children's books, short stories, poetry, and essays. Her writing was first published in the 1960s and often depicted futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds in politics, the natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality, and ethnography. In 2016, The New York Times described her as "America's greatest living science fiction writer", although she said that she would prefer to be known as an "American novelist".She influenced Booker Prize winners and other writers, such as Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell, and science fiction and fantasy writers including Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks. She won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award, each more than once. In 2014, she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In 2003, she was made a Grandmaster of Science Fiction, one of a few women writers to take the top honor in the genre.

Ursula K. Le Guin bibliography

Ursula K. Le Guin was an American author of speculative fiction, realistic fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, librettos, essays, poetry, speeches, translations, literary critiques, chapbooks, and children's fiction. She was primarily known for her works of speculative fiction. These include works set in the fictional world of Earthsea, stories in the Hainish Cycle, standalone novels and short stories. Though frequently referred to as an author of science fiction, critics have described her work as being difficult to classify.Le Guin came to critical attention with the publication of A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968, and The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969. The Earthsea books, of which A Wizard of Earthsea was the first, have been described as Le Guin's best work by several commentators, while scholar Charlotte Spivack described The Left Hand of Darkness as having established Le Guin's reputation as a writer of science fiction. Literary critic Harold Bloom referred to the books as Le Guin's masterpieces. Several scholars have called the Earthsea books Le Guin's best work. Her work has received intense critical attention. As of 1999, ten volumes of literary criticism and forty dissertations had been written about her work: she was referred to by scholar Donna White as a "major figure in American letters". Her awards include the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal, and multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards. Feminist critiques of her writing were particularly influential upon Le Guin's later work.Le Guin's first published work was the poem "Folksong from the Montayna Province" in 1959, while her first short story was "An die Musik", in 1961; both were set in her fictional country of Orsinia. Her first professional publication was the short story "April in Paris" in 1962, while her first published novel was Rocannon's World, released by Ace Books in 1966. Her last publication was a 2018 collection of non-fiction, titled Dreams Must Explain Themselves and Other Essays 1972–2004. This bibliography includes all of Le Guin's published novels, short fiction, translations, edited volumes, and all collections that include material not previously published in book form, as well as any works mentioned in commentary about Le Guin's writings.

Utopian and dystopian fiction

Utopia and dystopia are genres of speculative fiction that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction portrays the setting that agrees with the author's ethos, having various attributes of another reality intended to appeal to readers. Dystopian fiction (sometimes combined with, but distinct from apocalyptic literature) is the opposite: the portrayal of a setting that completely disagrees with the author's ethos. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take, depending on its choices, ending up with one of two possible futures. Both utopias and dystopias are commonly found in science fiction and other speculative fiction genres, and arguably are by definition a type of speculative fiction.

More than 400 utopian works were published prior to the year 1900 in the English language alone, with more than a thousand others during the twentieth century.

World Fantasy Award—Life Achievement

The World Fantasy Awards are given each year by the World Fantasy Convention for the best fantasy fiction and fantasy art published in English during the preceding calendar year. The awards have been described by sources such as The Guardian as a "prestigious fantasy prize", and as one of the three most renowned speculative fiction awards, along with the Hugo and Nebula Awards (which cover both fantasy and science fiction). The World Fantasy Award—Life Achievement is given each year to individuals for their overall career in fields related to fantasy. These have included, for example, authors, editors, and publishers. The specific nomination reasons are not given, and nominees are not required to have retired, though they can only win once. The Life Achievement category has been awarded annually since 1975.World Fantasy Award nominees are decided by attendees and judges at the annual World Fantasy Convention. A ballot is posted in June for attendees of the current and previous two conferences to determine two of the finalists, and a panel of five judges adds three or more nominees before voting on the overall winner of each category. Unlike the other World Fantasy Award categories, the nominees for the Life Achievement award are not announced; instead, the winner is announced along with the nominees in the other categories. The panel of judges is typically made up of fantasy authors, and is chosen each year by the World Fantasy Awards Administration, which has the power to break ties. The final results are presented at the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October. Through 2015, winners were presented with a statuette of H. P. Lovecraft; more recent winners receive a statuette of a tree.During the 44 nomination years, 69 people have been given the Life Achievement Award. Multiple winners have been awarded 21 times, typically two co-winners, though five were noted in 1984. Since 2000 it has become an unofficial tradition for two winners to be announced, often with one winner primarily an author and the other not. While most winners have been authors and editors, five winners have been primarily artists of fantasy art and book covers, and four winners are best known for founding or running publishing houses that produce fantasy works.

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