January 24, 2018

A post on the passing of Ursula K. LeGuin.

There are 2 things about Ursula K. LeGuin that I want to pass along — otherwise I would not choose this obituary to blog about. I don't blog for every famous writer who dies, even when I've read that person's books, and I have read 2 Ursula K. LeGuin books. All I remember of those books is that I forced myself to read them and found them a pleasureless slog. Why did I force myself? I was reading a lot of writing on feminism, circa 1990, and the books of Ursula K. LeGuin seemed to belong to the literature I wanted to know.

So here are the 2 things. First, this:


And then this recent letter to the editor of The Oregonian:
A recent letter in The Oregonian compares a politician's claim to tell "alternative facts" to the inventions of science fiction. The comparison won't work. We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real - all invented, imagined -- and we call it fiction because it isn't fact. We may call some of it "alternative history" or "an alternate universe," but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are "alternative facts."

Facts aren't all that easy to come by. Honest scientists and journalists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them. The test of a fact is that it simply is so - it has no "alternative." The sun rises in the east. To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or "alternative fact") is a lie.

A lie is a non-fact deliberately told as fact. Lies are told in order to reassure oneself, or to fool, or scare, or manipulate others. Santa Claus is a fiction. He's harmless. Lies are seldom completely harmless, and often very dangerous. In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Northwest Portland

94 comments:

Phil 3:14 said...

Her name and these two letters don't leave a favorable first impression.

Darrell said...

She could be the U.K. Le Lee on the Obama birth certificate in an alternate universe.

Meade said...

The test of a fact is that it simply is so - it has no "alternative." The sun rises in the east. To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or "alternative fact") is a lie.

The sun rises in the east (and sets in the west) is a fact — but only on 2 out of 365 days every year. Alternative fact: because of Earth tilt, the sun rises toward the east 363 days per year..

Phil 3:14 said...

When I saw the name this was my first image.

David said...

"In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible."

There is the other strain, which finds lies acceptable and often commendable. Contemporary public life shouts lies at us on a daily basis. In private relations we expect far more honesty from others. I am not sure why this distinction is so widely permitted.

Tim in Vermont said...

“Exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room.”

I found this poem in a book I bought through your portal, It’s called The Misogynist, written by Austin Dobson, published in the 1870s. It’s about a group of male poets who avoid the feminine, and a new member, “the misogynist” It’s kind of funny.

Excerpt:
...He railed at women’s faith as Cant

We thought him grandest when

He named them siren shapes that “Chant

on blanching bones of men!”

Alas not even the great.
go free
of that insidious minstrelsey!. <<-- Torn from today’s headlines!

We bound with him in common care

One-minded, celibate!

Resoved to thought and diet spare

Our lives to dedicate!...
- The Misogynist, Austin Dobson.

They kick him out when he falls in love, gets married, fat and happy,

The poem also used “haunt,” BTW

When first he sought our haunts, he wore his locks.
in Hamlet style, his brow was sicklied o’re with thoughts

We rarely saw him smile


Anyway, I thought it was all pretty funny.

sparrow said...

Loved her Earthsea series as a kid but the letter puts her in an unfavorable light.

Tim in Vermont said...

BTW, I like the EarthSea Trilogy, I even named my cat “The Otak” But she was no David Foster Wallace.

You know who made me really sad when I heard she died though?

Dolores Mary Eileen O'Riordan was an Irish singer,
songwriter, and musician. She led the rock band the
Cranberries from 1990 until their breakup in 2003;
- Wikipedia

A friend told me when we were driving and Zombie came up on Spotify, and I got a little lump in my throat.

Big Mike said...

Honest journalists? Where? Not in the United States in the 21st century. Was she living abroad? Oh! Seattle. That pretty much qualifies as outside the planet, much less the country.

I used to really enjoy her work. I drifted away from it or it drifted away from me, I’m not sure. I think of her a little like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, endlessly refighting battles women won decades ago because the unanticipated consequences of victory didn’t turn out the way they expected (and besides, it’s fun to fight and refight battles you’ve won).

Kristian Holvoet said...

Awesome, she blew off a blurb becuase they were men. No sexism there at all (I'll allow that having a personal beef with one of the contributors makes it fine, but the the tone of the letter is very off putting.

"Cannot imagine ... containing no female ..."

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s desire to judge character and not biology should apply to feminists as well.

It's absolutely fine to pass if none of the works appealed to her (honor would demand it, rather than lying), but to dismiss because the authors had a penis? Bah. She is part of the problem, not the solution.

