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Sean Guynes

The Eye of the Heron: Le Guin’s Introduction to Feminism and Ode to Nonviolence

In the course of this reread, I’ve stated pretty regularly that one of the most admirable aspects about Le Guin as a writer is her witnessing of criticism and her ability to change to address her political failures throughout her career. In 1977-1978, Le Guin was writing a story (really, a short novel) for her agent Virginia Kidd’s 1978 story collection Millennial Women, which touted itself as “tales for tomorrow” by and about women. The book collected six pieces by (white) women—Cynthia Felice (best known for collabs with Connie Willis), Diana L. Paxson (among SF and paganism creds, she also co-founded the SCA!), Elizabeth A. Lynn (who pioneered queer relationships in fantasy), Cherry Wilder (a New Zealand fantasy writer), Joan D. Vinge (no intro necessary), and Le Guin herself—featuring women protagonists. Le Guin was clearly the selling point of the book, the cover of which included only the title, editor name, and “Including a new novel by Ursula K. Le Guin.”

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

Orsinian Tales: Le Guin’s Melancholic Stroll Through an Imaginary Central Europe

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering all of Le Guin’s short story collection Orsinian Tales (1976). My edition is included in the 2017 Gollancz collection Orsinia.

Ahem. Where were we? Last month, we left off having finished Le Guin’s YA novella Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, a mundane, not-so-SF novel that nonetheless touched on a great many things that we’ve (re)read together throughout this past year.

2020 has been a shit show, to put it mildly. Le Guin—along with you, my co-readers, from the Le Guin’s “masterpieces in Earthsea and radical SF in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and back in time to her beginnings in the early novels of Hain, her acclaimed novel(la)s Lathe of Heaven and The Word for World Is Forest, and more recently the first collection of her short stories—has been here with us through it all. And yet we’ve barely tasted the entirety of the feast she left behind. So we continue, because it is all we can do these days: on to Orsinia.

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else: Le Guin’s Thoughtful, Mundane YA Novel of Companionship in an Isolating World

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering all of Le Guin’s short YA novel(la) Very Far Away from Anywhere Else. My edition is the 2004 Harcourt paperback.

We have come, perhaps, to one of the strangest books Le Guin wrote—at least at first glance. A YA novel written in 1976 that has probably the most uninteresting back-cover copy ever attached to one of her works…

[Owen is an outsider, a loner.]

Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Part II: Le Guin’s Psychomyths and Those Who Walk Away

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering the first half of the short story collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, from “Nine Lives” to “The Day Before the Revolution,” pp. 105 to the end, in the 1975 Harper & Row hardcover edition.

In the last post of the Le Guin Reread we looked at the first half of Le Guin’s first story collection, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, which we continue here. I was pleasantly surprised that no one shamed me (to my knowledge) for my comments about short stories generally (thanks for sparing me, Rich!), and in fact one reader wrote elsewhere in recognition of the feeling of getting lost in a world as opposed to a story.

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Part I: Le Guin’s Early Stories and Germinative Tales

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering the first half of the short story collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, from “Semley’s Necklace” to “The Good Trip,” pp. 1-104 in the 1975 Harper & Row hardcover edition.

As a rule, I don’t particularly like short fiction. Before the gasps of heresy overtake me, let me explain: I like big stories, I like to get lost in a world, to become part of the milieu of characters the author is bringing to life. Short stories can offer this and many novels don’t. And some short stories are downright annoy-all-your-friends-with-your-reading-suggestions amazing. Some by Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Nisi Shawl, and (odd as this pairing is) Arthur C. Clarke come to my mind. But as a preservation strategy—we live in a world where dozens of worthwhile SFF novels come out every year—I keep to novels and only delve into the world of short fiction when those friends won’t let me do otherwise.

[As a rule, however, I love Ursula Le Guin’s writing.]

Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

The Word for World Is Forest: Ecology, Colonialism, and the Protest Movement

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering the novella The Word for World Is Forest, first published in Harlan Ellison, ed., Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). My edition is from Tor (2010) and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel(la).

