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Fantasy Fiction Novelist Ursula K. Le Guin Dies At 88 (nytimes.com) 89

sandbagger shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: may be paywalled; alternative source): Ursula K. Le Guin, the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like "The Left Hand of Darkness" and the Earthsea series, died on Monday at her home in Portland, Oregon. She was 88. Her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, confirmed her death. He did not specify a cause but said she had been in poor health for several months.

Ms. Le Guin embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes. The conflicts they face are typically rooted in a clash of cultures and resolved more by conciliation and self-sacrifice than by swordplay or space battles. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide.

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Fantasy Fiction Novelist Ursula K. Le Guin Dies At 88

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  • Very sad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 23, 2018 @09:17PM (#55990297)

    I was very sad to read about her passing. LeGuin's Earthsea books are some of my all time favourites. In fact, I just finished re-reading A Wizard of Earthsea about a month ago. Apart from the also fantastic Left Hand of Darkness award winning book, I also highly recommend her novel The Dispossessed. It's a sci-fi story which explores life on two neighbouring worlds, one purely communist and one purely capitalist.

    I love how LeGuin could get across several points and emotions very simply. She wouldn't say, "There hadn't been rain for weeks, people were worried because the crops were dying. David and everyone he knew was hungry." She would write something like, "David looked out over the wilted wheatfields, failing to ignore the rumbling in his belly."

    I'm not doing it justice, but she had a way of presenting scenes in a way which got across both the situation and an emotion without listing off a bunch of related information.

    • by deek ( 22697 )

      Very much agree with the recommendation for The Dispossessed. Definitely my favourite Le Guin novel. I'd be a bit more specific about the political system for Anarres, though. Better to describe it as "Anarchist Communism", so to avoid confusion with Marxism and Maoism.

    • I actually read her works for the first time perhaps a year or two ago - the Earthsea trilogy, that is. A lot of fun to read. Not quite as groundbreaking in modern times, but I can see how they really veered away from convention when they were written. A brown-skinned protagonist? Shocking! Note: she grumbled a bit that they still insisted on painting him as a white-skinned character for the original book cover, which I found both hilarious and slightly sad.

      • I remember that Ged was explicitly described as brown-skinned in the second book, The Tombs of Atuan. Was his skin color given in A Wizard of Earthsea? I can't recall it being mentioned at all one way or another.
        • I'd have to double-check to be certain, but I seem to remember him being described that way in the first book, when he was first introduced (which would be the logical place to do so).

          • by XXongo ( 3986865 )

            I remember that Ged was explicitly described as brown-skinned in the second book, The Tombs of Atuan. Was his skin color given in A Wizard of Earthsea? I can't recall it being mentioned at all one way or another.

            I'd have to double-check to be certain, but I seem to remember him being described that way in the first book, when he was first introduced (which would be the logical place to do so).

            Hmm. I checked the opening, and there is very little description of Ged. This is the only description of him: "He grew wild, a thriving weed, a tall, quick boy, loud and proud and full of temper."

            https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4704490

            • From the first book:

              [Vetch] had the accent of the East Reach, and was very dark of skin, not red-brown like Ged and Jasper and most folks of the Archipelago, but black-brown.

    • Also sad to see that headline. I have read "The Left Hand of Darkness", long ago, and it still is one of my favorite novels. I read a couple of the Earthsea books, but not in order, just as I found them. Great story, and I will have to make it a point to read more of it.

    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

      Definitely sad to hear. Also, a reminder that I need to read more of her work. I read the first Earthsea way back in junior high and know I enjoyed it. I can't remember now if I read any more of that series. I picked up Left Hand of Darkness in college and tried several times but failed to get into it, but can't remember why now. She's been on my to-read-more list ever since, and has gotten a lot of mentions on a number of literary and author's podcasts recently.

    • I read The Dispossessed a couple of years ago. Boring. Inadequate understanding of both communism and capitalism.
  • One of the greats. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gbr ( 31010 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2018 @09:18PM (#55990303) Homepage

    A huge, huge loss.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jwhyche ( 6192 )

      Totally Agree. I can't say I was a fan of all of her works but EarthSea was one of the first books I can recall reading. I found many of the concepts she wrote about in that book have affected some of the amateur writing that I do.

      Huge loss indeed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mathinker ( 909784 )

        > but EarthSea was one of the first books I can recall reading

        For some reason, the library of my primary school had a copy of "The Tombs of Atuan" (just that, not the whole EarthSea series) on the shelf. Yes, I certainly still remember reading that as an impressionable young child (maybe I was nine?).

