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SFF Author: Ursula K. Le-Guin

(1929-2018)
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was an American author of novels, children’s books, and short stories, mainly in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. She also wrote poetry and essays. First published in the 1960s, her work has often depicted futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds in politics, the natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality and ethnography. She influenced such Booker Prize winners and other writers as Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell – and notable science fiction and fantasy writers including Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks. She won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award, each more than once. In 2014, she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Le Guin resided in Portland, Oregon and died on January 22, 2018.


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Rocannon’s World: Ursula K. Le Guin’s debut

Rocannon’s World by Ursula K. Le Guin

Rocannon’s World, published in 1966, is Ursula Le Guin’s debut novel and the first in her HAINISH CYCLE. The story describes how Rocannon, an ethnographer, became stranded on the planet he was charting when a spaceship from Faraday, a rogue planet that is an enemy to the League of All Worlds, blew up his spaceship and the rest of his crew. Rocannon thinks he’s trapped forever until he sees a helicopter and realizes that Faraday must have a secret base on the planet.


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Planet of Exile: Enjoyable, but not the best place to start with Le Guin

Planet of Exile by Ursula K. Le Guin

Planet of Exile is a novel in Ursula Le Guin’s HAINISH CYCLE and one of the author’s first published books. In this story, a colony of humans has been stranded for many years on the planet Werel, which has such a long orbit around its sun that one year is like 60 Earth years. These humans, gently led by Jakob Agat, live in a city surrounded by a stone wall. Because of the conditions on Werel, especially the effect of its sun’s radiation on human genes,


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City of Illusions: Better than previous HAINISH CYCLE books

City of Illusions by Ursula K. Le Guin

“You go to the place of the lie to find out the truth?”

Ursula K. Le Guin’s HAINISH CYCLE continues with City of Illusions, which I liked better than its predecessors, Rocannon’s World and Planet of Exile. City of Illusions takes place on Earth sometimes in the far future after an alien invasion has killed off most of the people and has completely changed the Earth’s ecology,


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The Left Hand of Darkness: An important thought experiment

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), part of THE HAINISH CYCLE, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best SF Novel, and is well known as one of the first books in the genre to intelligently explore the nature of gender and identity. Ursula K. LeGuin is a highly respected writer known for her anthropological and humanistic approach to SF, and her presence has attracted many mainstream readers and forced literary critics to take the genre more seriously.


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The Dispossessed: Not simply an anarchist utopia/capitalist dystopia

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is a perfectly achieved thought experiment, perhaps Ursula K. Le Guin’s greatest achievement, but there is little I can say that hasn’t been said more eloquently, forcefully, thoroughly, or knowledgeably by other reviewers. It transcends genre as a Novel of Ideas. It explores with great intelligence anarchism-socialism vs capitalism; freedom/slavery in terms of politics, economics, society, intellectual endeavor, and personal relationships; the struggle to perfect a scientific theory that unifies time and space; whether human nature inevitably corrupts all political ideals;


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The Word for World is Forest: A powerful, somewhat allegorical tale

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tor recently re-released the Hugo winner The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin in a lovely paperback edition, so I thought it finally was time to check out this famous short novel, originally published in the seventies.

The novel is part of Le Guin’s famous HAINISH CYCLE (see also, among others, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed) but can be read completely separately,


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Four Ways to Forgiveness: Slavery, oppression, revolution, and redemption

Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is hardly afraid to tackle difficult topics. In fact, she delves into them with a fearless but controlled approach that forces us to look at painful subjects we may prefer not to. This time she is going straight for the jugular, exploring the sensitive subjects of freedom, slavery, oppression, sexual politics, and revolution. In the wrong hands this could easily become a heavy-handed polemic that might be unreadable.

However, Le Guin is far too skilled a writer to wield a cudgel — instead,


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The Telling: I expect more from Le Guin

The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guinis an iconic voice whose books, like Left Hand of Darkness and The Word for World is Forest, made people rethink their assumptions of the society they lived in. She is intimidatingly intellectual but writes characters who are real and full of heart. She is a personal role model of mine, so it’s difficult to write a less-than-glowing review about The Telling, a late entry into Le Guin’s HAINISH CYCLE stories.