Paco Wové said...

"The test of a fact is that it simply is so - it has no "alternative.""

This does not sound like the comment of someone who has thought deeply about matters of knowledge.

Robert Cook said...

"Honest journalists? Where? Not in the United States in the 21st century."

Such blanket rejection of any and all contemporary journalism is childish and makes it easy to ignore or reject information one does not like. Rather, one should read more journalism from more sources and, comparing and contrasting what each source provides, use one's own judgement as to what seems well-documented, accurately reported, and can be corroborated by other journalistic sources.

Tim in Vermont said...

I used to really enjoy her work. I drifted away from it or it drifted away from me,

You matured.

Robert Cook said...

I have read two books by Le Guin...THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS in a college class, and THE LATHE OF HEAVEN a few years ago by my own volition. I thought THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS was tedious and dull--a slog--but THE LATHE OF HEAVEN was quite good, Le Guin's own try at a Philip K. Dick-style story of shifting and uncertain realities. (Le Guin and Dick attended the same high school at the same time, but they did not know each other at the time.)

Tim in Vermont said...

story of shifting and uncertain realities.

Autobiographical, then?

Bad Lieutenant said...

The first letter showed wisdom unusual to her sex. That is, she knew her limitations. She understood that as a woman, she had nothing to offer a book full of men's work.

As a woman, what could she write about or be interested to read about but alien quilting bees, robotic frying pans, cyber-governesses?

Science, adventure, alternative worlds, plots, story development, ends and goals and means, what has all that got to do with finding something you can give orders to, and brushing one's hair, and making handsome powerful men apologize?

Unusually for a woman, she did not counter with a demand for tokens.

I enjoyed the Earthsea Trilogy but really, nothing happened. None of it mattered.



Cook:

Such blanket rejection of any and all major presidential candidates is childish

FIFY

rhhardin said...

Starship Troopers (1997) wasn't as bad as I expected. Sci Fi with a shower scene. It's a covert high school prom date flick but blowing stuff up.

Probably by Starship Troopers II and III I'll be rooting for the insects.

Ann Althouse said...

"You know who made me really sad when I heard she died though?"

That's an example of an obituary I chose not to blog. I'm sorry the woman died too young, but I did not appreciate The Cranberries enough to select that one for blogging.

The other day in the comments someone mentioned that the bassist for The Kinks had died, but it wasn't the original bassist or even the second bassist. It was a bassist who joined in 1978. I love The Kinks (basically, the early Kinks), but I couldn't blog that.

Ann Althouse said...

"I have read two books by Le Guin...THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS in a college class, and THE LATHE OF HEAVEN a few years ago by my own volition. I thought THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS was tedious and dull--a slog--but THE LATHE OF HEAVEN was quite good, Le Guin's own try at a Philip K. Dick-style story of shifting and uncertain realities. (Le Guin and Dick attended the same high school at the same time, but they did not know each other at the time.)"

The 2 I read were TLHOD and "The Dispossessed." I've probably only read 2 Philip K. Dick books ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and "The 3 Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch") but I remember enjoying them very much. If I wanted to read more of that sort of think, I'd go for more Dick.

Ann Althouse said...

But I don't remember them as the same sort of thing. I remember one as being great fun and the other as a big bore.

Tim in Vermont said...

It’s the same old theme since nineteen-sixteen
In your head,
In your head they're still fightin'
With their tanks and their bombs
And their bombs and their guns
In your head, in your head they are dyin’
In your head...
- Zombie

I don’t like it when a band is anti war as some kind of founding principle, or generally political, but when a band like the Cranberries cranks out a great anti-war song, among the pop hits, I do like it. I also like Irish music in general, from songs like The Ballad of Springhill, to Thin Lizzy’s version of Whisky in the Jar.

Tim in Vermont said...

I think Zombie updates and extends that tradition.

Douglas said...

I read tons of sci fi and have been doing so since 1960 or whereabouts. Over the years, I've tried to read Le Guin but she wasn't very interesting. I don't think it's that she was consciously feminist or anything. I don't mind that if the writer is telling a great story. Ann Leckie's books are fabulous because she's a fabulous storyteller, and all the gender shifting and other stuff is just more alien scenery. But Le Guin and Margaret Atwood - feh.

Tim in Vermont said...

I guess I should go back to writing my “Novel that No-One Will Read,”

Retirement is a challenge.

