What do the National Book award, the Locus award, the Hugo award, The Nebula award, the World Fantasy award, and the PEN/Malamud award have in common? All of them (some multiple times) have been awarded to the fiction of author Ursula K. Le Guin. From fantasy and science fiction to non-fiction essay writing, from kids to adults, there are few authors whose work exhibit the kind of universal appeal apparent in Le Guin’s body of work.
Blazing onto the scene with A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968 Le Guin has been steadily writing and publishing stellar works of fiction for all ages. Le Guin’s fiction is deeply rooted in the exploration of society and culture using her vivid imagination to examine the clash cultures, gender, and nature of personal identity. The following represents only a small sample of Le Guin’s work but represent some of her most well-regard works (in addition to some personal favorites).
I first read the novel’s of Le Guin’s Earthsea series when I was in the eighth grade. Set in a world made up of a vast archipelago surrounded by a mysterious and mostly unexplored ocean A Wizard of Earthsea explores the education and adventures of the young wizard Ged (also called Sparrowhawk). Targeted at older children the novels of Earthsea, while short, offer a treasure trove of wonder and enchantment for adults as well. Written with a lyrical prose A Wizard of Earthsea is a novel that holds up even today 45 years after it was first published.
“It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.” –A Wizard of Earthsea
Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards and ranked as one of the all-time greatest Science Fiction novels by Locus Magazine The Left Hand of Darkness explores themes of gender, identity, and communication. The Left Hand of Darkness takes place on the distant world of Winter where the representative Genly of Earth is attempting convince the native people to join the Ekumen, a coalition of worlds. The people of Winter have no set gender or sex a fact which confuses and complicates Genly’s dealings with them and likewise makes Genly a strange and disturbing figure to the people of Winter. The novel explores Genly’s experiences with the people Winter in his attempts to win them over the Ekumen.
“The Gethenians do not see one another as men or women. This is almost impossible for our imaginations to accept. After all, what is the first question we ask about a newborn baby? ….there is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protected/ protective. One is respected and judged only as a human being. You cannot cast a Gethnian in the role of Man or Woman, while adopting towards ‘him’ a corresponding role dependent on your expectations of the interactions between persons of the same or opposite sex. It is an appalling experience for a Terran ” -The Left Hand of Darkness
Originally serialized in Amazing Stories, The Lathe of Heaven centers upon a character whose dreams can alter reality. Published in 1971 The Lathe of Heaven takes place in a Portland in 2002 wherein the overpopulated city is impoverished and suffers from constant rain while at the same time war rages in the Middle East as Egypt and Israel face down Iran. Into the troubled times comes draftsman George Orr whose dreams retroactively alter reality. While his dreams may change the world only Orr retains the memory of the way things were before. The Lathe of Heaven explores utopias, dystopias, and the corrupting influence of power.
“We’re in the world, not against it. It doesn’t work to try to stand
outside things and run them, that way. It just doesn’t work, it goes against life. There is a way but you have to follow it. The world is, no matter how we think it ought to be. You have to be with it. You have to let it be.”-The Lathe of Heaven