RIP Ursula K. LeGuin, October 1929 - January 2018
January 23, 2018 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Ursula K. LeGuin has died at age 88. 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, Ore.
posted by holborne (385 comments total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by tdismukes at 2:41 PM on January 23


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Walk carefully, well loved one,

walk mindfully, well loved one,

walk fearlessly, well loved one.

Return with us, return to us,

be always coming home.

posted by Countess Elena at 2:41 PM on January 23 [84 favorites]


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posted by darchildre at 2:42 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Huge. The future will thank her.

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posted by rhizome at 2:42 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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posted by Peach at 2:42 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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I am not trying to say that I was happy, during those weeks of hauling a sledge across an ice-sheet in the dead of winter. I was hungry, overstrained, and often anxious, and it all got worse the longer it went on. I certainly wasn't happy. Happiness has to do with reason, and only reason earns it. What I was given was the thing you can't earn, and can't keep, and often don't even recognize at the time; I mean joy.
— The Left Hand of Darkness
posted by macrael at 2:42 PM on January 23 [60 favorites]


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posted by Jpfed at 2:42 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Wow. That smarts. A period is not gonna do it. Massive respect for this woman, the world is poorer.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:43 PM on January 23 [26 favorites]


The most humane of all SF authors. She taught me so much.
posted by selfnoise at 2:43 PM on January 23 [15 favorites]


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posted by jkaczor at 2:43 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


We've lost another teacher.


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posted by seyirci at 2:43 PM on January 23 [11 favorites]


Oh, man.

just...speechless

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posted by Thorzdad at 2:44 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Oh no.

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posted by Automocar at 2:45 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.
posted by RubixsQube at 2:45 PM on January 23 [32 favorites]


The obituary doesn't mention my favorite, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, which changed the way I think. I suppose everything I read of hers did so, which is about the highest compliment you can pay a writer.

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posted by benzenedream at 2:46 PM on January 23 [59 favorites]


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posted by daveje at 2:46 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by dinty_moore at 2:46 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Gentlemen, I just don't belong here.

This profile of her from the New Yorker from October 2016 is quite good.

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posted by rewil at 2:47 PM on January 23 [32 favorites]


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posted by vibrotronica at 2:48 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I don't have the words. She has been my guide to so much that is good and truthful and beautiful. Her writing helped me rebuild my sense of morality and self after I left my religion.

I'm not sure any writer will ever have as much impact on me as she did. Does.

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posted by emjaybee at 2:48 PM on January 23 [17 favorites]


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So sad right now....
posted by Pendragon at 2:48 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


The Earthsea Trilogy was very important to me as a teenager. I was happy to see her so active til the very end of her amazing life.

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posted by OHenryPacey at 2:49 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


The Dispossessed changed, and continues to change, my life. God, but she was one of the all-time greats.

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posted by Sokka shot first at 2:50 PM on January 23 [20 favorites]


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posted by longdaysjourney at 2:50 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by praemunire at 2:50 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by Faintdreams at 2:50 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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Hugely sad about this. Wonderful writer and wonderful human.

(The Dispossessed is my favorite of hers. Would urge reading it if you have not.)
posted by Artw at 2:50 PM on January 23 [12 favorites]


A true giant.


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posted by gwint at 2:51 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


According to friends in Portland, she was out in the streets at protests until well into her eighties. God damn, am I sorry to hear about this.

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posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:51 PM on January 23 [28 favorites]


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posted by supermedusa at 2:51 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


"Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way."

-Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Left Hand of Darkness".

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posted by clavdivs at 2:53 PM on January 23 [34 favorites]


“We're each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?”
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posted by Fizz at 2:54 PM on January 23 [22 favorites]


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posted by mumblelard at 2:54 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Her writing was transformative. It changed the way I looked at books. It changed my politics. Both for the better.

Reading Earthsea was a key moment in my childhood. Reading The Dispossessed was a key moment in my adolescence. Reading The Left Hand of Darkness was a key moment in my adulthood.

And those are only some of her books and stories that were important to me. The Lathe of Heaven. Very Far Away from Anyplace Else. Intracom. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

She was a giant.
posted by kyrademon at 2:55 PM on January 23 [18 favorites]


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posted by Wobbuffet at 2:56 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


This is the actual worst.

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posted by allthinky at 2:56 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Oh what a loss!
posted by Space Kitty at 2:56 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


May she live on in her words that continue to inspire.

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One of my biggest regrets in life is not making the time to go meet her when she gave a talk at my college many years ago. I've read so much more of her writing since then, and it's only made me believe that all the more.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:56 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet I would remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.

🐉
posted by aihal at 2:57 PM on January 23 [20 favorites]


The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on. — The Dispossessed

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posted by DigDoug at 2:57 PM on January 23 [11 favorites]


:-( a period can't even do this justice
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:57 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


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posted by Tsuga at 2:59 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:00 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Geez. She was a huge inspiration. Her (very) short story The Author of the Acacia Seeds changed my entire perspective on speculative fiction and who and what it's for. I was already an SF fan when I read it, but I think that's when I fell in love.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:00 PM on January 23 [21 favorites]


ah damn. Time takes another of the greats.

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posted by mygothlaundry at 3:00 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by zombieflanders at 3:00 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]




Can you walk the road your dream goes?
Sometimes. Sometimes I am afraid to.
Who is not.
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- The Word for World is Forest

Your words will stay with us.
posted by lydhre at 3:02 PM on January 23 [10 favorites]


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posted by billjings at 3:04 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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She was my favorite. I wrote her a fan letter a while ago, never expecting to hear back. A few weeks later I received a reply in the mail. Put it away for safekeeping, and of course now I can't seem to find it.

Trying to find quotes of hers to put here and finding too many. And I just can't. Not today. I just...this is too much.
posted by freelanceastro at 3:04 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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Incredible how stories full of post-apocalyptic alien labyrinths and migrating bird-folk and genetically engineered people who can change their sex like they change their clothes can be so full of everyday humanity.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:04 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


Noooo! I finally read The Dispossessed last year (so good) and my only consolation is I still have a lot of works of hers that I haven't read yet. But this is a loss.

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posted by j.r at 3:04 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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posted by ProtectoroftheSmall at 3:05 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Singular.
Whenever anyone asks for a reading recommendation I always start with The Dispossessed.
posted by Golem XIV at 3:05 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I didn’t start to cry until I read the words “The Left Hand of Darkness” and was suddenly back in high school reading through my lunch break. I’m grateful for what she created and lucky that it’s been part the lense I view the world through.

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posted by lepus at 3:05 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


. (that dot is as big as all the worlds she created for us)

I'm feeling this one hard. The Beginning Place was huge for me as a child. The Hainish cycle stories are a must read. I just finished reading A Wizard of Earthsea to my son and we've started on The Tombs of Atuan. Thank you for so much.
posted by kokaku at 3:05 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


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posted by Inkslinger at 3:06 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Such an incalculable loss to us all. :(

Her Earthsea trilogy and Asimov's Robots series were the first scifi books I ever read. I loved and adored and read and re-read those books for different reasons. Her work always had a gentle, lyrical quality that was just comfortable and spectacular.

RubixsQube. the beginning of that quote is worth remembering as well, I think: "If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death."
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The 1980 PBS version of A Lathe of Heaven is mentioned in her New York Times obituary. If you haven't seen it, do.

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posted by zarq at 3:06 PM on January 23 [14 favorites]


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posted by treepour at 3:06 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


it's really hard to type that dot and press enter, on this one
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posted by halation at 3:07 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Ursula K. LeGuin has died at age 88 and Max Sparber is inconsolable.
posted by maxsparber at 3:08 PM on January 23 [10 favorites]


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posted by ocular shenanigans at 3:08 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by Splunge at 3:08 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


What a huge loss. I only read The Disposessed last year and it haunted me - I just got her Library of America collection for Christmas, which I highly recommend. Her work is so wonderful.
posted by ukdanae at 3:08 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


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posted by GenderNullPointerException at 3:09 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by eclectist at 3:09 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I think one of the most important things I ever read was her forward to the copy of The Tombs of Atuan that I read as a teen. As I recall, it was an essay on manifestations of power, and how it operates differently in a feminine or masculine model, how they interact; then the book went on to be basically about that. Also ancient labyrinths and wizards and things.

It was all very insightful in and of itself, but the essay in light of the book that followed got me to really understand that genre storytelling has the capacity to be a lot more than goofy adventure stories with dragons and spaceships. That when we talk about anything, we're talking about a lot more, and more deeply than we often realize in the moment. That a good storyteller is in control of that.

I learned how metaphors work from reading her work, basically. I knew what a metaphor was, of course, but I don't think I really understood them until then. I went from a child's understanding to... well, maybe not an adult's, but a student's anyway, with that book. I consider that a gift she gave me, and I'll always be grateful.

One of my favorites. One of the best.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 3:10 PM on January 23 [23 favorites]


The Dispossessed may be my favourite SF novel. What a giant.
posted by rory at 3:11 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


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posted by Sphinx at 3:12 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


She was one of my favorite writers when I was a kid, and again as an adult. There are very, very few writers that I loved so much in both stages. I'm so sad that there will be no more of her writing to read.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:13 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


“To see a candle's light one must take it into a dark place.”

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posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:14 PM on January 23 [17 favorites]


My very first Metafilter post was about LeGuin. Yet another thing that her writing inspired me to do.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:16 PM on January 23 [15 favorites]


In 1984 at New River Middle School in Fort Lauderdale, a GT language arts teacher pulled aside one of her students -- a quiet, withdrawn and slightly scared black kid -- and handed him A Wizard of Earthsea. "I think you might like this," she said.

