A little while ago, I announced the SF&F Genre Classics (Re)read, in which I planned to read (or reread) classics and then blog about them. For those who want to play along, first up is the recently deceased and much beloved Ursula K. Le Guin.
Where does one start with Le Guin? She was a grand master of words. She tackled big ideas like a philosopher, and captured small moments with a poet’s ear. She was a multi-talented author of a huge range of works–adult science fiction and fantasy, YA and children’s books, novels and short stories, poetry, non-fiction, even translations. So…take your pick.
I haven’t read even half of them, which is why I’m embarking on this slow (re)read. Here’s a sampling:
YA Fantasy: Earthsea and Annals of the Western Shore
Many readers of a certain age first discovered her through the Earthsea books, which today might be shelved as YA fantasy. She first published a trilogy (starting with A Wizard of Earthsea), and then, much later, returned to the world of Earthsea for several more loosely connected novels and short stories.
More recently, she wrote another YA fantasy series: Gifts, Voices, and Powers.
Children’s Fantasy: Catwings
Writing a good children’s book is much harder than it looks, but she has done that too, with her Catwings series (flying cats! what’s not to love?). I haven’t read her other kids’ books–if you have, please chime in!
The Hainish Cycle
Besides Earthsea, she is best known for The Left Hand of Darkness, a science fiction novel that explores gender in ways that were groundbreaking at the time (it was published in 1969 and won two major genre awards, the Hugo and the Nebula).
This novel is part of a loose cycle of stories all set in the same universe, dubbed the Hainish Cycle. One way to describe them might be “sociological and psychological science fiction”.
She has also written a number of short stories in both the Earthsea and Hainish universes, as well as standalones. Many are just excellent, and we’ll be getting to those in our (re)read. Speaking of which…
I’ll be posting every two weeks for a while, starting on April 23. I’ll be tackling the Hainish Cycle novels in publication order (The Left Hand of Darkness is number 4), mixed with her early short stories from the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. If you’d like to follow along, here’s what’s coming up:
- “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” (short story)
- “Semley’s Necklace” (short story; also published as “The Dowry of the Angyar”)
- Rocannon’s World (novel; note that it starts with a prologue, which is actually “Semley’s Necklace”)
- [short story, TBD]
- Planet of Exile (novel)
…and then we will see!
Her early novels are very short by today’s standards, though not for the time when they were written. If you want to play along, they can be found in several collections, most recently Worlds of Exile and Illusion (available in trade paperback and ebook formats).
See you back here on April 23 for “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”!
If you’re already a fan, what’s your favourite Le Guin novel or short story?