“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” — Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of innumerable SF and fantasy classics, including The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Dispossessed, and A Wizard of Earthsea (and the others in the Earthsea Cycle). She has been named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, and is the winner of five Hugos, six Nebulas, two World Fantasy Awards, and twenty Locus Awards. She’s also a winner of the Newbery Medal, The National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, and was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.

Our next piece first appeared in 1973 in New Dimensions 3, an anthology edited by the legendary Robert Silverberg.  Unusual for its story structure, which includes no protagonist, its exceptional narrative voice, and purposeful reader engagement have made it a landmark American short story.  Reprinted many times, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” brilliantly captures life in a perfect society, a total utopia…until you do a little digging. 

Omelas—which, if you’re curious, is derived from Salem spelled backwards (Le Guin is a longtime Oregonian and has a self-proclaimed quirk of reading road signs backward)—is a city of joy and beauty, and the tale is careful to unfold each of its splendors.  There has never been such a resoundingly happy place to live.  There is no crime, no war, and even the drugs are harmless.

But how is it possible for any place to achieve this level of easy delight?  And at what price does it come? 

Or more importantly:  if you lived in Omelas, would you be willing to pay it?