She was wrong. He loved it. He still loves it. It still moves him, it still speaks to him.

Thank you for that, Ms. Stirling. And thank you for Ged and Tenar and so many other things, Ursula LeGuin. You changed me, and you made my life better.

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posted by lord_wolf at 3:20 PM on January 23 [62 favorites]


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posted by Kevin Street at 3:20 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


“For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger.

Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate?

No one earns punishment, no one earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.”

(Everyone should read The Dispossessed).
posted by Gilgongo at 3:21 PM on January 23 [51 favorites]


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posted by triage_lazarus at 3:21 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by diane47 at 3:21 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


“I think," Tehanu said in her soft, strange voice, "that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn't do. All that I might have been and couldn't be. All the choices I didn't make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven't been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed.”
I never met her, but I loved her and I'll miss her.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:22 PM on January 23 [58 favorites]


Rest in power.
posted by overglow at 3:22 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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(Never left one of these before -- that's how hard this hit me. I'm gonna leave work early and go home to read and cry.)
posted by natabat at 3:22 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


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This one hurts. Her books meant so much to me.
posted by beandip at 3:22 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


NO



I'm so glad I got to meet her, albeit briefly, when she came up to Elliot Bay Books in Seattle a couple years ago. I needed so badly to let her know that she was the reason I love science fiction, that I changed so much because of her words, and that she is the reason I realized I am a feminist. Back when I was 16 I read this piece, A Very Warm Mountain (PDF), about the eruption and aftermath of St. Helens, and it reshaped my self, my body, my whole world. She just smiled and signed my copy of Tombs of Atuan and said she was glad I made it.

God damnit. She will be so very missed.
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posted by zinful at 3:23 PM on January 23 [12 favorites]


She taught me to consider myself. I will always be thankful.
posted by loquacious at 3:23 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


oh no. I've been fearing this for a while.

This remarkable essay of hers was one of my first posts here. I still reread it every year or so (along with the other essays in her necessary collection Dancing at the Edge of the World) and find new things every time.
I have no idea who we will be or what it may be like on the other side, though I believe there are people there. They have always lived there. There are songs they sing there; one of the songs is called “Dancing at the edge of the world.” If we, clambering up out of the abyss, ask questions of them, they won’t draw maps, alleging utter inability; but they may point. One of them might point in the direction of Arlington, Texas. I live there, she says. See how beautiful it is!

This is the New World! we will cry, bewildered but delighted. We have discovered the New World!

Oh no, Coyote will say. No, this is the old world. The one I made.

You made it for us! we will cry, amazed and grateful.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, says Coyote.
posted by theodolite at 3:23 PM on January 23 [24 favorites]


Thank you so much, Ursula LeGuin.
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posted by theora55 at 3:23 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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posted by blob at 3:24 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


atque in perpetuum soror ave atque vale...

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posted by ilicet at 3:24 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


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posted by clew at 3:24 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by sammyo at 3:26 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


A giant, as others have said.

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction

The Space Crone
posted by rollick at 3:27 PM on January 23 [15 favorites]


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posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:27 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by doteatop at 3:28 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by Gymnopedist at 3:30 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


oh dear.

I started reading my first novel of hers just today (The Left Hand of Darkness). I'm not far into the book, but she already had won me over completely with her introduction.

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posted by bigendian at 3:31 PM on January 23 [10 favorites]


Her Hanish stories were just released in two volumes last year. The introduction to those volumes is worth reading for commentary about "canon," process, nonbinary pronouns, war, and culture.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 3:31 PM on January 23 [14 favorites]


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posted by wallgrub at 3:32 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by bleary at 3:33 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I used to live in her neighborhood in Portland, and while I never met her, I would sometimes walk by her house with the feeling one would if one was passing an oracle, or a wizard's castle - important magic happened there.

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posted by ikahime at 3:34 PM on January 23 [32 favorites]


The Earthsea Trilogy was very important to me as a teenager.

As a teenager I was huge reader of fantasy and science fiction, but my tastes shifted and almost all the books I connected with grew less important to me, and gradually left my shelves as the decades passed (given to others who might enjoy them). Not Earthsea, though – something made me hang onto them, although I last read them at fifteen or so.

Last werkend I stated them again and found them just as enjoyable, filled with things I did not pick up as a teenaged nerd. And glory be, I learn she had written more Earthsea books after I read the trilogy.

Anyway, I am sorry to hear she has gone, but as I said in the Jack Vance obit thread: checking out near unto the century mark, after spending most of your life hailed as one of the greats by your peers – well, this is a better exit than most of us get.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:34 PM on January 23 [14 favorites]


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posted by Caduceus at 3:35 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Damn

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posted by Fuchsoid at 3:35 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by acb at 3:36 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


On top of everything else, I have loved her blog resurgence in recent years. If you want some comforting thoughts, go read her entries about her cat Pard -- listed at the bottom of this page of blog entries.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:36 PM on January 23 [13 favorites]


I just bought another copy of the Earthsea trilogy a few weeks for yet another young reader of speculative fiction, her works I have shared more than any other.

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posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 3:36 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


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posted by northernish at 3:37 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by Gotanda at 3:38 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by OverlappingElvis at 3:38 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Sad, sad news.
posted by y2karl at 3:38 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


It's sad to hear that she's gone, though she lived to a ripe old age and accomplished much to be thankful for. Let's hope that those who follow in her footsteps can carry the flame on.
posted by acb at 3:39 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


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posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:39 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by JamesD at 3:40 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by but no cigar at 3:40 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Never to be equaled.

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posted by silby at 3:41 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Janny Wurts commented over on reddit's /r/fantasy:
Reeling. Sad news. I cannot process this, except to say, it's hit me very hard. What a magnificent voice, silenced. A true human being, and a stinging advocate for SF/F. society, fiction writing, and not least, for women. We have lost a natiional treasure.
As to be expected, this sums up my feelings far more eloquently than I could do myself.

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posted by ashirys at 3:43 PM on January 23 [13 favorites]


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posted by /\/\/\/ at 3:43 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite writers. I regret never having met her.

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posted by jeffamaphone at 3:43 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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I gasped on seeing the post. This hurts; she was like a worrystone or a talisman for me; in my writing and my reading. I’d ignored her young adult work for so long and when I finally started the Earthsea series I felt a fool for having left it for so long.

The other side of the wind.
posted by dhruva at 3:43 PM on January 23 [9 favorites]


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posted by snuffleupagus at 3:44 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by holborne at 3:44 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by zakur at 3:44 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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Just,

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posted by tavella at 3:47 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


"If utopia is a place that does not exist, then surely (as Lao Tzu would say) the way to get there is by the way that is not a way. And in the same vein, the nature of the utopia I am trying to describe is such that if it is to come, it must exist already." - Ursula K. Le Guin, A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be

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posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:48 PM on January 23 [11 favorites]


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posted by dogstoevski at 3:50 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


:'(
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posted by simra at 3:51 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


nthing The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction linked by rollick above, and her exceptional acceptance speech.

I came to her first via Changing Planes, a tour guide or ethnography of various extraplanar peoples who are, of course, quite human in their own ways. I've read so much of her work and this one remains a favorite.

Would really love if we could share our favorite works by her as a celebration of her life.
posted by panhopticon at 3:53 PM on January 23 [9 favorites]


Oh, no. Damn it.

I'm glad she was at home, and that she didn't suffer a long sad decline.

But oh, she will be missed.

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posted by suelac at 3:53 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


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posted by flamewise at 3:53 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I am still amazed how fresh each new work seemed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:53 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


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Thank you for opening my young mind.
posted by monotreme at 3:53 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


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posted by XMLicious at 3:54 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by valkane at 3:54 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


It had to happen eventually, but it still hurts, because she was one of the greats. In a field that hasn't been friendly to female authors, her accomplishments were unquestionable.
posted by Merus at 3:54 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


I'm crying quietly on a crowded train. Always coming home and the dispossessed changed and saved my life. I found her infuriating and wonderful and mighty.

Oh her family, may they be comforted and have good strong memories. The gifts that she shared with us.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:55 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


One of the greatest ever, who showed how categorizing some authors exclusively as "genre authors" is an utter absurdity.

RIP, and thank you!

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posted by dubitable at 3:56 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


[Via Letters of Note]:
In 1987, multi-award winning author Ursula K. Le Guin was asked to supply a blurb for Synergy: New Science Fiction, Volume 1, the first in a new four-part series of anthologies edited by George Zebrowski which intended to showcase science fiction stories from authors both established and up-and-coming. For Ursula K. Le Guin, however, the book was notable not for its stories but for its complete absence of women’s voices. She reacted by way of this brief letter:
Dear Mr Radziewicz,

I can imagine myself blurbing a book in which Brian Aldiss, predictably, sneers at my work, because then I could preen myself on my magnanimity. But I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here.

