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Thoughts about Ursula Le Guin

January 28, 2018

(image via wikimedia)

Famous author Ursula Le Guin wasn’t really on my radar until she died last week.  It’s been a few years since I’ve read any of her books, but that doesn’t take away from her accomplishments.  A lot of people read her books, and that’s not going to stop any time soon.

A few weeks ago Sue Grafton (another famous author but in a different genre) died, and I felt compelled to write something partially because I used to make fun of her alphabet series.  I’ve never written about Ursula Le Guin before, mostly because she hasn’t written much recently, and a lot of my commentary is about current/recent books.  I was not a voracious reader of her books either.  I read the Earthsea Trilogy and The Dispossessed when I was in high school, but that was about it for me.  But I know a lot readers who love her writing.

My daughter read A Wizard of Earthsea a couple summers ago for her summer reading list.  Like any other kid, she griped about having a summer reading list, but she enjoyed the books once she started them.  She had to read one book each from several genres, and she chose A Wizard of Earthsea for science fiction/fantasy over Ender’s Game and a Harry Potter book.  I was glad she chose A Wizard of Earthsea.  She said it started slowly but got better.  I said that’s how most great novels are.

That has to be a great feeling for an author, knowing that people are reading your books 50 years after you’ve written them.  At least, I hope it’s a great feeling.  I hope it’s not depressing (“I wrote that book 50 years ago?”)

I still have a fondness for fantasy from the 1960s and 1970s.  Too many fantasy novels nowadays are too darn long.  Most popular fantasy from my youth were short novels, less than 250 pages.  The Michael Moorcock books (Moorcock… Haha!! what a great last name.), the Kane books by Karl Edward Wagner, The Fritz Leiber short stories, the Conan series, even the Conan stories not written by Robert E. Howard.  When I feel like reading fantasy, I usually go back to these relatively short fantasy stories.

Back in the 1970s, everybody who read fantasy started with The Lord of the Rings.  Once you were done with The Lord of the Rings, you would go to the Narnia books, and the Earthsea books, and then maybe the Foundation books (if you could stand science fiction).  But the Earthsea trilogy was one of the big three trilogies series of my time.

One reason people still read A Wizard of Earthsea is that good fantasy can stay relevant more than a lot of genres.  Science fiction can seem silly when the technology is preposterous.  When you write a book like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and then 2001 comes and goes, people might stop reading the book and call you a hack for getting everything wrong.  The lesson there is that if you’re writing science fiction, don’t put a date in your title.  But fantasy authors don’t have to worry about technology or current events making their books irrelevant.

Maybe it’s selfish, but I’d like to write something that will be relevant decades after I write it.  I’m not looking for immortality or anything like that.  I’d probably rather write something that has staying power than write something that made me a lot of money.  But Ursula Le Guin did both.  If I were the type of person who got jealous over stuff like that, I’d be jealous of Ursula Le Guin.


What do you think?  What’s your favorite Ursula Le Guin story (or poem)?  Would you rather make a ton of money writing, or write something that stays relevant for a really long time?

  1. I read “The Lathe of Heaven” about 30 years ago and would really love to re-read it since I’m so much older and wiser. 🙂 I would rather write something that stays relevant for a long time but would be glad for it to make me rich rich rich too.

  2. What a wonderful post – there were lots of great points in it. What made me burst out laughing though was the ‘The lesson there is that if you’re writing science fiction, don’t put a date in your title.’ shout – classic… still lauging now,,,, I hope people write something about me when my time comes, anything nice would do. I don’t know your child but I am glad Harry Potter was swerved,, once again great post ,, enjoyed it

    • Thank you.

      I think a date is okay if it’s so far away that it’s impossible, like 1,543,975,345 YG. Nobody even knows what YG means (I just made it up, and I don’t know what it means either). 2001 was just too close to the publication date of the book 2001″A Space Odyssey to be a good idea.

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