Tag Archives: ursula le guin

Goodbye to a woman who revolutionized science fiction: RIP Ursula K. Le Guin

There are two books that that were integral to my decision to become a writer of science fiction and fantasy, and both are by Ursula K. Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. When I read those as a young adult, I was blown away at the way her thought experiments in those novels could leave me stunned and amazed — and considering the world in a very different way than I had before. One of the lines I absolutely loved (and I’m quoting from memory here, so it might not be accurate): “The king was pregnant.”

The Left Hand of Darkness

I used to say jokingly that I wanted to be Ursula K. Le Guin when I grew up. It was one of the greatest honors I have ever experienced when a review compared my fiction to that of Le Guin.

I read her revolutionary works in the seventies, and they may not be as eye-opening now as they were then. On the other hand, when you look at the present political situation in the U.S., revolutionary thinking seems to have gone by the wayside.

RIP Ursula K. Le Guin. May your brilliant thought experiments soon be revived and social progress not be in vain.

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The Hijacked Hugo Awards, 2015: New Tales of Beset Manhood

Ignore the dinosaurs

Well, that at least was what I intended to do when I first found out what was behind the exceedingly odd list of Hugo nominations this year. What, no Asimov’s? No F&SF, Strange Horizons, Interzone, or any of the other big names besides Analog? And who in the blue blazes is this John C. Wright person, who has THREE nominations in the novella category, as well as one each in short story and novelette? I cannot think of a single heavy-hitter in SFF in my lifetime who has dominated the ballot that way. And how in the world is some unknown publisher by the name of Castalia House so prominent among the nominations? And PATRIARCHY HOUSE? Where in the world are we now? How can this possibly be the specfic world I know and love?

I haven’t been very active in the SFF community for a number of years, although it is still what I read and write. But aside from the Villa Diodati workshop for writers of specfic in Europe, which I founded almost a decade ago, I don’t often go to the places where writers in my genre hang out anymore, aside from a few intimate spots on the Internet. Before all this crap hit the fan, I hadn’t even heard of the poor Sad Puppies (not not to mention their more rabid counterparts, the Rabid Puppies), who feel so irked and threatened by ethnic diversity and literary SF that they started a campaign to free “their” genre from the yoke of what they call “SJWs” (Social Justice Warriors, a term I also only learned today) and lead it back into the “Golden Age” of SF.

The problem is, it’s my genre too. And I never liked the “Golden Age” of SF. In high school, I cut my teeth on The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, still two of my favorite books. Those books are all full of politics and gender issues and sexual diversity. The freedom to make up worlds like that was what I always loved about speculative fiction.

This new big uprising of the dinosaurs hit me out of the blue. And I tried to ignore it, I really did. But then I realized I had to add my 2c just so I could get all this crap out of my brain and get back to important stuff like writing and translating and preparing for the next trip.

Here a quote from the discussion thread over on the Passive Guy blog from “Kudzu Bob”, a supporter of the poor Sock, er Sad Puppies:

As for the SJWs, they think that racial, religious, and sexual diversity is a supreme good that somehow magically increases the sum total of human happiness, but is this really the case? As sci-fi fandom has grown more and more heterogeneous in nature, it also has become more and more divided against itself, at least to judge by recent developments. And if diversity makes people more miserable rather then less, then the SJWs are doomed to failure, no matter how noble their intentions.

Um, no. I don’t have any noble intentions. I don’t vote for what I think is best for world peace, I vote for what I like. Certain tropes bore me and make it impossible for me to read to the end — while for some readers it will be precisely those tropes that will make them clap their hands enthusiastically. There should be room for both of us, for all of us. I like diversity. I realize that there are many people out there who do not, but that does not mean they are liberating me from some onerous chore when they impose their uniformity on me. I don’t feel any misery in the online and face2face SF community I have, despite our national, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, and religious diversity. We get along just fine, thank you, despite our differences. Sometimes we even learn from each other.

I also like “literary” SF. I admit, I have a PhD in English Literature, (luckily the eggs that will now be thrown at me are only virtual) but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be entertained. For me, SF with a literary sensibility gives me the best of all worlds: great plots with beautiful language exploring meaningful themes. Not tough guys stomping out monsters or conquering new planets. Of course there is a place for that for people who want to read it, but how in the world did it become something that involved some poor sad sock puppies hijacking the Hugo ballot?

This all reminds me of a little kerfuffle in the SFF community 10 years ago which inspired an article I wrote with Jay Lake for IROSF, which is still online, although the zine has folded, “Tough Times for Beset Manhood: Or, Where Has Good Old Golden Age SF Gone?” The Sad Puppies movement is definitely (among others) a male thing. While the poor deprived male puppies put a handful of token women on their slate, the list is predominantly male authors. With the exception of one woman writer (whom I know and like), I can’t find a single woman who supports these poor puppies.

This is much bigger than the few flame wars on various discussion forums that inspired me and Jay 10 years ago, however. It has deprived a number of writers whose names were not on the sock puppies list of a chance to be nominated for a major award.

I feel like a sad puppy today too.


Clay Hackett (Flickr, Creative Commons)

A bunch of people who have said much more meaningful stuff than me on the issue:

Matthew David Surridge

Charlie Jane Anders

Chuck Wendig

John Scalzi

“Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

Book View Cafe Blog – Ursula Le Guin on Kazuo Ishiguro:

A wild country inhabited by monsters, an old couple who must leave their home without knowing exactly why, a sense that important things have been, perhaps must be, forgotten… Such images and moods could well embody a story about the approach of old age to death, and indeed I think that is at least in part the subject of the book. But so generic a landscape and such vague, elusive perceptions must be brought to life by the language of the telling. The whole thing is made out of words, after all. The imaginary must be imagined, accurately and with scrupulous consistency. A fantastic setting requires vivid and specific description; while characters may lose touch with their reality, the storyteller can’t. A toneless, inexact language is incapable of creating landscape, meaningful relationship, or credible event. And the vitality of characters in a semi-historical, semi-fanciful setting depends on lively, plausible representation of what they do and how they speak. The impairment of the characters’ memory in this book may justify the aimlessness of their behavior and the flat, dull quality of the dialogue, but then how is it that Axl never, ever, not once, forgets to address his wife as “princess”? I came to wish very much that he would.

Mr Ishiguro said to the interviewer, “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

Well, yes, they probably will. Why not?

It appears that the author takes the word for an insult.

Read more at “Are they going to say this is fantasy?”.