Yours truly,
Ursula K. Le Guin
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:57 PM on January 23 [52 favorites]


It's not simply that Le Guin had a colossal imagination; her stories permanently transformed her readers'. She remained such a vital, forceful presence on the literary landscape—certainly on Metafilter's front page—that she never seemed like only a figure of the Golden Age. Now it feels as though the Golden Age is well and truly past.
posted by Doktor Zed at 4:01 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


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posted by Elly Vortex at 4:02 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


The long passage in The Left Hand Of Darkness where Ai and Estraven journey across the ice sheet is one of the greatest things I have ever read in fiction.
posted by thelonius at 4:06 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


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My sophomore English teacher made us read The Left Hand of Darkness, and I'm grateful he did.
posted by andrewpcone at 4:08 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by belarius at 4:09 PM on January 23


Only in silence the word
Only in darkness light
Only in dying life
Bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky


I'm in tears at my desk. She changed my life. I don't have words to say how deeply her voice guided, helped, and inspired me.
posted by jokeefe at 4:11 PM on January 23 [20 favorites]


I am conflicted on this death as I have been conflicted on the deaths of a few other amazing people who have died this year.

I wish she weren't dead. If she had to die, I wish she had died last year, when hope was still possible, or years from now, when it is realized.

I don't know if I believe in an afterlife or not, but for deaths like these, I hope there is one, so she can wait and see.

this is fucking terrible and everything is terrible amen.
posted by corb at 4:11 PM on January 23 [18 favorites]


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posted by peeedro at 4:12 PM on January 23


“When I'm writing I don't dream much; it's like the dreaming gets used in the writing.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
posted by dubwisened at 4:12 PM on January 23 [12 favorites]


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posted by penduluum at 4:16 PM on January 23


Oh no.

I admired and appreciated le Guin more than enjoyed her work. But so much to admire! The Left Hand of Darkness was the first feminist novel I read. The Dispossessed the first real treatment and critique of anarchic, capitalist, and collectivist societies. So Le Guin was probably the first author whose ideas I grappled with rather than reading purely for entertainment and plot. Not that the latter are negatives. But they are, as you all know, not the sum total of how we engage with literature.

So few of the authors who shaped me when I was a kid are left now, and they will mostly pass over the next decade. This is a dark harbinger. Of her cohort I can offhand only think of Wolfe, Ellison, and Silverberg. A few years older are Delany, Cherryh, and Haldeman.

Every time I glimpse one of their names out of the corner of my eye I will flinch as I brace for it being an obit. I am not looking forward to getting older.
posted by Justinian at 4:17 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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posted by tzikeh at 4:19 PM on January 23


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"They made love. Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new. When it was made, they lay in each other's arms, holding love, asleep." -- The Lathe of Heaven
posted by jcreigh at 4:20 PM on January 23 [22 favorites]


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posted by mordax at 4:22 PM on January 23


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posted by quaking fajita at 4:24 PM on January 23


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posted by cmfletcher at 4:30 PM on January 23


Oh hell.

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posted by rmd1023 at 4:41 PM on January 23


The Lathe of Heaven is a wonderful book, one of my very favorite SF novels.
posted by straight at 4:42 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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posted by juv3nal at 4:43 PM on January 23


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posted by buildmyworld at 4:43 PM on January 23


“If nobody teaches us the words, the thoughts, we stay ignorant. If nobody shows a little child, two, three years old, how to look for the way, the signs of the path, the landmarks, then it gets lost in the mountain, doesn't it? And dies in the night, in the cold.” - The Telling

Thank you for teaching, Ms LeGuin.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:44 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


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posted by kliuless at 4:44 PM on January 23


I am going to miss her writing so, so, so much. Not just all the great gifts of her past work, but the fact that she was writing about and in and for the urgent present right up until the end, and because it feels like we need her words so much in these times.

Anyway, another favorite essay I haven't seen linked above yet: "Introducing Myself." It's the one with this passage:
I don’t have a gun and I don’t have even one wife and my sentences tend to go on and on and on, with all this syntax in them. Ernest Hemingway would have died rather than have syntax. Or semicolons. I use a whole lot of half-assed semicolons; there was one of them just now; that was a semicolon after “semicolons,” and another one after “now.”

And another thing. Ernest Hemingway would have died rather than get old. And he did. He shot himself. A short sentence. Anything rather than a long sentence, a life sentence. Death sentences are short and very, very manly. Life sentences aren’t. They go on and on, all full of syntax and qualifying clauses and confusing references and getting old. And that brings up the real proof of what a mess I have made of being a man: I am not even young. Just about the time they finally started inventing women, I started getting old. And I went right on doing it. Shamelessly. I have allowed myself to get old and haven’t done one single thing about it, with a gun or anything.
She gave us so many long, life sentences.
posted by karayel at 4:45 PM on January 23 [42 favorites]


I’ve loved Ursula K. Le Guin my whole life. I loved Catwings as an elementary school child; I loved Earthsea as a teenager; I loved The Left Hand of Darkness as a college first-year. It was wonderful growing up with an author and never needing to outgrow her.

Ursula Le Guin was our best living science fiction writer, and now she’s not, and it hurts.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:45 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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posted by mdoar at 4:47 PM on January 23


I'm just sitting at my desk crying. The closest I can compare it to is when Bowie died, but I knew LeGuin longer, since I was 13 and picked up a copy of Wizard of Earthsea. She has been part of my life for 40 years, the writer so great even the misogynists had to admit she was a grandmaster.

So I'm just going to sit here crying at work, and then go home and write.
posted by happyroach at 4:48 PM on January 23 [14 favorites]


First I was swearing, and now I'm crying. She has been a incredibly formative, incredibly humanistic force of nature for so many readers, and she created better people with her words.
posted by vers at 4:48 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


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posted by Joey Michaels at 4:49 PM on January 23


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posted by dbiedny at 4:52 PM on January 23


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posted by gmm at 4:52 PM on January 23


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posted by Room 101 at 4:53 PM on January 23


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posted by hap_hazard at 4:54 PM on January 23


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posted by chrchr at 4:55 PM on January 23


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I've mentioned before that I was introduced to LeGuin by the PBS production of The Lathe of Heaven in 1980 which to this day singlehandedly justifies the existence of PBS for me (yes, more than Cosmos and MisterRogers combined). And just today, an 'ebook email newsletter' I subscribe to brought one of her works I had not yet enjoyed to my attention: Changing Planes, with an excerpt. Well, I know what I'm going to be doing for the next several hours... changing planes and weeping softly. 📖. 📚 .
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:55 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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posted by Mitheral at 4:55 PM on January 23


"Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight
on the empty sky."

I see this is posted above, but it's worth saying again IMO.

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posted by Coaticass at 4:56 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


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(T _ T)
posted by nikoniko at 4:57 PM on January 23


!
posted by RakDaddy at 4:58 PM on January 23


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I read The Dispossessed when I was 13, it had a profound impact on my world and my way of thinking. Maybe I have moved on from some of the places that book took me, but I am still thankful for the journey.

I read The Earthsea books to my children.

I recently re-read all her fiction in order of publication date. It all stands up and every story has an interesting culture at the heart of it.

My favourite writer.
posted by foleypt at 4:59 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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posted by Horkus at 4:59 PM on January 23


.**9**9
posted by pjmoy at 5:02 PM on January 23


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This seems like an odd point to make at this time, but one of the things that always got me about the whole Sad Puppies bullshit was how she was living proof at the bullshitness of their arguments. How could you say that you were upset at the politicization of Scifi when she was there, living and breathing and writing since since the start of the sixties?! I wanted to smack them upside the head with a Hugo won for a plotless, short, descriptive work of philosophical fiction. Which, funnily enough, was awarded the same year that one of the instigators was born.
posted by zabuni at 5:03 PM on January 23 [14 favorites]


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posted by jdangeresque at 5:06 PM on January 23


Just for now, I'm going to pretend that the Ekumen's reassigned her.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:07 PM on January 23 [13 favorites]


I remember discovering her in college and almost feel like I've been lied to, that someone had kept her from me. I'd loved scifi and fantasy as a kid and then somewhere internalized that the only stuff what would be worthwhile was literary fiction as a teen, so I'd read a whole bunch of pretty garbage by and about white college professors. And then I read the Left Hand of Darkness and she opened up my idea of what writing could do. It wasn't even that she seemed to speak for me in a way that I simply wasn't used to, it was also the deep compassion and empathy for those who weren't like her. And she was always so hopeful that humanity could one day be better, that we were worth fighting for.

She'd lived a long, good life. In a lot of ways, she's the ideal I strive for, even if I fall short. The world is a slightly bleaker place without her.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:07 PM on January 23 [19 favorites]


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posted by cazoo at 5:11 PM on January 23


I'll never forget how astonished I was while reading 'The Word for World is Forest' and how much 'The Dispossessed' blew my hairy little mind. Such an author; how greatly she'll be missed!
posted by h00py at 5:11 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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Her books do something for me that - so far - no other writer does. I can nearly feel my mind changing shape as I read. I'm sad - but 88 years and a great career is a good deal, and to leave behind so many books ... she can't ever really be gone, as long as her books are read.
posted by bunderful at 5:12 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


Oh man. She was the best at a fantasy tone.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:14 PM on January 23


From the above-linked New Yorker article:

She has always defended the fantastic, by which she means not formulaic fantasy or “McMagic” but the imagination as a subversive force. “Imagination, working at full strength, can shake us out of our fatal, adoring self-absorption,” she has written, “and make us look up and see—with terror or with relief—that the world does not in fact belong to us at all.”
posted by bunderful at 5:17 PM on January 23 [16 favorites]


Her writing opened up my mind in a way that few artists manage. She helped me articulate how much gender is a bullshit constructed system, and how much the structures and expectations of a society influence people's behavior.

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posted by bile and syntax at 5:20 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Her Earthsea stories don't really have a parallel... those books read like folk tales or fables, but in a much different way than Tolkein... short and spare, to the point, like it was an oral history. She was an original. The Tombs of Atuan is one of my favorites.

