Posted by: kshayes513 | April 30, 2009

Reading: Ursula K. Le Guin

As I wrote in the previous post, Ursula K. Le Guin has just won the Nebula Award for her latest novel, Powers.

Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo by Eileen Gunn

Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo by Eileen Gunn

Le Guin the worldbuilder seems tireless these days. She has already established several rich and inexhaustible universes to play in; yet at an age when most people are slowing down, she created a new one, The Annals of the Western Shore.

For the benefit of those who think they love Le Guin, but haven’t heard of anything she’s written since The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969, here’s a short list of my favorite recent work. They’re all in print, like pretty much everything Le Guin has ever published, so if your bookseller doesn’t have them in stock, order them; or go to Le Guin’s Bookshelf at Powell’s Books, where they will be in stock; or just request them from your library. I’m not reviewing here, you can find plenty of good reviews in print for any of these titles.

In no particular order:

Telling_coverThe Telling. Le Guin evokes no less than 3 distinct societies here; that of the narrator, and two societies of the world she is visiting. She makes me want to stay in one of them, and run like a scared rabbit from the other two. Maybe one of the finest examples of Le Guin’s unique brand of anthropological (rather than technological) science fiction.

Changing Planes. A worldbuilder’s master class, this collection of linked stories creates a new society in every single story. Her approach here is somewhat anthropological, as a visitor observes and describes each world; and the stories grow from the descriptions. Read and learn how to dispense worldbuilding exposition without sliding into deadly info-dumps!

The Birthday of the World. My favorite story in this collection, Coming of Age in Karhide, proves yet again that Le Guin can write about the most challenging subjects without either feeling or causing any inappropriate discomfort. Its also a lesson in linguistic sleight of hand to see her dealing with the gendered pronouns of English, while writing about a non-gendered race.

Lavinia- coverLavinia. Set in the age of Troy, Lavinia tells the story of Aeneas’s wife, who has only a line or so in the Aeneid. I went from reading Beowulf to Lavinia without the slightest culture shock, a tribute to Le Guin’s ability to set a reader down in the ancient world as if it were home.

The Annals of the Western Shore: Gifts; Voices; and shiny new Nebula winner, Powers. I’ve read the first 2 of these so far, and this time, Le Guin is writing about people who have “gifts”, which we might call psychic powers. As always she imagines societies that are a blend of the familiar and the strange, yet she makes their strangeness also seem familiar and inevitable.

OtherWind coverThe last 3 books of the Earthsea Cycle: Tehanu; Tales from Earthsea; The Other Wind. Any of these will upend any notion you may have that Earthsea is a commonplace “epic fantasy” (and make the SciFi miniseries look even more of a lame-brained travesty.) Tehanu, in particular, transformed my worldview, by expressing cultural conflicts that I was experiencing in daily life without even being aware of them. Le Guin’s forward to Tales from Earthsea gives some insight into her worldbuilding process, at least for Earthsea, and also some comments on the nature of fantasy and its commercialization. Read (or reread) the early Earthsea novels before any of these, then read these in the order I’ve listed them.

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