The period between 1968 and 1974 were magnificently productive for Le Guin, yielding the novels and stories that solidified her reputation in the SFF world and which have inspired writers, critics, and scholars alike for the past half-century. Between her most famous novels, she dropped the literary firebomb of a novella, The Word for World Is Forest. Originally tucked away in Again, Dangerous Visions (1972), the second volume of Harlan Ellison’s story collections that helped shape the American New Wave, the novella was recognized with a Hugo for Best Novella, nominated for the Locus and Nebula in the same category, and upon publication in a solo volume in 1976 was a finalist for the National Book Award.

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

The Lathe of Heaven: Le Guin’s Trippy Local SF Novel About Reality

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering The Lathe of Heaven, first published serially in two parts by Amazing Science Fiction in March and May 1971. My edition is from Gollancz, SF Masterworks no. 44 (2001) and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel.

I haven’t slept well the past year. I dream too much. I dream, I wake, I half-sleep, the cat wakes me, I dream, I sleep, my daughter wakes me, I half-sleep, I dream, and all of a sudden it’s time for work again. They aren’t nightmares—or at least not always, and when they are, they’re quite mundane: being forced to fist fight a friend or suddenly existing in a world without my partner. That sort of thing. Mostly they’re the kind of dreams that are so closely textured to reality that it sometimes takes hours for me to realize a “memory” was in fact a dream-memory. Thank the Nine I’m not George Orr, protagonist and reality-altering dreamer of Le Guin’s fifth novel, The Lathe of Heaven.

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

Le Guin’s City of Illusions: Language and Trust on Space Opera’s Margin

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering City of Illusions, first published by Ace Books in 1967. My edition is part of a three-book collection Nelson Doubleday, 1978, and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel.

In the previous novel of our reread, we encountered the planet Werel and the struggle by descendants of the original Terran colonists to coexist with the indigenous Werelians at a moment of intense socio-political upheaval. Planet of Exile is a great example of the social-science turn in science fiction during the New Wave of the 1960s and exemplifies Le Guin’s concerns with how knowledge gets made and how cultures interact. Le Guin’s next novel, the beguilingly titled City of Illusions, furthers her interest in these subjects, asking not how knowledge gets made, but how can we trust that knowledge—what knowledge can we trust in a world of competing ideologies, myths, religions, politics, cultures, etc.?

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

Le Guin’s Planet of Exile: Anthropological Speculations on Cultural Difference and Loss

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering Planet of Exile, first published by Ace Books in 1966. My edition is part of a three-book collection Nelson Doubleday, 1978, and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel.

Among those who care about these things, there are (at least) two ways to divide science fiction. On the one hand we have hard science fiction, with its emphasis on extrapolating futures and possibilities from “real science,” from (exo)biology, (quantum) physics, geology, chemistry, etc. On the other hand, there’s soft science fiction and its supposedly contrasting emphasis on the less-serious, non-natural sciences: sociology, anthropology, linguistics, psychology, and so on.

[Of course, look at any attempt to taxonomize genre and it breaks down…]

Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

Rocannon’s World: Where the Hainish Cycle Begins

A (usually) biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering Rocannon’s World, first published by Ace Books in 1966. My edition is part of a three-book collection Nelson Doubleday, 1978, and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel.

We’ve visited anarchist utopias and lush worlds of excrement and excess, traveled together across ice and political turmoil, gone to the ends of the earth in search of ourselves, into the dark depths beneath the world and even into the afterlife itself. And we came back. We might not be the same as when we started, but here we are. What’s more, we did it all as a new coronavirus emerged and shut us away to work from home. I commend you all for making it this far, yet we’ve only just begun! Now we pass out of the shadow of Ursula K. Le Guin’s most beloved and influential works; now we head into stranger, older lands and start at the beginning.

[Today we come to Rocannon’s World, Le Guin’s first novel…]

Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

The Farthest Shore: The Return of the King

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering The Farthest Shore, first published by Atheneum in 1972. My edition is Simon Pulse, mass market paperback, 2001, and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel.