As a kid, I bought (with my parent's money) the Tombs of Atuan, thinking it would be a D&D style hack and slash story, based on the name and cover art. I was probably 9 or ten (1981-2?). I ended up reading all the other Earthsea books several times, and then I read them again a few years ago.

Hypnotic. She was a great one.

Edit: plus, the fact that she was pre-hippy, and wrote these wonderful things while being a stay at home mom to little kids? And freaking got them published???


Respect. And rest in peace.
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posted by jeff-o-matic at 5:20 PM on January 23 [10 favorites]


Her Earthsea stories don't really have a parallel... those books read like folk tales or fables, but in a much different way than Tolkein... short and spare, to the point, like it was an oral history. She was an original. The Tombs of Atuan is one of my favorites.

That's just it. All mystery.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:23 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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So glad I was able to be in the same room with her one time.
posted by honey badger at 5:25 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by lumosh at 5:29 PM on January 23


She's been mentioned so often on the green I had decided it was time to read one of her books. So yesterday I went to the library and checked out The Dispossessed.

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posted by lharmon at 5:30 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


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independent of but somehow in dialog with Delany, she and he together imagined the next country, the place I intend to die, when I was ten or so. Their lessons stick. Rest in Peace, my mother.
posted by mwhybark at 5:32 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


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posted by skyscraper at 5:33 PM on January 23


Bow your heads. A god has fallen.
posted by Lighthammer at 5:34 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


;_______;

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posted by subdee at 5:37 PM on January 23


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posted by k8bot at 5:37 PM on January 23


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posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:37 PM on January 23


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Oh wow. I'm in the middle of reading Powers right now. I read Gifts as a teenager and it truly moved me. It was the first fantasy book I'd ever read in which magic was merely the background in the complicated, deep lives of a cast of characters. It showed me I could write fantasy that was about the characters, and that's what I've been doing ever since. It defined my writing.

I tried to read the rest of her Annals of the Western Shore as a teenager, but my mother picked up Voices and found something offensive in it and wouldn't let me read it. (Incredibly ironic given the plot of the book.) This year I re-read Gifts and finished Voices, and I was reading Powers moments before I saw this post. I haven't read much more of her work but I've been meaning to. Perhaps now is the time.
posted by brook horse at 5:39 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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The Lathe Of Heaven is one of the best books I’ve ever been fortunate enough to read.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:43 PM on January 23


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posted by dannyboybell at 5:43 PM on January 23


Always coming home is the only book I have ever found worthy to sit next to Tolkien on my bookshelf.

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posted by tspae at 5:46 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 5:48 PM on January 23


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posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:49 PM on January 23


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too soon

(I would post this same comment until we'd colonized the entire galaxy tbh)
posted by wires at 5:49 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


> She was my favorite. I wrote her a fan letter a while ago, never expecting to hear back. A few weeks later I received a reply in the mail. Put it away for safekeeping, and of course now I can't seem to find it.

Same here (though many years ago). I don't think I ever wrote a fan letter to another sf author, and I was astonished when she wrote back. I forget what I said that involved Agamemnon (Christ, I was a pretentious young man), but I'll never forget her response: "You have to remember that I'm not Agamemnon, I'm Agamemnon's daughter." RIP.
posted by languagehat at 5:51 PM on January 23 [35 favorites]


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posted by Rumpled at 5:52 PM on January 23


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posted by sidesh0w at 5:56 PM on January 23


I saw her speak at Harvard in the 1980s. She was asked something to the effect of what work of hers was most overrated, or that she wanted to get away from. Something like that. Her answer was the Earthsea Trilogy. I'm so glad she found it in herself to revisit and reimagine that world in Tehanu and the later books. It's one of the great do-overs in literary history.

I loved original trilogy as a kid, and Tehanu was such a brilliant way to deal with its problems. We've lost a very wise woman.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:01 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Like many others, I fell in love with her worlds via Earthsea, reading them when they were released hundreds of years ago. It wasn't until much later that I connected her with so many other wonderful books.

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a Kickstarter for a documentary about her, one where she was a willing - even eager - participant. While it's not quite complete, it's close, and one of the joys has been the access and commentary the directors have provided about that participation. LeGuin was witty and wise and marvelously human in everything shared. I was eagerly anticipating seeing and hearing about her reaction to the finished film. I'll have to take solace in the knowledge that she seemed to be amused by the process.
posted by mkhall at 6:02 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


I'm not actually a big LeGuin fan. I've read The Beginning Place, which I enjoyed without it becoming a favourite, and I think I own a copy of The Left Hand of Darkness, but never got beyond the first dozen or so pages.

However, I still remember reading this exchange from this 2004 Guardian interview, and how it made my day:

Q: Perhaps you feel a bit out of step with your contemporaries?

UKL: Why should a woman of 74 want to be "in step with" anybody? Am I in an army, or something?

posted by orange swan at 6:07 PM on January 23 [24 favorites]


Ursula Le Guin has been my neighbor for 20 years. I never bothered to figure out exactly which house she lived in, but there were a lot of hints in her writing as to its general whereabouts. She was a friend of one of my college professors, and she spoke to one of my classes. I've read the Earthsea books at least three times, in spite of the fact that I didn't discover them until I was an adult.

This fantastic audio lecture of hers is so interesting and revealing, and it was some of the same material she discussed in my class.
posted by chrchr at 6:08 PM on January 23 [13 favorites]


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posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:14 PM on January 23


This hurts all of us.
posted by MovableBookLady at 6:14 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


The first book of hers I read was "Left Hand of Darkness" I think in grade 9 or 10. I can remember first being confused by it, and later thinking it was a world I'd love to live in. What if it all just lived somewhere else, and everyone was okay with it. Seemed ideal to me.

Thinking on it, I always took something away from any of her books. Some different idea or concept of how things could be. At the time, it never seemed like that was what she was trying to do. Which I guess proves, as if more proof were needed, what a great writer she was.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:15 PM on January 23


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posted by Foosnark at 6:21 PM on January 23


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posted by anya32 at 6:27 PM on January 23


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posted by typecloud at 6:30 PM on January 23


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posted by Prunesquallor at 6:31 PM on January 23


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posted by faethverity at 6:31 PM on January 23


I loved her work and I will miss her so. A Grand Master of science fiction and yet that title is not enough.

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posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 6:32 PM on January 23


The world is much the poorer for her passing.

So many favorites...

“The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognizes no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself.”

Revolution is our obligation: our hope of evolution.

― The Dispossessed absolutely speaks to our times.


Light is the left hand of darkness and darkness the right hand of light. Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way.

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I am conflicted on this death as I have been conflicted on the deaths of a few other amazing people who have died this year.
Agreed, corb.
2018, you can stop right here.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:32 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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I read a whole lot of Clarke, Asimov, Niven and the like when I was a young teenager and then read The Dispossessed, Left Hand and Lathe and was totally blown away that science fiction could actually be good fiction.
posted by octothorpe at 6:34 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I’m finally living in a stable place after fifteen years of moving every three, and many books I used to have are now gone (hopefully into the hands of other readers, but it is hard to say).

I discovered two more missing today: Lie Algebras for Particle Physicists, and The Dispossessed. Exercise left to the reader as to any relationship.
posted by nat at 6:34 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


I am so sad.
posted by Zed at 6:40 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


What an accomplished writer. The notion that by learning something's True Name you have control over it is so intuitive that seems that it should be true. Many thanks for all that she wrote.
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posted by Loudmax at 6:47 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Absolutely devastated to hear. Thank you Ms. Le Guin, for your words, your worlds, and your everlasting compassion.

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posted by lesser weasel at 6:48 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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In her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness Le Guin writes:
Yes, indeed the people in it [the book] are androgynous, but that doesn't mean that I'm predicting that in a millennium or so we will all be androgynous, or announcing that I think we damned well ought to be androgynous. I'm merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and though-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are.
In 2001 I taught this book in a college setting -- it was the first book on the syllabus -- and the students came in to class, and I asked: "How are we 'already' androgynous? Where does gender not affect us?" I may have said different words.

And the moment was electric. I looked around the room. I was pretty sure that every single one of those students was staring, gazing, not blankly, but thinking, for a second, two, three. I had asked something they hadn't asked themselves before, and they were sifting their experiences, seeking, seeing with new eyes, forming new synapses, making connections. And two or three voices called out at once, bursting with the enthusiasm of discovery. On the rowing team. In Wu Shu. Over the internet. And we made connections, categories... it was one of the best, if not the best, moments I've ever had in teaching.

Le Guin writes in that same introduction:
Finally, when we're done with it, we may find -- if it's a good novel -- that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it's very hard to say just what we learned, how we were changed.
I also want to point out Le Guin's work as a translator and advocate of others' voices. I'm surely not the only one who never would have heard of Argentinian author Angela Gorodischer except that Le Guin decided to translate Kalpa Imperial. And Le Guin created a translation of the Tao Te Ching. The breadth of her work -- as this Oregon Public Broadcasting obit reminds us, "Her works can be found across six or seven sections of any bookstore or library, from poetry to children’s literature to criticism and essays, to her powerful, wondrous novels." -- she was her own kind of polymath, and I treasure that example she set, too.