Meade said...

"If I wanted to read more of that sort of [thing], I'd go for more Dick."

I'm glad you didn't write "I'd go for more Philip."

Ann Althouse said...

I need to give you a fillip.

Jersey Fled said...

I read The Left Hand of Darkness, and like Ann found it to be a hopeless slog, but managed to get through it because I couldn't believe anything that acclaimed could be so bad. Years later, I decided to give her another try and started to read another of her books (I can't even remember which one it was) and put it down 1/3 of the way through because it was just too much work and didn't seem to be going anywhere.

To me, UKL was a product of the times. The feminist left needed a woman writer to heap with acclaim in the Sci-Fi arena, where most of the writers were men. Sharing the same high school with Philip K Dick was as close as she ever got to being in that same league.

In reading her Wikipedia page, I was astounded at all of the awards she received over her lifetime. I just never thought she was that good. But I can see where academia would adore her. Her writing is just dense and obtuse enough that mere mortals can't appreciate it without their enlightened guidance.



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Henry said...

I enjoyed her Earth Sea series a lot as a teenager and recently reread the entire series in including the add-on novels she wrote much later in her career. The very first book of the series is the most engaging, but I don't think the "fable-narrative" voice has aged well. In fact, I suspect Le Guin wrote some of the later books of the series intentionally avoiding that voice.

However the second book of the series, The Tombs of Atuan is a tour-de-force. It completely departs from the heroic quest paradigm of most fantasy works to focus on the people betrayed by the quest.

So her fiction is pretty hit and miss, but that's true for most writers.

Her essays are quite pointed but humanistic. For a non-fiction reader I would recommend Dancing at the Edge of the World. I'm sure much of it is dated now, but I find dated essays interesting in their own right.

Unknown said...

In general, you should stop before "Left Hand". Her early, "Hain universe" stories were quite good. At & after Left Hand, she started drifiting left & literary.

Unknown said...

Starship Troopers (1997) wasn't as bad as I expected. Sci Fi with a shower scene. It's a covert high school prom date flick but blowing stuff up.

Don't know how that gets in here. The novel was by Heinlein, not LeGuin. In fact it is hard to think of a *less* LeGuin book.

The movie was not a very good representation of the novel. However I will defend the shower scene. It was nice eye-candy, of course, but in playing it as totally non-sexualized, the film was making the point "These are not 20th Century American kids." Obviously the culture that can have coed showers will differ from ours in other ways as well.

wwww said...



I dunno what Althouse was reading, but A Wizzard of EarthSea is a classic that influenced everything from D&D to video games to Harry Potter. The first three in the EarthSea series are superior.

That book and Tolkin are the foundation of fantasy genre.

I enjoy Heinlein, but, in my POV Starship Troopers was one of his weaker books.

mockturtle said...

The best cure for feminism is falling madly in love. At least it worked for me in 1974.

wwww said...



Sometimes people write 1 great book or 1 great series and can't repeat it. Her 3 EarthSea books make that leap.

You only need to do it once, and you've got a Lord of the Rings, or To Kill the Mockingbird.

Some people write 1 great thing.

Tim in Vermont said...

Tolkien was a scholar of Norse sagas, among many other ancient traditions. To pretend that he appeared “de novo” and was part of a foundation of the fantasy genre is just ignorant. And EarthSea identified a market, sure, give her that. But I can’t remember anything that happened in any of those books except that Otak thing, because, at the time, as I said, I named my cat after it.

Tim in Vermont said...

The best cure for feminism is falling madly in love. At least it worked for me in 1974.

So if Austin Dobson wrote a poem about you, it would be “The Misandrist,” nice little counterpoint to “The Misogynist.”

Hagar said...

That Althouse is not into science fiction is somehow not a surprise.

wwww said...

"I enjoyed the Earthsea Trilogy but really, nothing happened. None of it mattered."


What? Everyone has copied her tropes for decades. She's the first to do talking dragons or wizard schools.


I tried to read her other books and didn't like them.

I have a difficult time understanding why someone would force themselves to read a unappealing fiction book. I don't care if everyone is "talking" about a book. If I'm not compelled 20 pages in, I'm out. Just as I'd never force myself to listen to music I found unpleasant. Lots of music and books out there. No need to torture oneself.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

Funny that a typewritten note already strikes the eye as antiquated.

wwww said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caligula said...

"The Dispossessed" felt like a long slog, a synicalist version of a Marxist lecturing me on and on on The Surplus Value Theory of Labor.