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A Wizard of Earthsea: An artistic, intimate drama

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

With the recent Sci- Fi Channel miniseries, there is bound to be renewed interest in Ursula Le Guin’s classic first book in her Earthsea series, as there should be. This remains a classic fantasy for good reason. The world within which the characters move is fully developed, having a sense of past, present and future as well as a sense of a larger “there there”, as opposed to some fantasies that feel like a Hollywood stage set, as if nothing exists beyond the narrow social/geographical worlds the characters move through.


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The Tombs of Atuan: Strong second book

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin

The Tombs of Atuan is the second book in the Earthsea series that began with A Wizard of Earthsea. Wizard is a true classic, and it wouldn’t be much criticism to say Atuan doesn’t match it. It’s true, but The Tombs of Atuan is still well worth the read, quite strong in its own right.

The Tombs of Atuan is a near complete shift of character,


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The Farthest Shore: One of the strongest books in the series

The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin

The Farthest Shore is the third book in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, and the concluding one for several decades. Since it’s highly recommended to have read the first two, I’ll work on the assumption that the reader has. If book one, Wizard of Earthsea has the most action/magic and book two, Tombs of Atuan, is the slowest and most introspective of the opening trilogy, then The Farthest Shore is a nicely-balanced blending of the styles.


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Tehanu: So much misery

Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin

Hmmm. Where to begin.

First, a confession: despite my high marks for this and other installments of the Earthsea series, I never really warmed up to Ursula Le Guin’s masterworks. It’s like appreciating a painting by Picasso: I know that it’s a magnificent piece of art, but that doesn’t mean I’d want it hanging on my living room wall. Likewise, I can recognize the craftsmanship and skill that went into creating The Earthsea Cycle; there’s so much skill in the writing,


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Tales from Earthsea: Fills in gaps in the EARTHSEA mythos

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

In 1972 Ursula Le Guin completed The Farthest Shore and felt the EARTHSEA series was finished at three books. However, in 1994 she published Tehanu:The Last Book of Earthsea in an attempt to revise the gender and social roles she’d laid out in that original trilogy. Based on the title, this too was supposed to be the be-all, end-all. Apparently not satisfying enough; 2001 saw Le Guin publishing two additional books in the EARTHSEA CYCLE,


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The Other Wind: Ends the EARTHSEA CYCLE

The Other Wind by Ursula Le Guin

At age 84, I think it’s safe to say that Ursula Le Guin will not be publishing additional books in the EARTHSEA CYCLE. The qualities of the last book to be published, The Other Wind, particularly the subtle and cathartic value of its denouement and the state in which the main characters are left, make the extension of the Cycle beyond six books unlikely. Walking away on a high note, the Cycle is here concluded in grand style.


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The Lathe of Heaven: Dreaming of Utopia

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

When George Orr sleeps, he sometimes has “effective” dreams that alter reality. Believing that he has no right to effect such changes, George begins taking drugs to suppress the dreams. As the drugs lose their efficacy, George ups the dosage, exceeding legal limits. George is caught and ordered to choose between therapy and asylum. He chooses therapy and is sent to Dr. William Haber. When Haber realizes that George is not crazy and that these “effective” dreams indeed change reality, the psychiatrist decides to make the world a better place.


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The Eye of the Heron: A short but complex novel suitable for all ages

The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. Le Guin

Starscape (Tom Doherty’s YA imprint) presents The Eye of the Heron as a book for ages 10 and above. While the story is straightforward enough, the philosophical ideas that underpin the story are quite complex, so The Eye of the Heron is quite an interesting read for the more mature reader as well. Le Guin does not waste any words in telling the story, she delivers a to-the-point but surprisingly complex novel. If you read it at age 10,


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Changing Planes: The perfect book to read in the airport

Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin

Airports are horrible places — the boring waits, the noisy rush, the germy stale air, the ugly utilitarian décor, the nasty food. That is, until Sita Dulip, while waiting for her delayed flight from Chicago to Denver and noticing that “the airport offers nothing to any human being except access to the interval between planes,” developed a technique to change planes inside the airport. She discovered that in the airport the traveler is uncomfortable, displaced, and already between planes and can therefore easily slip into other planes of existence while waiting for a flight.