And maybe my favorite line of hers, from a book I haven't even read yet:

"The dead are dead. The great and mighty go their way unchecked. The only hope in the world lies in the people of no account." (from "The Finder," in Tales of Earthsea)
posted by brainwane at 6:49 PM on January 23 [50 favorites]


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posted by q*ben at 6:51 PM on January 23


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just that because today there are no words
posted by nubs at 6:53 PM on January 23


When Iain M. Banks died, my sorrow was largely selfish, feeling bad and petulant for all the Culture books that I would never get to read.
This is different. I didn't demand any further books from Ursula K. Le Guin. I just wanted her to be, to be able to point at her and say 'see, that's what a human being looks like, and speaks like and lives like'.
Her death makes us lesser.
posted by signal at 6:53 PM on January 23 [43 favorites]


I'm not ready to talk coherently about this loss yet. This is a person whose writing and way of being helped shape my humanity. Alchemy, what she did with words and life.

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posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 6:55 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


an enormous loss

[apologies for edit window abuse]
posted by wires at 6:58 PM on January 23


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posted by exlotuseater at 7:01 PM on January 23


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posted by jabo at 7:01 PM on January 23


I think about this paragraph from "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction" at least once a month (and the essay as a whole quite often).
So, when I came to write science-fiction novels, I came lugging this great heavy sack of stuff, my carrier bag full of wimps and klutzes, and tiny grains of things smaller than a mustard seed, and intricately woven nets which when laboriously unknotted are seen to contain one blue pebble, an imperturbably functioning chronometer telling the time on another world, and a mouse's skull; full of beginnings without ends, of initiations, of losses, of transformations and translations, and far more tricks than conflicts, far fewer triumphs than snares and delusions; full of space ships that get stuck, missions that fail, and people who don't understand. I said it was hard to make a gripping tale of how we wrested the wild oats from their husks, I didn't say it was impossible. Who ever said writing a novel was easy?
It's one of the most masterfully-crafted paragraphs I've ever read. I see new things every time I reread it.
posted by icosahedron at 7:12 PM on January 23 [17 favorites]


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immediately hops in bed to see what he can do about this
posted by Samizdata at 7:14 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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posted by Silverstone at 7:17 PM on January 23


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posted by ridogi at 7:21 PM on January 23


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posted by tobascodagama at 7:23 PM on January 23


I always respected her more than particularly enjoyed her. But she's justly an SFWA Grand Master, and her impact on the field was immense.

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posted by Chrysostom at 7:31 PM on January 23


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posted by rtha at 7:32 PM on January 23


I first picked up one of her short-story collections while bored at a babysitting gig (babysitting gigs so often afforded me the opportunity to read through employers' bookshelves and find things that I never otherwise came across) and couldn't put it down, in spite of the fact that I thought that genre wasn't for me. That led to The Dispossessed.

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posted by goofyfoot at 7:34 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


She came to the Vancouver Writer's Festival during the mid 1990s. During a panel that she shared with other science fiction writers-- I'm sorry I cannot remember who, now-- a teenage, or perhaps a little bit older, boy stood up during the time for questions and said, essentially, why are your books all written from a terrible feminist man-hating perspective? And she grew stern. She sat a bit straighter (perhaps I imagined that bit) and said, plainly and firmly, "Why, when women write about misogyny, we are accused of hating men?" and her tone was not dismissive but just-- final. I'll never forget how commanding she looked in that moment, though commanding is the wrong word. It was a glimpse of the steel inside her, a rod of truth that she carried, even as she walked through the world in appearance seeming merely, as she said herself, a middle-class housewife.

We all have various non-physical parents through our life, parents of art and thought and worthy actions. She was a mother to me, a venerable teacher, an endless poser of questions, and always, always, the one who said "What if?" Thank you again, Ursula, and blessings go with you in your passing.
posted by jokeefe at 7:35 PM on January 23 [22 favorites]


She's written so well, so incisively, so ruthlessly, so kindly, and so brightly about so many things. Because of what she's written and what she's shared, I'm a better reader, a better thinker--I can think of a half dozen insights from her writing that have pushed me forward--and hopefully a better person in general.

So, yeah, I cried when I heard the news earlier. I have so much gratitude for her work.

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posted by mixedmetaphors at 7:35 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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I try to remember that LeGuin's work lives on, but -- dammit.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:37 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Scalzi tribute in the LAT.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:39 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


88 is too young. She had years left. The world will never be the same.
posted by dis_integration at 7:40 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by fyolnish at 7:47 PM on January 23


When she entered her career women fantasists were rare, sometimes dismissed, and often wrote under masculine pen names. Even Le Guin once hid behind her initials, but she was too good and too persistent to be kept down. She leaves us at a time when most of the best new voices in SFF are female. More than most writers she reshaped the field in her image.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:51 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


A few years ago when Le Guin was scheduled to appear at AWP, I'd planned to fly across the country mostly to see her in person. I regret not taking that trip now.

For one of my favorite human beings, which is insignificant compared to what she gave me:

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posted by xenization at 7:54 PM on January 23


So many tributes and other recognition today including the tumblr blog dedicated to 70s Sci Fi Art, with a back cover for an edition of The Dispossessed.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:54 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by aesop at 7:58 PM on January 23


Her work has been enormously important to my whole family. I've told the story before here I think - the first date I had with my husband was after he told me he had a book of her's I hadn't yet read (The Wind's Twelve Quarters). We bonded over our love of SF in general and her writing in specific. Many years later our daughter, now an aspiring SF/fantasy writer, met her at a signing and brought our tattered copy of the The Wind's Twelve Quarters with her to be signed along with the new release she was promoting. The bookstore owner said don't you want a new copy of that book and Le Guin and my daughter exclaimed as one "NO!". I am so sad that she has left us - her writing has shaped our lives.
posted by leslies at 8:00 PM on January 23 [20 favorites]


I've been thinking today about what made Le Guin so special to me. I think it's that her writing communicates such a wide-open imagination, but also this amazing sense of pragmatism, of stubbornness even. I'm not well read in speculative fiction at all, but I immediately felt with Le Guin that she was sharing some essential blueprint for what it means to be a human and ask impossibly much from the world and take care of each other, and to do all at the same. I don't know, from the first few pages of the Dispossessed she changed me, and even though I've just read like one book of hers a year she's been my favorite author since, and I'm just extremely grateful to have known her work.

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posted by elephantsvanish at 8:01 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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posted by equalpants at 8:05 PM on January 23


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posted by sfred at 8:07 PM on January 23


Every one of her answers to the Times Literary Supplement's Twenty Questions interview was and is worth savoring, but this one especially pulled me up short when I read it:

Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte?
Oh come on. That’s like saying “Air or water?

That magnificent insistence on your own truth.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 8:13 PM on January 23 [12 favorites]


She brought a unique sense of humanity, and vision, and purpose to a genre that, I’m sorry, might have remained bankrupt of all those until Octavia Butler came along. I agree that this is as huge as Bowie dying, she was such a force. I actually got turned onto her writing by virtue of her daughter’s musicological work, and my heart goes out to her right now.
posted by invitapriore at 8:16 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


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posted by gudrun at 8:21 PM on January 23


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One of the slight joys I have tonight is knowing that LeGuin's work is on our bookshelves just waiting for the day our kids discover her like we did.
posted by nickggully at 8:23 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


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posted by mark k at 8:25 PM on January 23


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posted by evilDoug at 8:31 PM on January 23


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posted by reventlov at 8:34 PM on January 23


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posted by Diagonalize at 8:36 PM on January 23


It’s shit like this that causes people to spit in the face of the gods and turn to the dark arts of necromancy. Some people are not permitted to die. Goddamn fucking shit. No.
posted by um at 8:41 PM on January 23


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posted by SoundInhabitant at 8:46 PM on January 23


Farther west than west
beyond the land
my people are dancing
on the other wind.

~Song of the Women of Kemay
I am so, so thankful for her words, for a heart that was large enough to make worlds that might be.
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:47 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:52 PM on January 23


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Sad to hear she's gone, I have fond memories of reading many of her books oh so many decades ago.

Also didn't know she had translated the Tao de Ching. That's just so right.
posted by dougfelt at 9:03 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I loved Left Hand of Darkness when I read it in High School, like so many others have said, and I thought I still had it somewhere around here. Since I can't find it, I will have to buy a copy at a used book store somewhere, along with several other novels that I haven't read. Yet.
posted by yhbc at 9:09 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


This one, I was not ready for.
posted by casarkos at 9:23 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


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posted by ianso at 9:23 PM on January 23


O-oh, Yeowe, no one never comes back.

If you haven't read Four Ways to Forgiveness, you really should. It's stuck with me even more than the Left Hand of Darkness, I'm amazed to say.
posted by medusa at 9:33 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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The Dispossessed blows me away every time I read it again. She understood so well that while the fantastic elements of a story can engage us, what makes the story matter is how it speaks to what is human in us.
posted by mmmtofu at 9:46 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]




I loved her books in a way I loved few others. I loved how her words cast shadows and how she understood shadows cast weight. She inspired me to write fearlessly as a woman in a way no other author has. She told me it was ok to be angry, it was ok to be thoughtful, and it was better to be both together. I'm glad her greatness was recognised before she died. I'm glad also that when, last year, I reread many of her books, they had new things to show one reading through older eyes.
posted by tavegyl at 10:08 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I have a tattoo based on one of her stories, if that gives a sense of my esteem for her. She was a treasure and I’m glad she received so many accolades during her life.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:25 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by destrius at 10:47 PM on January 23


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The Left Hand of Darkness was why I became a writer, but that's nothing compared to how much Ursula Le Guin's writing shaped me as a human being.

A world that suddenly lacks her voice feels so deprived of the kind of humane intelligence we sorely need these days.