But "The Left Hand of Darkness" is the essential LeGuin, wherein it becomes apparent the author wishes people were just a little more androgynous, as her Gethens are.

But that was way, way back in the day when one could acknowledge that there actually are human sex-linked differences, and that not all such differences are socially constructed. If an author were to write Left Hand today, there's be no need to substitute Gethens for humans.

Then again, perhaps the broader question is, is science fiction dead? SF historically has allowed authors to explore alternate cultural and social structures, yet there seems to be less of a market for such now that anyone who fails to instantly adopt the latest social dogma quickly becomes anathema, with any SF book that fails to fully conform unleashing a torrent of SJW hatred.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I'm guessing that pretty much everyone who thinks that Pluto is not a planet also thinks that Star Wars is not science fiction.

Tim in Vermont said...

She’s the first to do talking dragons or wizard schools.

Wait a minute, this is what you call defending her? I am pretty sure that talking dragons have been done.

St. George travelled for many months by land and sea until he came to Libya. Here he met a poor hermit who told him that everyone in that land was in great distress, for a dragon had long ravaged the country.

‘Every day,’ said the old man, ’he [the dragon] demands the sacrifice of a beautiful maiden and now all the young girls have been killed. The king's daughter alone remains, and unless we can find a knight who can slay the dragon she will be sacrificed tomorrow. The king of Egypt will give his daughter in marriage to the champion who overcomes this terrible monster.'

When St. George heard this story, he was determined to try and save the princess, so he rested that night in the hermit's hut, and at daybreak set out to the valley where the dragon lived. When he drew near he saw a little procession of women, headed by a beautiful girl dressed in pure Arabian silk. The princess Sabra was being led by her attendants to the place of death. The knight spurred his horse and overtook ...


She discovered a market anew.

GRW3 said...

The problem with facts is that they seldom add up the way one presupposes. I believe Kelly Anne's unartful "alternate facts" was trying to go to that concept. It's like the Indian parable of the blind men describing an elephant. One side grabs the facts that support their argument and the other side grabs the facts that support theirs. In reality, all of the facts need to be considered together.

As a simple example, belladonna is organic and low fat. Both of those points are facts but neither make it edible.

Unknown said...

Then again, perhaps the broader question is, is science fiction dead? SF historically has allowed authors to explore alternate cultural and social structures, yet there seems to be less of a market for such now that anyone who fails to instantly adopt the latest social dogma quickly becomes anathema, with any SF book that fails to fully conform unleashing a torrent of SJW hatred.

This is only true of bookstore SF (aside from Baen). Welcome to the age of Indie SF. Some of it is dreadful, but you can usually weed those out just by reading the amazon blurb. I don't mind some rough edges from time to time, but you can avoid those with these fully professional indies: Debra Dunbar, Lindsay Buroker, Mark Henwick, & J. A. Sutherland.

Tim in Vermont said...

yet there seems to be less of a market for such now that anyone who fails to instantly adopt the latest social dogma quickly becomes anathema, with any SF book that fails to fully conform unleashing a torrent of SJW hatred.

Here I agree, it’s the death of the Enlightenment. That’s why nobody will read my novel I am writing, OK, one reason, it would never get published, even were it any good.

“You can’t tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools.”

The Enlightenment is one of the “master’s tools.”

Tim in Vermont said...

What happened to Kelly Ann was the application of, with apologies to n.n., “bullhorn logic.”

Henry said...

Le Guin credits Tolkein, Lord Dunsany, and other old Brits as influences.

She was also extensively exposed to Californian Native American cultures -- her parents were anthropologists. As Norse was to Tolkein; the Yahi was to Le Guin.

For hardliner sci-fi fans, John Scalzi's tribute may be enlightening:

This was a subtle gift that Le Guin gave to a young person wanting to be a writer — the idea that there was more to writing fiction than ticking off plot points, that a rewarding story can be told without overt conflict, and that a world wide and deep can be its own reward, for those building the world and those who then walk through it. "Always Coming Home" is not generally considered one of Le Guin's great books, but for me as a writer and a reader, it was the right book at the right time. The book turned me on to the possibility of science fiction beyond mere adventure stories for boys — that the genre could contain, did contain, so much more. The book opened me to read the sort of science fiction I didn't try before.

Tim in Vermont said...

Wait, Isn’t she the one that grew up in the house where an Indian, last of his tribe, walked up to their house out of the woods and moved in with them? Her parents were anthropologists?

