This Monday, Ursula K. Le Guin died. The news broke yesterday. I don’t know what to say, but I’ve written so much about Le Guin since I started reading her work in 2009 that I thought I would just go through it and post whatever seemed appropriate here from my own notes and the quotations I’ve taken from her work. I hope that it can be taken in some way as being in honour of her. There was no one else quite like her.
2010-08-01 On Earthsea as a complete world: “There’s something about knowing the limits of Earthsea that make it seem so much more unlimited in my head…”
2011-01-15 On The Left Hand of Darkness: “I’m very glad to have read the earlier Hainish books, as Darkness does read like a conscious reassessment of previous novels, aiming higher with theme […] while mimicking the structure of Rocannon’s World, the journey and Taoism of City [of Illusion], and the harsh winter of Planter of Exile. But, as I have said before, I think that it is a book which will require some re-reading before I have fully grasped everything there is to it.
“I figured out, at the moment, I don’t have much to say about this book.” [I think that I thought much of what there was to say about it was self-evident.]
“Light is the left hand of darkness, darkness the right hand of light.” – The Left Hand of Darkness (see also: The Right Hand of Light).
2012-01-10 A third of the way into The Dispossessed: “Shevek, the central character, is perhaps less sympathetic than Genly Ai, or any of her other protagonists, but the philosophical position of his world perhaps anticipates this, and it is ‘egoist’ (love that insult) or possessive of me to require an intimate connection with him. […] I love the way in which both worlds are subtly undermined by resentment and envy of the other – disbelief that their contrary philosophy could ever produce the brilliant minds that it has.”
See also: The Dispossessed
2013-01-16 “In Great Hainish indeed there is one word, ontá, for love and for hate.” – “Vaster than Empires and More Slow”
2013-01-30 “Bravery, courage – what was courage? She had never figured it out. Not fearing, some said. Fearing, yet going on, others said. But what could one do but go on? Had they any real choice, ever?” – “The Day Before the Revolution”
“To die was merely to go on in another direction.” – “The Day Before the Revolution”
From Ursula K. Le Guin’s introduction to “The Day Before the Revolution” in The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, volume 2, p. 121: “This is a story about one of the ones who walked away from Omelas.”
2014-11-29 “The Lathe of Heaven reads as if Le Guin set out to write a PKD novel which avoided the many frustrating tropes of his writing – the flat characters, the women who are little more than semen receptacles, the confused plotting. It is, of course, also an Ursula K. Le Guin novel, so it achieves all of these aims admirably. […] However, the story that she creates is generally much better than a PKD novel in all senses except the mysterious, drugged up reality he so ably created – Le Guin crafts an almost too believable world, too well-rounded characters to pass as Dick. This shouldn’t really be a flaw in the novel, but the reality in The Lathe of Heaven is a little too solid, too clear, and I felt that it might have served the story better to have had Dick’s lack of lucidity about certain things.”
“In a PKD book the question might’ve been more along the lines of ‘which dreamed it?’ – is reality real, or chan it be affected by our (sub)conscious perception of it? In a ULG book, the question is more about how dreaming can change reality – it is not yet ‘The Day Before the Revolution’ or The Dispossessed, but it’s getting there.”
See also: Goodreads review of The Lathe of Heaven
2015-04-17 “All fiction offers us a world we can’t otherwise reach, whether because it’s in the past, or in far or imaginary places, or describes experiences we haven’t had, or leads us into minds different from our own. […] All fiction, however, has to leave out most people. […] Such omission may, however, be read as a statement that advantage is superiority, or that the white middle class is the whole society, or that only men are worth writing about. […] It comes down to a matter of taking responsibility. A denial of authorial responsibility, a willed unconsciousness, is elitist, and it does impoverish much of our fiction in every genre, including realism.” – A Fisherman of the Inland Sea: Stories
2015-11-22 “‘No truth can make another truth untrue. All knowledge is a part of the whole knowledge. A true line, a true color. Once you have seen the larger pattern, you cannot go back to seeing the part as the whole.’” – Four Ways to Forgiveness
2016-01-30 Note from Letters to Tiptree edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein; from a letter from Ursula K. Le Guin to Alice Sheldon on discovering that the latter was behind the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr.:
“Explain to me, my Gethenian Friend […] because you needn’t pretend, you know, that there isn’t any Tip & never was nor never will be; I know my Tree that well, & to hell with gender. […] ANYHOW again I think all your friends will be as childishly pleased with you as I am—and as for what the Sf World says, my God, Allitree, who cares? what does it matter? I hope their little eyes widen & their little mouths fall open. By God I just wish Stanislaw Lem was a woman too!”