Go and read, mates. Read everything you've loved and love it to bits once again. That's how I'm going to celebrate this privilege of having been able to read and love all these stories and essays and poems by an impossibly talented writer, and of existing during these past decades when she was alive and wrote all these things I've enjoyed so much.
posted by kaarne at 10:54 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


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posted by eruonna at 10:55 PM on January 23




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posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:12 PM on January 23


One of the first, perhaps the first, science fiction and fantasy writers I ever read. I was young enough I had to stop reading it at night when sparrowhawk was being pursued.

One of the few authors and books I read at that time with enough in it for me then, and for me now.

An incredible voice, thanks ursula.
posted by smoke at 11:25 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Lathe of Heaven, the single broadcast of it's movie adaption was quite the shining light of 1980. Thanks again PBS.
posted by Beholder at 11:50 PM on January 23


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posted by anthill at 11:56 PM on January 23


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I fell headlong into science fiction readership at age ten. It wasn't long after that I found my way to Ursula K. Le Guin and it was a profound experience. Honestly, I wouldn't be who I am without her reading. If nothing else, reading The Word for World is Forest completely changed the way I thought about power and violence, which led me directly to feminism.

It's difficult for me to even process how much her writing has affected my life, but I will say that she's had the ability to do that all through my life. A couple of years ago I read "The Author of the Acacia Seeds (and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics)" for the first time. I don't know how it had passed me by all those years but it fucking just blew my tiny little mind and changed the way that I think about poetry and the natural world.

I'm glad she had a long and productive life, and I'm glad that I encountered her at an early age, and I'm glad that I still have many, many of her books and stories left to read.
posted by Kattullus at 12:00 AM on January 24 [8 favorites]


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posted by runcifex at 12:17 AM on January 24


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The Earth Sea trilogy was an easy favorite as I was growing up.
posted by bouvin at 12:37 AM on January 24


I've been reading The Dispossessed for half a year now, in a peculiar way that I re-read books that I love, and have just this week put it back on the shelf. I've been wondering if she wrote herself a tiny cameo in it:

"In order to get the room they went to the block housing manager-Abbenay was divided into about two hundred local administrative regions, called blocks-a lens grinder who worked at home and kept her three young children at home with her. She therefore kept the housing files in a shelf on top of a closet so the children wouldn't get at them."
posted by the Real Dan at 12:40 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


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posted by inire at 12:45 AM on January 24


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posted by Soliloquy at 12:46 AM on January 24


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posted by misteraitch at 12:52 AM on January 24


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posted by SageLeVoid at 12:56 AM on January 24


She was never light reading. She was serious and expected a serious engagement from her readers. I admired and appreciated that even when I was not a serious enough person to read her books thoroughly as they deserved, if not demanded. I, too, did not expect this death. She is in the Grove now, the leaves whispering her name.
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posted by jadepearl at 1:08 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


Oh.

Oh no.

Her writing shaped me in so many ways, as it has so many others. A quote from The Left Hand of Darkness was one of the two epigraphs that preceded my dissertation. I suppose that at 88, it doesn't quite make sense to say that we lost her too soon - 88 years and countless books and an astonishing legacy are as much as anyone can hope for, and more - but the world's a darker place now that we've lost the possibility of hearing any more of her clear-eyed, intelligent, humane words. Nobody ever comes back, indeed.

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posted by ubersturm at 1:09 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


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posted by Gelatin at 1:16 AM on January 24


After thinking about this all day, it's not wrong of me to say that I moved to the PNW in part becasue she was here, and she was so right about everything. I mean, my grandparents lived here, on the dry side, yeah, but here, and I thought this place, here, this wet fucking place, was where I wanted to be from and maybe was from no matter what.

I'm not sure if she understood her work to be regionalist clarions, but goddam that is what they are for me. Rest in Peace, textmother, again. Rest.
posted by mwhybark at 1:17 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


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I've been flat out sad for over a month. Staring at the numerals for eighty-eight, their symmetry. Last year, I lost a library copy of "Searoad" and searched for it, for three months, in vain, and finally paid the lost fee. Last week, I was at NW Powell's cradling the LOA set for the Hanish Novels, and had to talk myself out of buying it. Reading the news late at night here on the blue, in the same timezone, same metro area of Le Guin's home. Sigh. Idk. I was reading Dancing At The Edge Of The World while having ramen for dinner just yesterday, tuesday evening. T_______________T

Rest In Peace
posted by one teak forest at 1:54 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


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posted by nicolin at 1:55 AM on January 24


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posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 2:00 AM on January 24


burrowing thru FB links on her loss, this, a 1983 commencement address delivered at Mills College.
posted by mwhybark at 2:02 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


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posted by away for regrooving at 2:04 AM on January 24


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posted by sarcas at 2:08 AM on January 24


My friend Una McCormack was on Radio 4’s Today program this morning to give a short tribute. Skip to 2:50:30 if you want to listen to her being interviewed.
posted by pharm at 2:10 AM on January 24


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posted by andraste at 2:15 AM on January 24


She lived a long life, giving us all so much. But today all I can feel is loss.
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posted by hat_eater at 2:15 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


There's a recent book, Rad American Women -- I learned about it from Liesl's wonderful MeFi post "FPPs Full of Women" last month. It's a very cool book (geared towards kids/YA) and has a brief profile of a woman for each letter of the alphabet, and... U is for Ursula.

I appreciated this part of her profile in particular (added a line break to make it easier to read); the latter half actually mentions her fighting the whitewashing of her characters:
In the 1950s and '60s, most science fiction writers were men. Though their work was popular, it wasn't seen as "real literature." People thought their books were just about aliens and robots. Ursula helped change this perception. Like other sci-fi stories, her books describe future worlds, but Ursula also explored important issues like gender, war, and religion in her work. In her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, most of the characters have no gender at all.

Also, Ursula thought it was wrong that the heroes in sci-fi and fantasy novels were always white, so she made a conscious effort to include a variety of skin colors in her novels. When her publishers tried to put only white people on the covers of her books because they thought they would sell more copies that way, Ursula demanded that they change them.
I'm really glad that kids (and adults) can read this, and be introduced to her as a person and get a sense of how important she was and still is. They'll also read that she sent out her first story to a magazine when she was 11 (it wasn't accepted), and that she didn't give up and kept writing for years, finally becoming published as an adult.

I see that the book website (which is currently promoting the sequel) is showing an instagram photo from yesterday in her honor, of U is for Ursula.

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posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:18 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


To die was merely to go on in another direction.
(The Day before the Revolution)
posted by runcifex at 2:31 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


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posted by mfoight at 2:55 AM on January 24


I read the first three Earthsea books with my mother when I was 9. Revisiting them ten years ago at 30 I was astonished how the world view had shape mine; after that I devoured everything else she'd produced.

What a gift she gave us!

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posted by tomp at 2:59 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


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posted by tilde at 3:16 AM on January 24


In my undergraduate years I decided to get serious about science fiction, which I'd read and loved since childhood, and used a critical guide (David Wingrove's Science Fiction Source Book) to identify gaps in my reading that needed filling. This must have been what steered me to The Left Hand of Darkness, which I read at around the same time as The Female Eunuch; the combination swept away any tendency I might have had to see 1980s Australia as enjoying an acceptable state of gender relations. But it was left in the shade by The Dispossessed.

The Dispossessed made me an anarchist, even if it was an anarchist disguised as a quiet middle-class uni student. Any time I look at the Political Compass I get a result in the same quadrant occupied by Le Guin's works, somewhere in the vicinity of Gandhi, which will do me. People reckon that you get more conservative as you get older, but if I'm conservative it's in holding onto those political ideals, and exercising them wherever possible, in the context of making do in the capitalist societies I've lived in. Whenever I've compromised them I've come to regret it.

Its impact on me was so profound that when I had the chance to spend a year in Britain studying political theory, I used one of the three essays I was expected to produce to re-read and write about The Dispossessed. The others, and my dissertation, I devoted to the most significant theme I could identify in political theory, that of rights and human rights; but writing about The Dispossessed is one of my fondest memories of that privileged year.

It may still be my favourite SF novel. It's had competition, of course, and Le Guin is only one of my favourite SF writers. Philip K. Dick's worldview has probably had an even greater impact on me overall, and his A Scanner Darkly is magisterial; but, earthbound as it is, it can't top The Dispossessed. Ray Bradbury, Robert Silverberg, H. G. Wells and others all wrote novels that haunted me for years; but no, none of them beat it. SF was, in my young experience, more a genre of unforgettable short stories than of wholly satisfying novels; it was rare to find a novel that sustained the mind-expanding impact of a single bizarre idea pithily expressed in a few thousand words. The Dispossessed was one such rarity.

Is it my favourite novel, full stop? After my student days I moved on, largely, from science fiction and fantasy, and read more literary fiction, to see what else I'd been missing. Certainly, I've read some great literary novels, whether established classics or the new hotness of their day. But I can't think of any that have shaped me, and summed up all the other books and stories that shaped me growing up, the way The Dispossessed did.

Keen to repeat the experience, I read more Le Guin. The Lathe of Heaven was also enormously compelling, as was The Word for World is Forest. There were some great short stories. And recently, when clearing out some old books, I found I couldn't bring myself to part with A Very Long Way from Anywhere Else, her perfect non-SF young adult novel. I bought many more of her books in the early 1990s, intending to read them all, but other books got in the way, and now I find I have some serious catching up to do. In the 2000s I did, at least, read and enjoy the last of her Hainish novels, The Telling, another fine example of the political and anthropological concerns that underpinned so much of her fiction.