Does that seem a little too convenient a story for anybody?

FullMoon said...

Such blanket rejection of any and all contemporary journalism is childish and makes it easy to ignore or reject information one does not like.

I have noticed that WaPo and NYT stories with anonymous sources seem more likely to be true when the story fits my pre concieved opinions.
When the story does not validate my opinion, I am certain the journalist is lying and made it all up.

But, then, I am poorly educated through the public school system, so I have a reasonable excuse.

pacwest said...

I know everyone's taste in literature is different and the following comment reflects more on me than Le Guin, but I found her totally unreadable. Totally. I tried to read "Left Hand of Darkness" three separate times and couldn't force myself any farther than halfway. I've tried to read quite a few of her books because of her name recognition and failed to finish a single one. I was shocked by the Scalzi tribute because I enjoy his works. Different strokes I guess.

One thing though. To mention Tolkien and Le Guin in the same sentence is the highest form of apostasy. IMHO as always.

Henry said...

Does that seem a little too convenient a story for anybody?

It's a fact, man.

Robert Cook said...

"The first letter showed wisdom unusual to her sex. That is, she knew her limitations. She understood that as a woman, she had nothing to offer a book full of men's work.

"As a woman, what could she write about or be interested to read about but alien quilting bees, robotic frying pans, cyber-governesses?"


This is just stupid.

"Cook:

Such blanket rejection of any and all major presidential candidates is childish."


No, it's entirely rational, given the utterly miserable major presidential candidates we see every four years.

Ann Althouse said...

"That Althouse is not into science fiction is somehow not a surprise."

I'm not into any genre just as a genre and never have been.

There's no genre that just works on me. I go by whether the writing is good in a way that appeals to me, and the most specific thing I can say is that I like to read things that are great on a sentence-by-sentence level. I'm not into plowing through blah prose because some elaborate story is being told.

Foose said...

"Pleasureless slog." Yep,that nails it.

Balfegor said...

People don't seem to like the Left Hand of Darkness. Eh, I guess I didn't find it all that memorable. I liked her Earthsea trilogy when I was young, though. And I have a short story collection of hers somewhere that I found readable. Sort of like Delany and Butler, I feel like certain of their works got promoted less on their underlying merits than for ideological reasons (and to make Science Fiction as a field seem less White and Male). I found Dhalgren boring, and have never actually finished reading it (nor am I like to). But they were all prolific, and could be quite readable, judging from their shorter works. As with Le Guin, their more casual second tier works are probably better than their "serious" works.

Philip K. Dick is actually really subversive in a modern context. He is not a conservative, to be sure, but the plotting of his works consistently undercuts bourgeois liberalism. For example, Dick is generally seen as kind of druggie (because he was), but in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, drug use opens a gateway to a terrible eldritch presence from the spaces between the stars. On the other hand, on a more pedestrian level, The Pre-Persons is a straight up anti-abortion fable, about as engaging as a piece of left-wing agitprop. I am looking forward to finding the time to watch the Amazon mini-series based on Dick, but I would be very surprised if the directors decided to pick up on that subversive strain in his work.

Balfegor said...

As a woman, what could she write about or be interested to read about but alien quilting bees, robotic frying pans, cyber-governesses?

Alien quilting bees, robotic frying pans, and cyber-governesses sounds like something you could spin an amusing series out of. Robot Mary Poppins and aliens taking up quilting. It practically writes itself!

Well, not really, since that's a setting and there's no obvious conflict to drive the narrative. But you could crib something from P.L. Travers, I suppose.

Kirk Parker said...

"I'd go for more Dick."

And yet there are some who claim that Althouse never trolls her readers!

MikeR said...

I liked LHOD. Dispossessed was interesting but too long. My son was very interested in it as he spent three weeks at Occupy Wall Street - he knows how an anarchy actually works, whereas LeGuin was just guessing.
My preference has always been for harder science fiction where the science is the story, but everyone's mileage varies on that.

Yancey Ward said...

I read the novel The Lathe of Heaven right after watching the PBS movie adaptation when I was teenager, and I later read The Left Hand of Darkness sometime in the early 1990s. I also started on the Earthsea cycle at one point in the 1980s, but dropped it when I found it boring about midway through the first cycle Wizard of Earthsea. I liked the first two novels, more or less, but wasn't so enthralled that I continued to follow Ms. Lequin's work afterwards.

Big Mike said...