        Even though the experience creeped me out for life, I did eventually read a lot of her books, including the original EarthSea trilogy. My personal favorite is "The Lathe of Heaven".

  • Just when I was thinking that 2019 HAS to be better than 2017 was. She will be missed.

    Only in silence the word,
    Only in dark the light,
    Only in dying life:
    Bright the hawk's flight
    On the empty sky.
  • by pots ( 5047349 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2018 @09:31PM (#55990369)

    But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes.

    ::sigh:: This is a completely necessary sentence. It's flamebait, in an article which should be about the passing of a very talented author who has, no doubt, impacted a lot of people here and elsewhere.

    • by pots ( 5047349 )
      Unnecessary. Un. I'm blaming the spell checker for this.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Unnecessary. Un. I'm blaming the spell checker for this.

        You were right the first time. She made the Puppies of her day rage.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2018 @11:32PM (#55990815) Homepage Journal

      I don't know. The point is she wasn't one of those writers who just recycle tropes. That is incredibly hard to do, because it means giving up on a huge trove of stereotypes that readers instantly understand without you having to do much work.

      I have a friend who's been successful enough as an urban fantasy writer to quit her day job. I was critiquing her first novel and one of the scenes where two men are alone discussing the female protagonist stuck out. It didn't ring true. Then I realized -- as a woman she her idea what men like when there's no women around came from television.

      So I wrote in the manuscript, "Men don't actually sound like this. Rewrite this scene as if these characters were human beings rather than men."

      • So her idea of 'men talking' was Joey and Chandler on "Friends". Highly amusing, and very sad.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          Amusing, yes. Sad, no. Let me tell you why this person became a successful writer where so many like her failed: she knows how to use criticism intelligently.

          You can't avoid this sort of thing short of never having read anything else or watched any movies or TV. The trick is to be aware you're doing it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I assume your friend consciously failed the "reversed Bechdel test" there. Nice!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dunkelfalke ( 91624 )

      Unfortunately it is not. The #4 Earthsea book, Tehanu, was written during Le Guin's feminist phase and is, unfortunately, downright misandric.

      • by hawk ( 1151 )

        Fourth books bolted onto trilogies (as opposed to fourth books in a series) are rarely, if ever, a good idea.

        *cough*asimov*cough*cash-in*cough*

        hawk

  • by eriks ( 31863 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2018 @10:16PM (#55990569) Homepage

    Such a great writer, and a Great Lady. She will be missed by multitudes, and loved for centuries to come. She is among the greatest of both fantasy and sci-fi writers.

    I am crushed that the worlds she created are now finite.

    “All knowledge is local, all truth is partial. No truth can make another truth untrue. All knowledge is part of the whole knowledge. A true line, a true color. Once you have seen the larger pattern, you cannot get back to seeing the part as the whole.”
    Ursula K. Le Guin

  • What impressed me. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2018 @10:17PM (#55990573)
    What really impressed me about Ursula Le Guin wasn't just her incredibly imaginative ideas, but also her great economy with language. She could say in a very short sentence what many writers would need a paragraph or two to say. As someone who has tried to do some writing myself, I really envy that gift.
    • She could say in a very short sentence what many writers would need a paragraph or two to say

      And some would take 800 pages and still not manage to get close.

      Looking at YOU Patrick Rothfuss.

      • Rothfuss may be wordy at times, but I forgive him any lack of economy. His prose is beautiful, at times lyrical, and linguistically decadent. Ursula's style and his are, in my estimation, mutually exclusive. If one can do flowery as well as powerfully efficient they are either going to be Shakespeare, or they're going to come off stilted and condescending.

        For the dark and shameful crown of needlessly wordy authors I would ask you redirect your accusing eyes to Robert Jordan, creator of the Wheel of Time

        • Rothfuss may be wordy at times

          And then some.

          but I forgive him any lack of economy. His prose is beautiful, at times lyrical, and linguistically decadent.

          I don't! I find his writing on the whole bland, banal and ludicrously wordy. And the dialogue! Hoooooo boy. That just goes on and on and roud and round and nowhere and ugh!

          God and don't get me started on Kvothe.

          There are one or two bits that are decently written but my god you have to wade through 1500 pages of junk to get at them.

          All IMO. Rothfuss seems p

    • So she'd never have a peripheral chgaracter whose name sounds like a buttplug sing a song that goes on for 47 pages about what colour his britches are?