Le Guin's father, Alfred L. Kroeber, was director of UC Berkeley's Museum of Anthropology throughout her childhood, and before she was born had studied and worked with Ishi, the last known member of California's Yahi people. Her family's contact with Ishi offers a clue to the origins of her 1964 short story about Earthsea, "The Rule of Names". From the Wikipedia page about Ishi:

The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber gave him this name because in the Yahi culture, tradition demanded that he not speak his own name until formally introduced by another Yahi. When asked his name, he said: "I have none, because there were no people to name me," meaning that there was no other Yahi to speak his name on his behalf.

The most significant gap in my Le Guin reading is the Earthsea books, which I never read as a child and never got around to as an adult. I've been meaning to dig out an old one-volume copy of the original trilogy that I'd picked up in my Le Guin collecting days, to read and then pass on to my kids, now that my son is enjoying The Hobbit; but I see from my books database (I have too many not to keep one) that I sold it in a move twenty years ago. Time to rectify that, for their sake and my own, in honour of one of the greatest writers of my lifetime.
posted by rory at 3:38 AM on January 24 [14 favorites]


rory: I think you would both enjoy the first Earthsea books for what they are (beautifully written YA fiction) and then get an enormous amount from the later works she wrote that reflected on the gendered world she had created & the place of the feminine within it. (I’m probably not doing them justice - I thought they were just as thoughtful & beautiful as the first books, but in a different way.)
posted by pharm at 3:58 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


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And I really enjoy reading this thread, despite being said. What impact she had!
posted by Harald74 at 4:04 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


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posted by filtergik at 4:07 AM on January 24


Thanks, pharm. When I read them I certainly intend to read all six, and not only the original trilogy. I've also ordered Four Ways to Forgiveness and A Birthday of the World to round out my Ekumen library. Looks as if the Annals of the Western Shore would also be worth investigating. None of her work has ever let me down, really.
posted by rory at 4:29 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


This makes me very sad.
posted by PussKillian at 4:54 AM on January 24


I can't think of another author who has a such a big impact on me as LeGuin, starting from the first time I read Catwings at a very tender age.

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posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:05 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


"His life, that was what underwrote her bargaining. His life, Pao's life. Those were the intangible, incalculable stakes. The money burned to ashes, the gold thrown away. Footsteps on the air."
--The Telling

(I learned not to read this book on the train because the ending always makes me cry. Even more now.)
posted by huimangm at 5:32 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


I just realized that books by Le Guin feature in my two latest books. I retell The Word for World Is Forest in one verse of the opening poem of a chapbook that came out in 2015 and The Farthest Shore is being read by a character in a crucial scene in a novel from last year.

I hadn’t thought of it before now but both the poem and that scene are about bullying and reading science fiction and fantasy, including lots of Le Guin, was how I kept sane during my years of being relentlessly bullied in school.

So, thank you, Ursula K. Le Guin, for doing your utmost to help a boy stay sane in Iceland during the mid-90s.

posted by Kattullus at 5:53 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]


She was our best writer. I only discovered her a few years ago. I've been slowly reading my way through her books, with pauses to reflect and let them breathe. I buy everything in kindle these days but not her books, I buy those in hard copy because I know I will keep them forever.

Last year I read 'Where on Earth' which is one of her story anthologies and four stories in a row I found myself in tears at the end. Tears of sorrow and joy and fresh sensitivity to being alive, being human. She was a visionary, a miracle. She spoke to me so deeply, she touched parts of me that nothing else has touched.

I heard the news this morning and cried and took one of her books with me so that I could read The Shobies' Story, my favourite, again on my way to work.

We have always known this. This is where we have always been, will always be, at the hearth, at the center. There is nothing to be afraid of, after all.

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posted by prune at 5:54 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


A kind librarian turned me on to LeGuin at a very early age. Her books were a huge and positive influence on my life, which I look forward to sharing with my son. I'm sad that she's gone, but I rejoice that she lived.

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posted by Zonker at 5:57 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


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posted by buffalo at 6:04 AM on January 24


Argh, past self, it's Angélica Gorodischer. In penance, here's the first sentence, which Le Guin translated from the Spanish:
The storyteller said: Now that the good winds are blowing, now that we’re done with days of anxiety and nights of terror, now that there are no more denunciations, persecutions, secret executions, and whim and madness have departed from the heart of the Empire, and we and our children aren’t playthings of blind power; now that a just man sits on the Golden Throne and people look peacefully out of their doors to see if the weather’s fine and plan their vacations and kids go to school and actors put their heart into their lines and girls fall in love and old men die in their beds and poets sing and jewelers weigh gold behind their little windows and gardeners rake the parks and young people argue and innkeepers water the wine and teachers teach what they know and we storytellers tell old stories and archivists archive and fishermen fish and all of us can decide according to our talents and lack of talents what to do with our life—now anybody can enter the emperor’s palace, out of need or curiosity; anybody can visit that great house which was for so many years forbidden, prohibited, defended by armed guards, locked, and as dark as the souls of the Warrior Emperors of the Dynasty of the Ellydróvides.
posted by brainwane at 6:06 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]


The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas changed everything for me.

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posted by tommasz at 6:20 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


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posted by dlugoczaj at 7:00 AM on January 24


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She was our great gift.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 7:08 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


mwhybark, thank you for that link to the Mills College commencement address she gave -- in reading it I see how Le Guin's message, that I need to decolonize my mind from thinking that maintenance and carework is second-class compared to exploring and making and building stuff, has influenced my career choices.
posted by brainwane at 7:12 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


There's something else she gave me without meaning to. I knew about her work from the time I was young, and I knew, from the back copy, that she was married with three children. That showed me it was possible to be a literary genius who was a married woman with three children. At the time, I knew about plenty of other famous lady writers, but if I knew anything at all about them personally, it was that they never married, or were unhappy if they did. Also, they were mostly dead.

Le Guin's example showed me that you didn't have to be tragic or a shut-in to be a woman writer. Myself, I never did marry or have any kids, but I wasn't afraid that if I did I would end some part of myself, that I would be renouncing the wider world of thought.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:23 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]


A long-time lurker - just joined because I had to acknowledge both what Metafilter has come to mean to me and what this truly great woman meant to me.

The Earthsea Trilogy and their successors - yes. The Dispossessed - yes. Her short stories and the concept of the Ekumen - hell yes. And if you haven't read it...Four Ways to Forgiveness oh God/Tao yes!
posted by domdib at 7:36 AM on January 24 [17 favorites]


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posted by alleycat01 at 7:40 AM on January 24


Dammit.
posted by rokusan at 7:56 AM on January 24


I wanted just to mention “The Flyers of Gy,” a short story of her’s that I think is practically perfect, and unfairly overshadowed by Omelas.

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?100340

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posted by newdaddy at 9:51 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


"Q. Which is your least favourite fictional character?

A. Do you mean which one do I think is most unbelievable, or which one do I loathe most? I guess God in the Book of Job would qualify for both."
posted by dubwisened at 10:14 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]


Nice Jo Walton remembrance.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:43 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


I was changing from a tadpole into a little frog when I first read Left Hand of Darkness. It seemed to me at the time that the message was sent to men, from women--wake up and join us. I can imagine an afterlife where Ishi shows her how to build a fire.

Anyhow, it's sad when we outlive our heroes.
posted by mule98J at 10:46 AM on January 24


I learned today that Ursula Le Guin went to high school with Philip K Dick, and that late in his career her criticism of the treatment of women in his work inspired him to write the Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which for my money is one of his best novels, and the only one with a female protagonist that I can think of. Here's an entry at the Library of America blog talking about it.

"This is the happiest moment of my life, Ursula, to meet face-to-face this bright, scrappy, witty, educated, tender woman . . . and had it not been for your analysis of my writing I probably never would have discovered her." -- letter from Phil to Ursula, regarding ToTA.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 11:20 AM on January 24 [14 favorites]


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posted by Tabitha Someday at 11:46 AM on January 24


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posted by eykal at 11:51 AM on January 24


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posted by talking leaf at 12:14 PM on January 24


She taught me to consider myself. I will always be thankful.

I want to expand upon this because it sounds weird and even selfish in the face of all the real empathy and humanity LeGuin has taught so many. She definitely taught me empathy, but it was also in a way that just felt like home and confirmed what I knew and felt was right about being human that made the cruelty of the world less difficult to bear.

By considering myself, I mean to consider, reckon, accept and realize my true self and that the platonic ideals culture tries to hammer into us aren't just foreign but most often actively harmful to the human condition and spirit - and the concept of love.

One of the many things her books taught me was to how to love and accept one's self as imperfect, as limited, as human, as unique and so many other things.

The first time I read Left Hand of Darkness might have been the first time I really considered my gender identity questions as valid, if simply not "wrong". Her books also made me consider the privilege I didn't think or know that I had, and to be careful with it.

Left Hand of Darkness is such a huge part of my life that I have an ambient song titled "Kemmer and Blesh", trying to convey the warmth, fragility and even fear of love. (Full albums here. Do feel free to download and replay said files on your devices of choice or share.)

I was lucky enough to hear LeGuin speak at Seattle Public Library, and had a book signed, and was able to meet her for a few brief seconds. And one of the lessons I learned that I thought I already knew is that... that a celebrity like LeGuin doesn't owe me a damn thing, not a hello, not the time of day, not a thing, and that she's already gave everyone so much that it's really selfish to expect to meet an author that's fan and oracle to millions of people and have them even have the energy to acknowledge anyone at all.

Even just the number of people who want to say thank you, much less the number of people who might want encouragement in writing or other more in depth interactions or advice.

