‘Paradises Lost’ by Ursula K. Le Guin

‘Paradises Lost’ is one of the most compassionate and humane of Le Guin’s short stories, but if you’re snobby about sci-fi you’ll never see this because you won’t want to read about generation ships and interplanetary voyages. It’s a perfect example of how science fiction can be full of heart and expand one’s universe, whilst also being a great vehicle for asking questions about, in this case, our planet’s future. The children on this generation ship voyage only know Earth from virtual reality tapes – they have been on-board the ship their whole lives, heading towards a new habitable planet. But there’s a cult on the ship who don’t want to arrive at the new planet; they believe the journey itself is the purpose and want to cut off all connections to a terrestrial existence. For them, the voyage is life itself; life on Earth or other planets is a danger, or even illusory. This is just great plotting, and I wish someone would adapt it for television. There are conspiracies, propaganda, a love story, the question of what kind of home humans need and deserve – and just all-round brilliance. Put your genre snobbery aside and give it a try.

First published in The Birthday of the World, Harper Collins, 2002

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