Vaster Than Empires hero image

Vaster Than Empires

“It’s all one,” Osden said. “One big green thought.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, “Vaster than Empires”

How can science and speculative fiction inspire us to materialize beneficial futures—on Earth and beyond?

Vaster than Empires is an annual Writer’s Workshop hosted by the Berggruen Institute. The project takes its name from writer Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 story in which a human crew encounters an alien, more-than-human, planetary intelligence. Writers are invited to explore Le Guin’s hypothesis that what we call “intelligence” extends far beyond the human mind, an explosive field of scientific, social, and philosophical inquiry. We are collecting their stories, screenplays, and other creative works for publication and production.

In Year 1, we invited twelve writers to contemplate the phenomenon of “Collective Intelligence.” After immersing ourselves in Los Angeles science fiction cinemascape, we decamped to Topanga Canyon to write.

In Year 2, we will explore the theme “The Eternal and the Ephemeral” in Rome, Italy. In the Eternal City, we will steep ourselves in the ancient past through art and architecture to share collective moments that will be sweet but fleeting.

The Writer’s Workshop is invite-only, though we hope to take applications from new writers in the future.

Vaster than Empires Editorial Team

The Editorial Team of Vaster than Empires is composed of Claire Isabel Webb, Ken Liu, Qiufan Chen 陈楸帆, and Theo Downes-Le Guin.

Dr. Webb directs the Future Humans Theme at the Berggruen Institute.

A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, Liu is an American author of speculative fiction. As a futurist, Liu has helped numerous organizations with articulating visions of the future. His most characteristic work is the four-volume epic fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, in which engineers, not wizards, are the heroes of a silkpunk world on the verge of modernity.

Chen is an award-winning Chinese speculative fiction author. His works include the debut novel Waste Tide which set is in the near-future China, haunted by electronic waste and the ghost of Extractionism, as well as AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future, co-authored with Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, that innovatively blends science fiction with tech analysis, exploring the chances and risks in an AI-Human coevolving era.

Downes-Le Guin is the literary executor for author Ursula K. Le Guin and heads the Ursula K. Le Guin Foundation. Through programs such as an annual prize for fiction, the Foundation continues Le Guin’s legacy of supporting writers and readers of science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and poetry. He also consults on adaptations of Le Guin’s work for screen and stage.

Invited Writers

Year 1 writers included Karen Bakker, Sam Biddle, Emma Carmichael, Stanley Chen, Lee Cronin, Taiyo Fujii, Katherine Hayles, Hao Jingfang, Ken Liu, Karen Lord, Kate Elliott, Stephanie Sherman, and Sara Walker.

Vaster Than Empires team