The Magic of Allusions

Rocannon’s World may not be one of the first dozen Ursula K. Le Guin books that I’d recommend but the novel did birth a legacy that, rather appropriately, stretches through time from the story’s 1966 publication through the present day. Needing a means of communication that could bridge the time-dilation gap of faster than light travel in her early science fiction novels, Le Guin created the ansible—a contraction of “answerable”—a device that allows instantaneous communication across space. Le Guin’s ansible wasn’t the first creation of its kind but it has been the most durable, appearing in a number of her other novels—most notably The Dispossessed, a Locus Award winning masterpiece of speculative fiction that focuses on the peculiar genius and circumstances required to create such a device—as well as the works of several other authors.

Arguably the most notable use of the ansible outside of Le Guin’s own works came from Orson Scott Card who needed just such a device for his 1985 novel, Ender’s Game. In a clever bit of partial attribution, Card puts an explanation for the device’s name in the mouth of a character who states that “somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book somewhere.” The magic of allusion is in tying a reader’s love for some other work into your own and I’m exceedingly susceptible to that spell. I’ve read Ender’s Game a half dozen times and I’ve read Le Guin even more, and yet every time I read that line I come to love them both a little more because I understand the reference, I’m in on the secret. Because, for just a moment, the author has suspended my suspension of disbelief to peek out from behind the veil with a winking smile, but only if I know when and where to look, only if I speak the secret language of shared fandom. It’s a magic as real as anything Ged ever did.

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