And at the Seattle Library reading and signing, she seemed... tired. I mean, not just physically, like obviously weary of the world and ready for whatever was next. Like, ethereal, even ghostly like she was already somewhere else. This was long before Trump's campaign and election, and I can scarcely imagine how depressing and bad it was for her to live through the last two years, to have that disgusting narcissistic abuser being cheered on by so many.

And yesterday, like many, I wept. I am so terribly, awfully thankful for her courage, her strength and convictions to keep writing despite the cultural odds stacked against her.

That she prevailed, and lifted all of us with her.
posted by loquacious at 12:15 PM on January 24 [16 favorites]


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posted by RedOrGreen at 1:24 PM on January 24


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I don't talk about her work much, except to recommend it all the time to everyone. I hold it privately to my self and turn it all over and over, savoring.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:40 PM on January 24 [4 favorites]


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posted by aerotive at 1:40 PM on January 24


Oh this hurts too much. Farewell, great lady and thank you for all the words and thoughts.

posted by Lynsey at 1:53 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I just saw the news this morning. Dammit.

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posted by annsunny at 1:58 PM on January 24




I think I was ten when I discovered my first Le Guin book, The Tombs of Atuan. I remember being deeply uncertain about what was happening in this book, but fascinated all the same by the story of the lonely little girl who had been taken from her loving parents (I, too, was a lonely little girl; though I had a family I lived with I was always drawn to stories about orphans or isolated children) who was learning dark and terrible mysteries. Death was real, sacrifice was real. Love was nascent and not explicit, so a chancy matter. But freedom: that was worth the risk. And learning what seemed truer than truth: that things have true names and to know those names is power and vulnerability and responsibility. (Later in life, when I encountered Plato's ideas about ideals and the Sapir-Whorfian hypothesis, I was drawn to them with the recognition of encountering an old friend changed somewhat, because of course I had already met these ideas thanks to Le Guin; Plato and Sapir-Whorf echoed her, not the other way round.)

Her books have accompanied me through my life. The other Earthsea books, of course. Very Far Away From Anywhere Else (more adolescent isolation and angst), The Beginning Place. The three short Hainish novels in an omnibus edition. Reading Catwings to my favourite babysitting child. Always Coming Home which I always felt guilty about not being able to read properly from start to finish (I am relieved that Scalzi hasn't either). Malafrena which I loved deeply without understanding very much of it as an adolescent, and loved even more in my 20s, by which point I understood rather more of it. The later Earthsea books and the unexpected joy of meeting Ged and Tenar again. The haunting stories in Changing Planes, wry and funny and sad. I still have works of hers to discover (I have never read The Dispossessed).

And her essays and non-fiction are amazing too. I remember a friend (the mother of the favourite babysitting child) giving me a copy of her essay "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Writes the Book" I think, in part, to encourage me that I did not have to choose between writing and motherhood (as it happens, I have chosen neither; but I didn't know that when I was sixteen). And it's part of that essay I want to share, because it still says so much that is true of feminism and women and creativity and privilege. (If anyone wants the full article, which is behind the NYT archive paywall, hit me up on MeMail.)
"The one thing a writer has to have is not balls. Nor is it even, speaking strictly on the evidence, a room of her own, though that is an amazing help, as is the good will and cooperation of the opposite sex, or at least the local, in-house representative of it. But she doesn't have to have that. The one thing a writer has to have is a pencil and some paper. That's enough, so long as she knows that she and she alone is in charge of that pencil, and responsible, she and she alone, for what it writes on the paper. In other words, that she's free. Not wholly free. Never wholly free. Maybe very partially. Maybe only in this one act, this sitting for a snatched moment being a woman writing, fishing the mind's lake. But in this, responsible; in this, autonomous; in this, free."
Thank you, for the gift of your words; for sharing your imagination and your ideas and your spirit with us. For showing us how to be free and responsible; compassionate and understanding yet uncompromising with things that should not be compromised. Thank you.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:00 PM on January 24 [11 favorites]


'Always Coming Home' is one of my favorites. The length and unique structure differ from her other stories, but it's very thought-provoking and re-readable when you get into it (which applies to everything, actually).
posted by ovvl at 3:31 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


She made me feel safer just by being in this world thinking and writing things down, but I didn't even know that until I heard the news.
posted by jamjam at 4:03 PM on January 24 [6 favorites]


Today I suddenly realized that Ursula K. Le Guin will now never receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the injustice of it hit me like a punch. Probably there are other authors in the world in other genres who should receive equal acclaim. But no science fiction writer, NONE, was more deserving of honor than Ursula K. Le Guin for achieving in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:09 PM on January 24 [16 favorites]


I'm a librarian. Most of our copies of her books have been borrowed and some have multiple reserves on them. I've just ordered extras of the most high-profile and rounded out those titles that we were inexplicably missing.

It is hard not to get defensive when colleagues say, well-meaning, "she wrote like fantasy and stuff, right?" Do you not understand that a cornerstone of my literary world has died? Do you know how reductionist that is? Argh.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:45 PM on January 24 [6 favorites]


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posted by elsilnora at 5:58 PM on January 24


Ged has always been my touchstone.
posted by OmieWise at 7:40 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


China Mieville has a response up: Forgetting by Commemoration, or, the Disrespect of Respect
Shall we try that commemoration again?

An unflinching radical has died. A literary colossus has died. A comrade, a giant of modern letters has died.
posted by Lexica at 8:15 PM on January 24 [11 favorites]


Science Fiction writers are supposed to predict the future, but few have been this prescient:
Ursula K. Le Guin in 2014: “I think hard times are coming… We will need writers who remember freedom.”
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:48 PM on January 24 [6 favorites]


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posted by drnick at 2:07 AM on January 25


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posted by neushoorn at 3:44 AM on January 25


Jo Walton remembers Le Guin. "Most people’s National Book Award pieces are nice bits of pablum, hers was a polemic and an inspiration. I emailed to say it was an inspiration, and she told me to get on with my writing, then. I did."

Tor.com collects links to some other tributes from the sf/f community.

"The Day Before the Revolution", 1974.
posted by brainwane at 7:13 AM on January 25 [4 favorites]


.

It took me until now to be able to face this post enough to even leave a period.
posted by DSime at 7:23 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


As a child, Earthsea gave me something indescribable that I needed in a difficult time yet even as a middle aged woman I am still learning from her. With all the tributes I have come across new essays and stories that I didn't fully explore and also a little hope that I may still get some stories out of me despite kids, a job, and work on the whole “I am not sure that anybody has invented old women yet".
posted by typecloud at 7:50 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


I have been sick since Sunday. Seeing this filled me with disbelief. I have been well aware of her years but had thought that we had a decade at least of wisdom and fight left with her. She just seemed like the type to make it to a century. I wanted that. Even when I disagreed with some of what she had to say. My condolences to her family. Some part of her will live on so long as we do.

.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 7:51 AM on January 25


China Mieville has a response up: Forgetting by Commemoration, or, the Disrespect of Respect
Shall we try that commemoration again?

An unflinching radical has died. A literary colossus has died. A comrade, a giant of modern letters has died.

I love his tribute--shout out?-- to Le Guin in The City and the City, where the mythical third city is called Orciny.
posted by jokeefe at 8:53 AM on January 25 [5 favorites]


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posted by pianoblack at 8:58 AM on January 25


Naomi Novik's poem "For Ursula":
...I want to take your hand and put it on the breathing monster’s side
In the dark room, where we can’t see what we’re touching
We only feel it’s in here with us, too vast to touch all at once.
Here, it’s rough and scaly, and here, it’s smooth and hard as bone
And it’s turning even as we try to make it out.
But she did her best to tell us of every part that she could reach
Calling back sometimes from the far side, muffled by its bulk ...
posted by brainwane at 11:24 AM on January 25 [13 favorites]


Gabrielle Bellot: The Amorphous Fictional Spaces of Ursula K. Le Guin
posted by Chrysostom at 12:27 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, the full Novik poem made me weep. It is beyond worth checking out.
posted by corb at 12:43 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Ah no no no no no. I selfishly wanted her to live forever.

.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:11 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


Today I suddenly realized that Ursula K. Le Guin will now never receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the injustice of it hit me like a punch.

And yet they could give it to Bob Dylan. [/still bitter]

posted by jokeefe at 1:47 PM on January 25 [5 favorites]


She lived her life well, and I miss her. But I will remember her, to keep her memory alive.
posted by flamewise at 1:57 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]


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posted by Pong74LS at 5:08 AM on January 26


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posted by photoelectric at 5:43 AM on January 26


I should give Earthsea another go. I couldn't get much into it when I tried previously, although I read my way through most of her short fiction and loved Changing Planes and Lavinia.

Here some part of me really believed she'd always be there.
posted by inconstant at 7:25 AM on January 26


The full Novik poem is absolutely wonderful - an act of love. The lines about teeth are so true! See Ursula's site for more tributes.
posted by domdib at 8:22 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


And before I forget, while Four Ways to Forgiveness is wonderful, please make sure to seek out the fifth story, "Old Music and the Slave Women" from The Birthday of the World. Extraordinary and chilling.
posted by domdib at 8:35 AM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Such a genius, and so deeply human.

.
posted by Fibognocchi at 7:50 PM on January 27


Is there or will be a fanfare for a (re)read of Earthsea?
posted by destrius at 11:41 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


Is there or will be a fanfare for a (re)read of Earthsea?

That's up to you, but I did make one for The Dispossessed
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:45 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


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