Such blanket rejection of any and all contemporary journalism is childish and makes it easy to ignore or reject information one does not like. Rather, one should read more journalism from more sources and, comparing and contrasting what each source provides, use one's own judgement as to what seems well-documented, accurately reported, and can be corroborated by other journalistic sources.

@Cookie, you arrogant jackass, what makes you think I haven’t done the weighing and comparing and applying my own judgment? In the end, what journalists have to sell to the public is their credibility, so just as in business we say that everyone has just one chance to make a good first impression, so TV and print journalists have one chance to make a last, unfavorable, impression. It isn’t just Dan Rather falling for an obvious hoax or Brian Ross deliberately fudging a critical date. When all the “inadvertent” mistakes go one way, it is perfectly fair to assume that dishonesty is at play.

Yancey Ward said...

Balfegor wrote:

"For example, Dick is generally seen as kind of druggie (because he was), but in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, drug use opens a gateway to a terrible eldritch presence from the spaces between the stars."

Wow, I had forgotten that novel, but finally puts to rest a thing that nagged me every now and again when I was watching The Strain on FX the last 3 years- the name of one of the characters always sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't quite recall why. I kept meaning to google it, but never got around to it. It was an homage to Dick.

Gahrie said...

In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible.

But today, as long as they come from the Left, we are totally fine with them.

Gahrie said...

Anyone want to be that Ms. LeGuin voted for both Clintons twice with nary a qualm about their lying?

Jupiter said...

"Sort of like Delany and Butler, I feel like certain of their works got promoted less on their underlying merits than for ideological reasons (and to make Science Fiction as a field seem less White and Male). I found Dhalgren boring, and have never actually finished reading it (nor am I like to)."

If you are basing your opinion of Delany on Dhalgren, it's no wonder you don't like him. Just exactly how many accounts of two very dirty guys having really grotty sex do you need to read? But try Driftglass, or Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand. Really beautiful.

Gahrie said...

IMO Anne McCaffrey is the most readable of the first wave feminist Sci Fi writers. I was a teenager before I realized that Andre Norton was a woman.

David Weber is an over the top SJW in his writing, but the distractions are worth it.

Henry said...

Almost all the best science fiction is short stories. The rest is space operas.

wwww said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wwww said...

"Almost all the best science fiction is short stories. The rest is space operas."

I particularly like the short stories of Ray Bradbury and Cordwainer Smith. But I am not opposed to a good space opera.

Robert Cook said...

@BigMike:

You simply haven't read enough journalism. I'm not talking about CBS or CNN or the NYTimes, et al.

Roger Sweeny said...

I read Left Hand of Darkness years ago because it supposedly was a great imagining of a world where sex and gender were physically different than in our world. I didn't think the novel worked and years later was pleased to read something by Isaac Asimov that complained of how she just changed her imaginary world partway through.

On the other hand, I loved the second letter. Though she made the semi-colon fault! It should be (because it is easier to understand):

To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction [semi-colon] to claim that it does so as fact (or "alternative fact") is a lie.

Big Mike said...

@Cookie, you waste my time and you want me to waste more of it.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Wwww,


What? Everyone has copied her tropes for decades. She's the first to do talking dragons or wizard schools.


Oh my fuck. Does the name Smaug mean anything to you? Not to mention Chrysolax from Farmer Giles of Ham? I'm sure all dragons talk!



Blogger Robert Cook said...
"The first letter showed wisdom unusual to her sex. That is, she knew her limitations. She understood that as a woman, she had nothing to offer a book full of men's work.

"As a woman, what could she write about or be interested to read about but alien quilting bees, robotic frying pans, cyber-governesses?"

This is just stupid.


Are you feeling well today?

wwww said...


Bad Lieutenant,

I wrote that response quickly and without thinking. You're quoting a response where I'm responding to a personal insult from Tim. I regret engaging. Lesson learned. I will ignore that sort of thing in the future.

If there are others that people see as foundational books, I'd be curious and even grateful for authors and recommendations. My take is that Tolkien/ Lord of the Rings and Wizzard of EarthSea are foundational to the modern publishing industry genre of fantasy in the 20th century. But I'm more then happy to chat about other fantasy novels, and open to the idea that other books belong in the classic category of modern fantasy.

I do believe Tolkein (Lord of Rings) and Le Guin (EarthSea) are foundational classics. I also believe many fantasy writers imitated their tropes. Much of genre fiction is derivative, particularly in the 80s and early 90s, and there's nothing wrong with that. I am pointing at the foundational national of these books.