In fantasy publishing, the joke goes, all is trilogies. You want to write a novel, better have an idea for the next two books if you want a contract for the first. That wasn’t so in the late 1960s when Le Guin wrote A Wizard of Earthsea—trilogies were quite rare and SFF books were often sold as separate set pieces, bound together occasionally as part of a larger storyworld. This carried on the tradition of pulp magazines, which saw in seriality the dollar signs promised by a regular audience. So we have John Carter and Conan by the dozen, Asimov’s robot stories by the far-too-many, enough Witch World for a lifetime, and not as much Jirel of Joiry as we need.

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

The Tombs of Atuan: Power, Ideology, and Becoming Uneaten

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering The Tombs of Atuan, first published by Atheneum in 1970. My edition is Atheneum 2012, and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel.

As a youth, I was obsessed with the darkness—one of those many, little obsessions, the specificity of which died away at puberty only to be recovered in the haze of adulthood nostalgia. In elementary school I drew maps of tunnels that took up entire pages, and penciled in tiny stick figures who climbed about and dwelled there. I read a book about bats (Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing, a topic for another essay, no doubt) and spent a week sleeping in my closet, trying to become a bat. A little later I saw Pitch Black and tried to recreate the film in a dozen play sessions with friends. In middle school, I read R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt novels and fell in love with Faerûn’s Underdark. And on a trip to Ape Cave (a little ways from Mount St. Helens), I got to experience the utter and complete blackness of the world below ground for the first time after I convinced my family to take the lanterns and go ahead around a bend, to let me find my way back to them in total darkness. It was terrifying and wonderful at the same time; it was everything.

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

A Wizard of Earthsea: The Unsung Song of the Shadow

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering A Wizard of Earthsea, first published by Parnassus Press in 1968. My edition is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Graphia Imprint, 2012, and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel.

Every generation has its wizards.

At least since Tolkien’s Gandalf made the character-type approachable, if distant; an aid, ally, and possible friend, rather than a mystery, threat, or oaf—the subject of Christian damnation and Disneyan animation. True that’s not many generations of wizard-havers, but upon rereading Le Guin’s first major fantasy novel, and her first work ostensibly for children, I cannot help but feel a bit let down that my generation grew up with the middlebrow juggernaut of the Harry Potter series and the lowbrow action of Faerûn’s Elminster, instead of with Le Guin’s excerpts of the mythic Deed of Ged. (Just a bit, mind you.)

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

The Dispossessed, Part II: May You Get Reborn on Anarres!

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering The Dispossessed, first published by Harper & Row in 1974. My edition is Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2014, and this installment of the reread covers pages 192 to the end.

Revolution is sexy.

It’s been in vogue since the 18th century when first the colonies that would become the United States, then the colonial domains of Haiti and Peru, then nation after nation across the Western world and its colonized peripheries declared new independences, new governments, new ways of relating between state and citizen. We might even go back further and speak of the many rebellions that sporadically rose up in the wake of Europeans’ “discovery” of the Americas and their enslavement and genocide of millions of black and brown folks all over the world. And even earlier, to medieval peasants’ revolts that shook the power of feudal lords in Europe and Asia, to religiously inspired rebellions across Christendom and Islamdom, and to the servile uprisings of the Roman Republic. Looked at one way, history is the story of revolutionary mo(ve)ments.

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

The Dispossessed, Part I: A Woman in Every Table Top

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering The Dispossessed, first published by Harper & Row in 1974. My edition is Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2014, and this installment of the reread covers pages 1 to 191 (out of a total of 387 pages)

In the popular imagination, Ursula Le Guin is best remembered as a feminist science fiction writer, always mentioned in the same breath as Margaret Atwood or Joanna Russ. People also really like her quote about capitalism and the divine right of kings, which ruffled feathers during her 2014 National Book Award acceptance speech. Anyone who’s shared one of the many meme-ings of that quote (paired with an image of Le Guin or an inspiring mountain landscape) is probably unsurprised to discover that Le Guin is just as well known for her anti-capitalist utopianism and—dare I say—her anarchism. In fact, if The Left Hand of Darkness (LHoD) marked Le Guin at the end of the 1960s as a leading voice of mainstream feminist science fiction—despite not being a self-identified feminist until more than a decade later—The Dispossessed reinvigorated utopian writing after more than half-a-century of quiessence and furthered Le Guin’s recognition as a literary master of SF.

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

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