So we got the sad news that author Ursula Le Guin passed away at the age of 88.
Le Guin was the only woman and the last of the SF Lions, the authors considered the most monumental, seminal voices in modern SF whose name every fan knew, along with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury. A thoughtful professor married to a professor who supported her writing, a brilliant speaker and an advocate and inspiration for numerous writers, her impressive body of work from 1962 right up until her death made her an icon. Her major best-selling fiction works like The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, Lavinia, “The Word for World is Forrest,” “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” and “Vaster than Empires and More Slow,” are staples of school curriculum and winners of multiple awards, including five Hugos and six Nebulas. They explore remarkably what it means to be human. Her fantasy Earthsea trilogy, written for teens, has become a core text of epic fantasy and coming of age literature. The series won a World Fantasy Award, the prestigious Newberry Honor Award and the National Book Award for Children’s Literature. It was the first of many works Le Guin would write for teens and children.
Le Guin became the leading name in a literary movement of women authors eventually dubbed Feminist SF, which helped open the way for so many women writers in the SFF field, even as she took some sexist heat for exploring such themes in some of her work. She used LGBTQ characters and non-white characters in some of her works and supported authors in both of those demographics in bigger roles in SFF. Beloved by fellow academics, she gently schooled those with misconceptions about SFF literature and dismissed with polished acerbity her own editors and others’ claims that her works or others transcended SFF to be literature instead of simply were literature as SFF. In 2014, she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She was made a Grandmaster of Science Fiction in 2003. The U.S. Library of Congress designated her one of their Living Legends.
Le Guin also wrote non-fiction on writing, SFF literature and her own career, many of which have continued to inspire and influence many fiction writers. Her last publication in 2017 was the collection of non-fiction essays No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, a fitting one to end on perhaps. She represented for so many what was possible, with intelligence, curiosity and a wonderful command of the language. She was known all over the world.
There is a word in our language that, for me, best describes her: nonpareil — someone who has no equal. That was Ursula Le Guin, and we will miss her.
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” — from The Lathe of Heaven
“No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear.” – from The Left Hand of Darkness
“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”
“I think hard times are coming…We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.”