See also: Goodreads review of Letters to Tiptree
2016-04-24 “I learned that the story has no beginning, and no story has an end. That the story is all muddle, all middle.” – “The Matter of Seggri”
2016-05-04 The short story “Solitude” “made me realise some things about my life that I had not realised […] it made me realise that I do not crave the solitude that is offered by the society of Eleven-soro. I might be shy, but I am not an introvert and want to be in a conversational environment with friends. Life on Eleven-soro does not appeal – although I think I understand it. It is one kind of extreme anarchist society with structures to limit the potential for one to have power over another.”
2016-05-06 The short story “The Birthday of the World” “is about change, and the ways in which it can be exploited by those seeking power. […] There is perhaps something about fragility, too.”
While reading “Paradises Lost”: “Le Guin’s comments about how science can be influenced by monotheism, the necessity of purpose or belief – to some if not to all – and how religions emerge is really interesting. I didn’t think that I usually come from the same place as Le Guin on religion, but thus far it has been excellent.”
2016-09-05 After finishing The Telling (the most recent Le Guin book that I have read):
“In 2010 I read the six books that comprised Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, as well as the two additional short stories that outlined some ideas before the novels were written. I though, beginning Rocannon’s World in 2011, that I would do the same for the Hainish Cycle/Ekumen in that year. It is now September, more than five years later, and I have just finished doing so.
“The Ekumen is much bigger than the Earthsea series, including six novels and a novella, plus one story-suite and thirteen short stories. The stories vary quite a lot in terms of plot, but there are basic structural elements that are usually the same: the story is told by a member of the League of Worlds/Ekumen who is visiting a planet as a mobile, or sometimes envoy, and who learns about the planet or witnesses a crucial moment in the planet’s history. It is, broadly speaking, optimistic and progressive. Later installments (particularly The Telling) favour spiritualism over technology. But they do so in ways that are quite interesting.
“I think that the stories have largely been treated fairly, in that the best of them are recognised as being great and have received literary awards reflecting this recognition – The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Word for World is Forest, “The Day Before the Revolution”, and “The Matter of Seggri”. I don’t know that I would describe any as hidden gems – “Vaster than Empires and More Slow” is an interesting departure, more horror than SF.”
See also: Goodreads review of The Telling
2016-09-07 “Listening to the audiobook reading of The Dispossessed (performed by Don Leslie) I am reminded of another way in which that novel and The Telling are similar: the utopian society that Le Guin seems to support is, in part, ambiguous because it is characterised by stagnation. In the older book it is the revolutionary society that has become pragmatic, maintaining rather than advancing life and society; in The Telling, the peaceful, traditional way of life stagnates in such a way that it allows an alternative, technologically (if not socially) progressive society to dominate it.
“What I enjoy about the Ekumen is that it permits many different worlds, with developing, changing histories, to be presented and compared. I like Annares better than Aka – but Le Guin offers them both as very different, almost utopian societies.”
2016-09-09 “You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them – only by ignoring them.” – The Dispossessed
2017-05-22 From Margaret Atwood, “The Queen of Quinkdom: The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin”
“The Ekumen series may be said – very broadly – to concern itself with the nature of human nature: How far can we stretch and still remain human? What is essential to our being, what is contingent? The Earthsea series is occupied – again, very broadly speaking – with the nature of reality and the necessity of mortality, and also with lanfuage in relation to its matrix. (That’s heavy weather to make of a series that has been promoted as suitable for age twelve, but perhaps the fault lies in the marketing directors. Like Alice in Wonderland, these takes speak to readers on many levels.)”