I'm open to other suggestions. In fact, I think that would be a fun discussion. On a side note - what Jourdan Peterson is saying about monsters/shadows/sin is similar to the topic LeGuin discusses in her 3rd EarthSea book.

I deleted a clarifying e-mail because I decided I should not engage with a person who was flinging personal insults. That behaviour should be ignored and I will do so in the future. Men who want to behave that way can go interact with others who like that sort of thing.


As an aside, I wonder why one would go darkly negative and fling personal insults over fantasy books? I get why some people can get deranged over politics -- I see it happen on both sides. But fantasy novels?

Calling me an idiot over a discussion of fantasy books? We are not 12 years old. This is fun for some men? Not for me. I can't imagine socializing with someone who treated me in such a way. I wouldn't do so in Jr. High School, and I should not do so today.

I am guessing some men either enjoy doing this sort of thing or it's a negative habit that comes out in masculine sites. As Jourdon Peterson has pointed out, women are not generally not interested in that sort of personal aggression. He is right. That kind of insulting personal interaction isn't my cup of tea. Any posts with any insults will be skipped over and not read by me in the future.



wwww said...

Not to mention Chrysolax from Farmer Giles of Ham? I'm sure all dragons talk!


All dragons don't talk. There's the trope of the monstrous lizard beast.

You can see in my first post I referenced Tolkein & Le Guin. I agree that Tolkein is more important than Le Guin in the creation of the modern. genre.

There's an argument to add in C S Louis, who is, of course great. But others didn't copy Narnia in the same way that you get a bunch of derivative imitative fiction after the style of Tolkien's world and Le Guin's EarthSea.

Pianoman said...

AA: "If I wanted to read more of that sort of think, I'd go for more Dick."

Huh huh huh ... heh heh heh ... you said, "I'd go for more dick".

(Yeah, I'm 12 years old today. Sue me.)

mandrewa said...

There are two stories that Ursula Le Guin wrote that stand out in my mind.

The first is Planet of Exile. It's one of the first books she wrote and there's nothing special about, except that for some reason I can't identify it stands out in my mind. I think it shows her potential. If she'd gone on in that vein, and just focused on the stories, instead of the political sermonizing, she could have become a great science fiction writer. Now only science fiction fans would have cared, but so be it.

The second, Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, isn't even on Wikipedia's list of her notable works, but I think it's special. It's a short book and it's not science fiction.

Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bad Lieutenant said...

wwww,

FTR, I have not seen/noticed/noted/remembered your spat, regret if I interfered, and hope you do not feel insulted or attacked by me. I have not observed any attacks on me from you today, and if there are any if and when I rered through the thread, i am willing to believ eyou if you say I was not the intended target.

I think generally dragons are thought to be intelligent, and either evil or good or just neutral. Which lizard beast? Is that same as dragons? Or more like Godzilla? Godzilla was intelligent, I think, though he did not speak Japanese.

Keep in mind there is a difference between SF and fantasy. JRR Tolkien is fantasy, not SF. Maybe fantasy dragons are different from SF dragons, if any.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Ann Althouse said...
I need to give you a fillip.

1/24/18, 7:44 AM


Hooooney, not in front of the Klingons!

Tim in Vermont said...

wwww,
I was not intending to insult you. I my personal ranking, you are one of the better commenters here and I look for your handle when scanning comments, I am sorry you took it that way.

Tim in Vermont said...

It’s a fact, man.

Maybe so, but it sure is an amazing coincidence that he would come into the house of a pair of anthropologists. It would be like if a guard at a natural history museum found a dinosaur skull in his back yard. Possible.

wwww said...


Tim & B. Lieutenant,

Thank you & I'm sorry for being overly sensitive. The other day somebody said something about me lying about my deceased father, and it got to me. Obviously that was on me as I shouldn't share so much on a blog. Sometimes things get too aggressive for me on the blog.

Lieutenant,

I haven't done much reading on this, but one of my friends is quite into how medieval Europe saw different types of beasts. It's my understanding that in the medieval age the myth of the dragon was often a wyrm or a winged lizard who could terrorize a locality or protected a treasure horde. I see Le Guin as more influential in her concept of the wizard school, although she did help popularize the idea of smart, complex dragons.

I can't speak to Le Guin as a sci fi writer, as I've only read her EarthSea trilogy. Definitely was only referring to the modern fantasy genre & not sci fi.