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Gifts: Le Guin’s usual mastery of story and style

Gifts by Ursula Le Guin

There are lots of reasons to like a good Le Guin novel — her spare prose, her sharpness of description, her ease of storytelling, but in simple terms, when Le Guin writes well (nearly always), it boils down to the fact that reading becomes bare unadorned pleasure. Pleasure at its purest and simplest. And that is the gift of this book.

The backstory is pretty simple — families living in the Uplands have hereditary magical abilities or “gifts” (one type to a family) that can and usually are employed to harm: gifts of “unmaking”


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Voices: Lots to think about

Voices by Ursula Le Guin

In this story of the Western Shore, we meet Memer, a 17 year old girl — a “siege-brat” — who lives in the occupied land of Ansul, a city of people who used to be peaceful, prosperous, and educated but who were overtaken 17 years ago by the illiterate Alds who consider all writing to be demonic. All of the Ansul literature, history, and other books were drowned… except for a small collection of books that has been saved and hidden in a secret room in the house of Galvamand and can only be accessed by the last two people in the Galva household — Sulter Galva (the Waylord) and Memer,


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Powers: The best in the series

Powers by Ursula Le Guin

Powers is the third and, in my opinion, the best of the Annals of the Western Shore novels. In this book, we meet Gavir, a slave in the City State of Etra. Gavir was born in the marshes but was stolen, along with his sister, by slavers and brought to Etra. He has the power to clearly remember things he has seen before and even some events that have not yet happened to him. This gift is not uncommon in the marshes,


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Lavinia: A voice and a story for Lavinia

Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin

“It’s not death that allows us to understand one another, but poetry.”

Lavinia, wife of Aeneas, is silent in Virgil’s Aeneid. In the novel Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin gives a voice and a story to this nearly obscure figure.

I loved the prose from page one. Le Guin’s skill with the English language is unquestionable. Here’s a sample from early in the novel:

Like Spartan Helen,


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The Wild Girls: Wraps you in silken words and then breaks your heart

The Wild Girls by Ursula K Leguin

“When her mother went to embrace her, Tudju made the gesture that put her aside.”

Some topics carry inevitability in their DNA. When you read about Titanic, or the 1918 influenza pandemic, you know what’s going to happen. In Ursula LeGuin’s novelette The Wild Girls we have a good idea how it’s going to end. We don’t want to believe, but we know.

In the opening paragraphs, Bela ten Belen takes five companions and a male slave and leaves his City home to raid a nearby nomadic village.


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The Unreal and the Real, Vol 1: Where on Earth

The Unreal and the Real, Volume One: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin

Having just read two long, dense space opera epics, I was in the mood for shorter work, and who better than Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the giants of the sci-fi/fantasy field, and a respected American novelist who has transcended genre and literary categories. I discovered two volumes of her stories available on Audible, with Volume One: Where on Earth (2012) set on Earth in what I would categorize as “literary realism” style,


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The Unreal and the Real, Vol 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands

The Unreal and the Real, Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is essential reading (or listening) for all fans of SF who want to see why Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the giants of the SF/fantasy field. Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands contains a host of impressive stories, both her famous award-winners and lesser-known gems. All of them are intelligent, thought-provoking, understated, and beautifully written. It’s hard to underestimate the influence she has had on the genre,


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The Unreal and the Real: Omnibus of anthropological SF and literary tales

The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin

Everyone with even a passing knowledge of SF/Fantasy will likely have heard of Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the giants of the field whose work has transcended genre and literary categories. Her SFF works have ranged from mythical fantasy such as the EARTHSEA CYCLE to brilliant studies of gender, identity, and political ideologies like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.


