Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin

Did you all hear the news that legendary SF author Ursula K. Le Guin passed away recently? Her death leaves a great disturbance in the Force, to cross a few genre threads. She was one of the giants of science fiction and fantasy. And, thankfully, she was acknowledged for it during her lifetime — she won all the major genre awards (Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and the World Fantasy Award) and was only the second woman to be named a Grand Master of Science Fiction (after Andre Norton).

I was always awed by her mastery of storytelling at any length, whether short story or novella or full-length novel. And storytelling for all ages, from picture books to YA to adult — very few writers can do that! Her writing was both precise and poetic, crystalline and immediately recognizable. She was interested in ethnography and sociology, how peoples relate to each other, what cultural assumptions we make without knowing. (For example, The Left Hand of DarknessĀ is, famously, all about deconstructing gender.) But she was brilliant at character, too, and worldbuilding. How can one person be so good at so many aspects of writing? Yet she was.

Personally, I’ve read about 10 or 15 of her books. Earthsea (a trilogy at the time) was my first exposure, as it was for many. Later I went on to The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, her later Earthsea books and her collections of shorter works. I never got as far as her poetry or her books about writing. In fact, at some point I drifted away from her altogether, on to other authors — many of whom show her influence in their writing. But now that she’s gone, I’ve started reading some of her works that I missed earlier.

Thank you for everything, Ms. Le Guin. The world is a richer place because you were in it. Your shadow on the genre will be long, and you are sorely missed.

Read more: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Community Remembers Ursula K. Le Guin


  1. She’s been on my “must read” list forever! I think I’m a bit intimidated by her. But I will get there. Someday.

  2. Start with A Wizard of Earthsea! It’s not intimidating — it’s fantasy, not too long or dense, and it’s the beginning of a self-contained trilogy (although there are more books with the same setting and some character overlap).

    Or you could try Rocannon’s World, which will introduce you to her Hainish universe (spacefaring civilization coming into contact with planets of various technology levels, in this case Bronze Age). It’s one of her earliest books, so not her best, but it’ll give you a decent idea of the kind of things she’s interested in, without being as complicated as some of her later work. It’s a quest story, like the Earthsea trilogy, actually. And there are giant flying cats. ^_^

    It’s been too long since I’ve read the rest of her stuff, I’m afraid, so I can’t give you other recs. Maybe someone else will chime in…?

  3. Catherine Campbell

    The short story collections are a good intro – the Compass Rose and the Wind’s Twelve Quarters. She also wrote alternate history in an imagined Central European country called Orsinia, Orsinian Tales is the short story collection. She is very approachable, not at all “academic”.

  4. Thanks for helping out my rusty memory, Cathy!

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