My favourite classics for sci fi are Heinlein, Asimov and Cordwainer Smith. And some of Bradbury's stories like the Veldt.

I cannot remember if I read that poem about a dragon you referred to, but my Dad gave me Tolkein's book of poems about Tom Bombadil when I was a kid. I loved that book.

Tim in Vermont said...

Lair of the White Worm is a funny movie, BTW

Gahrie said...

If there are others that people see as foundational books, I'd be curious and even grateful for authors and recommendations

Well if not foundational, (alternative history goes way back to Roman times and even Twain used it). Guns of the South by Turtledove resurrected the alternative history genre. Turtledove has spent the rest of his career in this genre.

Stirling has an interesting take. He wrote a three part series on the island of Nantucket travelling back in time that was your basic time travel story. However he followed it up with a series of series that must be at least twenty books long now. In the Dies the Fire universe, when the island of Nantucket is transported back in time, all technology (guns, electricity, internal combustion engine, steam power, etc) stops working in the modern world. This is definitely more fantasy than sci fi however.

Flint has a complex shared world in the 1632 universe. A West Virginia small town is transported back to Germany in 1632. This universe demands as much historical plausibility as possible.

Leora said...

I enjoyed the Hainish Cycle of novels which precede Left Hand of Darkness. The anarchist world was interesting.

Zach said...

I've picked up LHOD a couple of times, but found it grating and never read more than a few pages. I couldn't tell you anything about the content, I just hated the style. I had a similar reaction to Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses -- I could tell within a couple of pages that it wasn't for me.

If I wanted to read more of that sort of think, I'd go for more Dick.

A sentence which would never appear in LHOD.

gpm said...

Late to the party, as usual.

Like someone said earlier, I read tons of S/F in my youth, including much predating my birth. Not so much of the new stuff from the last, oh, 35 years (sounding like my tastes in music?).

For LKG, I read the two Althouse did, and probably also the Lathe one. Sorta remember what they're about, but not much else about them after forty years or so. Don't remember hating them, but was never motivated to read anything else she did. As opposed to other authors where I read everything I could lay my hands on.

One who comes to mind is Harry Harrison. Asimov, but mostly when I was pretty young. Heinlein, of course, even though his later stuff got pretty tedious (favorites include, at the very top, Harsh Mistress and Podkayne, particularly the posthumous, unexpurgated version). Larry Niven. A few others I'm forgetting but could either pick out of a list or see in the rotting paperbacks tucked away in the shelves of my vacation house. A lot (but only a small fraction of the total) of ERB, even though it was all silly in both content and writing style. Know the Androids title, etc., but I'm not sure I ever did any Dick (so to speak).

--gpm

Phunctor said...

"That’s why nobody will read my novel I am writing, OK, one reason, it would never get published, even were it any good."

Horseshit. Write it and put it on Kindle Unlimited.

Gordon Scott said...

wwww: "A Wizzard of EarthSea is a classic that influenced everything from D&D to video games to Harry Potter.

It didn't influence D&D. Gygax would have included it in Appendix N, were it so influential. There are others on that list that are fantasy and predate her. And one cannot say "well, because she's a girl and everyone knows gamers hate girls," because another female author is included in Appendix N.

Tim in Vermont said...

I guess that since I think that as somebody grows up

Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened,
I stopped reading children’s stories

But apparently there is still a market for it, and if you guys all want to pretend that literature was born fresh and new in modern times by incredible geniuses, I guess it’s pretty harmless. And I guess UKLG invented a new kind of literature where you can read it and enjoy it, and remember the things in it ,but completely forget what happened.

Tim in Vermont said...

Get off of my lawn, is what I am trying to say, I guess.

Sarah Rolph said...

"Wait, Isn’t she the one that grew up in the house where an Indian, last of his tribe, walked up to their house out of the woods and moved in with them? Her parents were anthropologists?

Does that seem a little too convenient a story for anybody?"

Indeed it is. Didn't it occur to you to check this before commenting?

A quick Google search shows immediately that Ishi didn't emerge at the house of the anthropologists. He emerged, he was taken into custody, it was a news item, the anthropologists are the ones who offered to take him in and study him.

Tim in Vermont said...

Guilty, you are right. I knew that as I posted it. But that’s how I heard the story, I probably worded it that way in my memory.

Anyway, I am not a literary historian, but I am interested in pre-Modern era lit, but it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, and I ned to check my obnoxiousness.

So on both counts, this thread’s a fail for me. I might just put myself on posting probation.