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The Found and the Lost: Masterful stories by one of the genre’s greats

The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Found and the Lost is the companion volume to The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, a hefty 816-page book or 34-hour audiobook collection of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novellas. It contains most of the stories that make up Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995) a set of linked stories in her HAINISH CYCLE about the two worlds of Werel and Yeowe,


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No Time to Spare: More LeGuin is always a pleasure

No Time to Spare by Ursula K. LeGuin

I’ve said for, well, what seems like forever now, that Ursula K. LeGuin is a national treasure. And so when she comes out with a collection drawn from her blog, I’m all in, even though normally I’d run like crazy from any such compendium. In fact, I’ve used the “sounds like a blog” line as criticism (the negative sort) of other collections of essays. And yes, there are several pieces about cats in No Time to Spare (2017),


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SHORTS: Bolander, Goss, Le Guin, Liu, Ford, Jemisin

SHORTS is our regular short fiction review column (previously SFM or Short Fiction Monday). In today’s column we review several more of the 2019 Locus award nominees in the short fiction categories.

No Flight Without the Shatter by Brooke Bolander (2018, free at Tor.com; 99c Kindle version). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

No Flight Without the Shatter brings together Linnea and her Aunties Ben, Dora, and Martha at the end of the world. Linnea is recognizably human,


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The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories: Humane science fiction

The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories edited by Tom Shippey

I read Tom Shippey‘s other excellent collection, The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories some time ago, so it was only a matter of time before I sought out this one. Like its stablemate, The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories consists of a chronological collection of stories from a variety of authors with an introduction by the editor. I was struck by the idea of “fabril” literature, which is discussed in the introduction: a form of literature in which the “smith”


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The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology by Gordon Van Gelder (ed.)

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology is an excellent collection of 23 stories picked from the treasure trove of short fiction that’s been published in the eponymous magazine over the past 60 years. Editor Gordon Van Gelder — also the editor of the magazine since 1997 — has done an admirable job, picking stories that illustrate the diversity of both the genre and the magazine.


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Wings of Fire: I thought I didn’t like dragons

Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan & Marianne S. Jablon

I don’t like dragons.

This is probably not the first sentence you’d expect to find in a review of Wings of Fire, an anthology devoted exclusively to dragon stories, but I thought it best to get it out of the way right from the start.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with dragons. They’re just terribly overused, one of those tired genre mainstays that people who typically don’t read a lot of fantasy will expect in a fantasy novel because they were practically unavoidable for a long time.


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The Secret History of Fantasy: Stories that redefine the genre

The Secret History of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle

The basic premise of the SECRET HISTORY anthologies (there’s also a science fiction one, The Secret History of Science Fiction, which I haven’t read) is that there’s a type of writing that got missed or buried because other things were more popular, more commercial, or dodged the spec-fic labeling. Certainly that’s the thrust of Peter S. Beagle‘s introduction, and the two other non-fiction pieces by Ursula K. Le Guin and editor David G.


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Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories

Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories edited by John Joseph Adams

Even people who don’t usually read science fiction will often be familiar with a few classic titles in the “dystopian SF” sub-genre. After all, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and of course the famous Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World are some of the few SF titles that have entered the mainstream literary canon to such an extent that they’ve become assigned school reading for many students.


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Epic: Legends of Fantasy: Lives up to its title

Epic: Legends of Fantasy by John Joseph Adams (editor)

Epic: Legends of Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams, is an anthology of stories written by some of the biggest names in epic fantasy. The book clocks in at over 600 pages not just because it’s very difficult to tell short epic stories (though some of these authors do manage to pull it off) but because here the authors are not just telling epic legends, they are legends in and of themselves. George R.R.


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Why You Should Read… Ursula K LeGuin

I am pleased to welcome Mark Barrowcliffe today – M D Lachlan (author of Wolfsangel) – to talk about one of his favourite authors. Mark’s website can be found here, and he posts on Twitter as @mdlachlan. His article is about Ursula K LeGuin.

I’m going to confess – I haven’t read that much of the author I’m recommending here, although I was until recently under the impression I had read more. So this comes as a recommendation to myself – one that I intend to follow – as well as to you.


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Next SFF Author: Fritz Leiber
Previous SFF Author: Joseph Sheridan Le-Fanu

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