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Ursula K. le Guin - worth reading everything?

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Filk, Aug 4, 2013.

  1. Filk

    Filk Troubadour

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    Hello everyone,

    I am currently reading A Wizard of Earthsea for the first time in probably 15+ years and was wondering if anyone would recommend the rest of le Guin's works. I'm somewhat enchanted with her minimalist, story-telling style and would love some feedback on her other works. Figured this was a good place to seek it out. Thanks in advance!
     
  2. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    She has a lot of books. I can't think of any that I've read that I disliked, but some are better than others. Not all of her stories are fantasy, either. Quite a lot of science fiction, and a few stories that are more realistic. She can also be quite political, far left (I think she's an anarchist) with equal rights and feminist ideologies. I mean, I think that comes through in all of her writing (how many white people are in Earthsea?), but some of them are more obvious than others. So depending on what your tastes are, that can be a turn off.

    That said, she's one of my favourite authors, so obviously I would recommend her.

    The Left Hand of Darkness is her most famous book, I think. Science fiction, deals with gender and class. It's probably my least favourite of the books I've read of hers. The worldbuilding wasn't to my tastes. But it's also regarded as a classic of the genre, so it's probably worth reading just for that.

    Lavinia is the story of the character of the same name, famous from Virgil's Aeneid. A mythological romance with a great setting (Ancient Rome!). I really like the character that LeGuin creates around Lavinia, who doesn't get much description at all in the original mythology. The way she thinks is fascinating, and it plays around with how much of the Aeneid was created by Virgil himself. Great book, but probably better if you're familiar with the epic poem.

    The Dispossessed, set in the same universe as TLHoD, is one of the best utopian stories I have ever read. Very political, particularly in an economic sense, although she touches on issues of gender as well. It also deals a lot with linguistic relativity (language and it's relationship with culture). And despite being in the same universe as TLHoD, I found the worldbuilding in this one to be near perfect. It has a very simple story, as most utopian novels do, but I think it works very well.

    She also has a series of kids books about cats with wings. I've never read them, but I assume they are amazing based on the premise.
     
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  3. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    The only books I've read by her are the Earthsea books. Judging by that, I'd say read the stuff she wrote before she "converted" to feminism. Because after that her works seemed to become really preachy in an annoying, anvilicious sort of way. With regard to the Earthsea books, STOP after The Farthest Shore. After that is when the soapboxing starts. The story suffers as a result and the transition is really jarring. There are some good ideas in Tehanu and The Other Wind, but they are marred by the preachiness.
     
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  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yeah, don't want to read stuff by uppity female writers, right?

    Of course, this is a false dichotomy, since she was writing feminist themes before Earthsea, so the idea of some 'conversion' to feminism that ruined her writing is pretty silly on its face.
     
  5. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I don't know much about her politics admittedly, but it was obvious to me while reading the books that there was a huge shift in her thinking between the third and fourth books and the story suffered because of it. Plot, action, and the fantasy itself took a backseat to whatever message she was trying to push and I found Tehanu, frankly, boring and preachy. The Other Wind was slightly less boring and preachy, but I still didn't care for it. Regardless of the author's personal opinions, I felt the third book was the series' natural conclusion and everything after that was downhill.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I haven't read those in years and years. I think the themes were always present, or at least they were present in some of her other work before Earthsea. It sounds like you're saying she got heavy-handed with the themes in the later books. I remember liking Tehanu well enough way back when, but I doubt I could tell you anything about the book at this point.

    The Dispossessed is a great book, and if you haven't read that you might check it out. I also liked The Left Hand of Darkness.
     
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  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I'm not a le Guin fan, but I have read one story of hers that I really liked--The Lathe of Heaven. It's the strongest counterargument I've ever read to my own personal philosophy, and while it didn't change my mind, it felt instructive. It has a very Philip K. Dick feel to it, coupled with le Guin's own ideas, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's a Dick fan.
     
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  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yeah, Lathe of Heaven is a good one. I think Le Guin is also a fan of P.K. Dick.
     
  9. Filk

    Filk Troubadour

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    Thanks folks! I can deal with preachy as long as the caliber of her writing is similar. She has a simple profundity that I enjoyed. Finished the book last night and think I'll give the rest of her works a try. Many tanks roll out for the suggestions. The Lathe of Heaven is an awesome title, maybe I'll start there.

    Also, Ophiucha, I would assume that children's stories about flying cats by le Guin would be amazing as well hehe.
     
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  10. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

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    I read the first three Earthsea books in college. One of my professors, a fantasy aficionado and a man whose opinion I came to respect, said a similar line about heavy-handed feminism in later Earthsea books. He praised her themes in the first three, but thought she spent too much time with the message later on. I haven't read them, at his word. As it is, the first three Earthsea books are incredible IMO.
     
  11. Filk

    Filk Troubadour

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    Well, I've read The Lathe of Heaven, The Dispossed, a collection of short stories, and I'm halfway through Tehanu. I didn't find her work preachy; feminism and anarchy are themes in her works for sure, but she doesn't beat you over the head with them. I actually felt that her Buddhist or Taoist beliefs came through much more often.

    I quite enjoyed it all. I haven't read much science fiction in my days, so that was interesting. I've also lived in Portland, OR, so Lathe was fun and sort of personal. I would definitely recommend everything I've read.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    People are more apt to find something preachy when they don't agree with it, so I don't put too much stock in criticism that something is "preachy." Nine times out of ten it just means the person making the comment didn't like the viewpoint, but would be happy to read something one hundred times preachier if it supported their own views.
     
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  13. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

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    @Steerpike

    Very good point. Most recently, someone called Mistborn preachy at some point. I didn't pick up any of that.
     
  14. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    Mistborn? Really? I didn't find it preachy at all, and I know for a fact that I disagree with the author on several political points. It certainly had small reflections of those beliefs in the worldbuilding and the character design, but I think that is the case with all authors. It didn't seem to have a strong enough effect to turn me off, though. Not like how I'd imagine a non-feminist would read some of LeGuin's works, which are very actively discussing feminism. Which is fine - I think fantasy and science fiction is a wonderful way to explore issues in ways we can't always examine from our perspective - but obviously it can be hard to read those when you don't agree with them.

    There is one book, Herland, a feminist utopia from decades ago that is a bit wince-worthy from a modern perspective. Lots of casual racism, some eugenics discussions, that sort of thing. Interesting, historically speaking, but the 'preachy' intentions of the text only serve to highlight the areas in which we disagree, whereas books that don't explore politics can get away with a lot more before I'm turned off.
     

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