  • Newly minted fan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2018 @10:40PM (#55990637) Homepage Journal

    I read Rocannon's World last November, the first I've read of Le Guin and was very impressed. Sorry to hear that she's passed away.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 23, 2018 @10:53PM (#55990681)

    Not that much of fantasy fan, but Earthsea created a kind of longing that makes me reread it once a decade. I want to sail the Dragon reach and watch the dragon rise on the winds of morning.
    The Dispossessed was one enormously thoughtful polemic, changing your assumptions. One of the best utopian novels I've read, especially because its nuiance.
    And then there is The Left Hand of Darkness. This book was really too full of ideas for one book. It has thought-provoking insights into human nature the Le Guin revisited several times in later books with greater depth, but the hidden love-story was the real key, challenging your assumptions on male and female identity. A real classic.

    Le Guin was a good example of writer using fantasy to hold up a mirror on the real world. Sometimes she was too polemical (The word for world is forest) but mostly I found her thought provoking. We need more like her.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 24, 2018 @12:40AM (#55991017)

    I've read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi authors, and I considered Le Guin up there with the very best. Her ability to use the English language was second to no one. Her writing possessed a hauntingly beautiful quality to it, managing to be both delicate and momentous at once.

    I always thought that her Earthsea series was a strong candidate for the best fantasy work of all time. It's almost the opposite of Lord of the Rings, but absolutely no less towering. LotR is big, epic, a clash of good and evil. Earthsea is intimate, personal, nuanced, more about the ramifications of a single mistake. It's a brilliant piece of writing and exploration of themes of power, responsibility, and what it takes to right mistakes made through lack of wisdom.

    Very sad to see Le Guin go :(. Even in her later years, well into her 80's, she was active and writing new material.

    She stands alongside the titans of the 1940's-70's generation of sci-fi and fantasy authors that included Clarke, Niven, and Tolkien, and was one of the last of the greats to go.

    JK Rowling? Sorry, but you are so far from Le Guin's level that you aren't worthy of proofreading her work.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      ... JK Rowling? Sorry, but you are so far from Le Guin's level that you aren't worthy of proofreading her work.

      Rowling wrote a story about an 11 year-old going to school: Hardly an opportunity for insight and revolution. It was a story about the weak and unpopular being brave and righteous: An action-hero with compassion; which is why it got the attention it did.

      Bitch about Stephanie Meyers, her story about a school-girl driven more by her need for love than her need for individuality, worked only because everyone got a happy ending.

      • Rowling's post-Potter stuff is uneven. Casual Vacancy was well-written, but the only sympathetic character was the foul-mouthed semi-literate slut from the wrong part of town, and she was obviously being stomped into the ground. She wrote at least one detective novel that was quite good except for one glaring logical hole.

    • Read The Left Hand of Darkness, The Disspossed, and the Earthsea series, in that order. All have places on my shelf.

      She was always my example when anyone starting going on about there being no great female science fiction authors.

      I also recall (but can't find) several op ed pieces she did that were just awesome. I can't remember if it was about politics, the whole Hugo mess, or about female authors (or lack thereof) within the industry (or all three). If anyone remembers, I'd gladly read them again.

      Stuff li

  • by whit3 ( 318913 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2018 @02:43AM (#55991357)
    Having enjoyed her most mainstream works, I was delighted to pick up Orsinian Tales, and found a wealth of... well, Russian short stories. She was able to use elliptic descriptions, suggestive imagery, and that staple of 20th century Soviet-era writing, the pun (you'd need to have a Russian dictionary handy to know it, though).

    Poetry, song, gesture are ways to load extra impact into language, and Ursula leGuin shows us all the others.

  • by kale77in ( 703316 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2018 @02:58AM (#55991373) Homepage

    In the channels of light, out of the doorway of the sky, the dragon flew, fire coiling from its mailed body.

    I may have a word or two wrong, but from memory, this was the pivotal line in Tehanu, book #4 in Earthsea. Magnificent writing.

  • by Laxator2 ( 973549 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2018 @05:39AM (#55991763)

    My very favorite SF book, up there with "Dune".
    It also contains one of the best quotes I ever read:

    "One alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion."

    Great writer, rest in peace.

  • Absolutely captivated me. From then on I was a fan. She will be missed.

    • by jockeys ( 753885 )
      ditto. The part where Orr asks Haber (and I'll get the quote wrong) "what if everyone can do this? what if reality is constantly being pulled out from under us?" was the single greatest mindfuck I've ever had. Pure greatness.
  • One of the all time greats

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