Out of Bounds
October 24, 2016 10:34 PM   Subscribe

The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin - "Ursula Kroeber was born in Berkeley, in 1929, into a family busy with the reading, recording, telling, and inventing of stories. She grew up listening to her aunt Betsy’s memories of a pioneer childhood and to California Indian legends retold by her father. One legend of the Yurok people says that, far out in the Pacific Ocean but not farther than a canoe can paddle, the rim of the sky makes waves by beating on the surface of the water. On every twelfth upswing, the sky moves a little more slowly, so that a skilled navigator has enough time to slip beneath its rim, reach the outer ocean, and dance all night on the shore of another world."
posted by kliuless (29 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
Alfred Kroeber was an (unreadable) giant of Anthropology, but this rewrite of his classic "The Superorganic" is cool and interesting and gains new meaning when read alongside Le Guin's work.
posted by Rumple at 10:47 PM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

And Ursula K. celebrated her 87th birthday last Friday, a birthday she shares with Carrie "Princess Leia" Fisher (60), Judith "Judge Judy" Sheindlin (74) and by some reports (comic book publication dates were kind of fuzzy), Wonder Woman (75).
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:12 PM on October 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

“Story is our only boat for sailing on the river of time, but in the great rapids and winding shallows, no boat is safe” - A Fisherman of the Inland Sea

Le Guin is the best.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:14 PM on October 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

The Lathe of Heaven movie was incredible. Only telecast once, I believe, which stunk, because I missed the first 20 minutes of it. That was also the same era that gave us Salem's Lot and Rock Hudson in The Martian Chronicles. For whatever reason, early 80s TV did genre right for a couple of years (include original BSG if you want), but went right back to offering junk until Next Generation a few years later.
posted by Beholder at 12:03 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I adore her so much, and this is a great profile--I'm very excited to read that its author is at work on a (presumably authorized) biography. Also, if you haven't read Le Guin's essay "Introducing Myself" [pdf], make time for it--I'm tempted to quote excerpts but it's just too good to read piecemeal.
posted by karayel at 12:33 AM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

When all of my teenage friends were having their lives changed by On the Road, Fight Club, Steppenwolf and other typical teenage manfic, I read The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and a handful of short stories. I'd read the Earthsea books as a kid, but until then I had never realised what having your life totally rearranged by a book meant. Le Guin has a phenomenal grasp of the writer's craft, and a radical humanity that is unlike any other author. I am in constant awe of her capacity to be just, in the sense of justice but also in the sense of uniqueness, onlyness or onceness. That she is still as vital, clear, and incisive at 87 is a shred of hope for this world.
posted by prismatic7 at 3:58 AM on October 25, 2016 [16 favorites]

Thanks for this. I need to learn more about her other work but "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" falls into that category of plots I can't recap without choking up.
posted by johngoren at 4:24 AM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm slightly ashamed of not having read any of her novels. I must remedy this.
posted by acb at 4:26 AM on October 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, you really must. She's a... foundational might not be the right word, but she is a writer whose works have shown a tremendous number of people, readers and writer, a different way. Reading fantasy or science fiction without reading Le Guin is failing to understand either genre. She's that important.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:48 AM on October 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

This is a great piece - I hadn't read much about Le Guin before this, but it sounds like in person she is exactly the way she comes across in her writing.

I think the first book of hers that I read was The Tombs of Atuan, and I've never forgotten it. Nothing I've read since has come close to its portrayal of a truly malignant supernatural evil.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:03 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

In this day and age, it would be nice if posts like this came with a "Not dead" warning.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:40 AM on October 25, 2016 [14 favorites]

I am relieved that Ms. LeGuin continues to exist in the present tense.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:51 AM on October 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I like Bob and all but the Swedish Academy could have chosen her, you know.
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:38 AM on October 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I have nothing useful to say about her that isn't gushing. Reading some of her writing is a mandatory exercise for me when I'm stressed or feeling lost. I did like this article, it's definitely worth a read.
posted by emjaybee at 7:51 AM on October 25, 2016

The Earthsea books were my first introduction to LeGuin, which I'm sad to say I only discovered at age 36. I really enjoyed the first three, but the fourth, Tehanu, knocked me on my ass. I read it while my infant son was sleeping at my side, and I can't tell you how deeply I felt that book. Unabashedly feminist, unromantic realistic about motherhood, just all in all a completely different kind of fantasy novel. Amazing.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:02 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

By my bedside is Le Guin's "Changing Planes" - which seems to be lesser known, even by fans. I find it to be one of her most delightful works, albeit a bit lighter fare than some of her masterpieces (The Dispossessed, and Left Hand of Darkness, are my favorites) - short stories, more or less, about societies that the narrator visits with her newfound ability to change planes of existence.
posted by entropone at 8:06 AM on October 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

No, I'm also very fond of _Changing Planes_. I think her greatest strength lies in her short stories anyway, and it's a lovely and slightly melancholy survey of her imagination.
posted by tavella at 8:26 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of the pictures from this article just turned up, framed, on the bookshelf by the door this morning - my housemate subscribes to the New Yorker. If I remember correctly, I'm the one who introduced him to Le Guin. It made me very happy to see that she can create intense fans in midlife readers as well as young ones.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:05 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, I too have a great fondness for "Changing Planes". If I had the stability to start a personal (physical) library, it would be among the first on my list to acquire. In general her short fiction is just -- I don't know how to really describe it, but... the darker works avoid becoming overwhelming because of the brevity, and the other strange and surreal ones have the feeling of a dream. Perhaps I could describe it this way: some works of short fiction taste more like miniaturized novels, and others more like poetry in prose. To me, hers have more the feel of the latter.

In any case, I don't think it's productive to frame anything as "you fail at X if you don't read Y fiction", unless X is "claiming authority or superiority in that domain". I certainly recommend trying LeGuin's short fiction if you have bounced off her novels, or her later work if the earlier stuff didn't appeal (or vice versa), but no one is a failure for not reading such-and-such and reading-for-pleasure is not an obligation or some sort of test.
posted by inconstant at 9:42 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rumple, thanks a lot for that link. That article and that blog's project sound really interesting. Le Guin brought me to my love of anthropology, among other things, so when I hit university age and entered the social sciences I was keen to read her father's work. I was deeply disappointed by Kroeber's impenetrability. At the time I blamed my lack of knowledge so I never gave him another try but this abridged version is intriguing.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Lathe of Heaven movie was incredible. Only telecast once, I believe, which stunk, because I missed the first 20 minutes of it.


/clears throat
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:46 AM on October 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

Gah, given that 2016 has gone the way it has, I wish we could start putting, like, [NOT DEAD] right after the name of anyone famous mentioned in an fpp.

Excellent post though. I'll always regret that the first of her books that I came across was, somehow, Tehanu. There should be a way of preventing that from happening.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:52 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh- should probably say, not because it was bad, but because I was 11. Zero chance of appreciating that one.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:54 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Her newly-released essay collection and novella collection were on kindle daily deal the other day so I've got me some collected LeGuin to enjoy :D
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:02 PM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Along with several new books, also just released is "My Life So Far, by Pard" an autobiography by Le Guin's cat, as translated from the Feline by her. Available in "illustrated chapbook" ebook formats.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:24 PM on October 25, 2016

Ursula Le Guin has stopped writing fiction

O tempora, o melas
posted by aihal at 7:31 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for linking that essay by Alfred Kroeber, Rumple, and the discussion on Savage Minds. It made me think, and it hits on things I've trying to think about for a long time.
posted by nangar at 11:08 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

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