On Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le GuinUrsula K. Le Guin was an influential writer and advocate for the progression of science fiction and fantasy into the realms of mainstream literature. She was also a strong advocate for female writers and did what she could to promote equity in publishing. Needless to say, she was a strong-minded and socially aware individual and she has been praised and criticized for these very reasons. To me, she is an inspiration and encourages me to improve myself.

I hate to say I have only recently discovered Le Guin, but what I have read so far has already impacted my own views of writing and the field of writing. I can’t recall when I first discovered who she was (I believe I discovered her from Neil Gaiman), but I do remember when I read her work for the first time. It was The Left Hand of Darkness and I finished it roughly two years ago. She died three weeks later on January 22nd, 2018. I have since read a collection of non-fiction The Language of the Night and watched a documentary titled The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.* The documentary was well-one and worth the watch.

Within The Language of the Night, Le Guin discusses much of what the world of science fiction looked like from a writer’s perspective during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was at this time when the publication of science fiction and fantasy was changing. These two genres, which are often paired together, were looked down upon as a secondary form of writing or considered childish stories. There were a lot of terrible stories written during the first half the 20th century (and the second half as well), but something happened during the second half which changed societies views about these topics. I believe J.R.R. Tolkien was a big influence (mainly on the view of fantasy as a legitimate form of storytelling) primarily with his essay “On Fairy-Stories.” These areas of entertainment still face some resistance today but it is hard to deny that stories written within the classification of either genre are influential and have merit. This is not just because they are extremely popular across the globe, but because they are lasting.

Yes, we are lucky because most of the not-so-great science fiction and fantasy stories written in the 1900’s have been culled by time thus leaving us with the better stories still standing, but there are some hidden gems still out there and I hope they do not fall into obscurity or disappear altogether. I don’t believe Le Guin’s works are at any risk of disappearing. I still need to read many of her books, but the one’s I hear most about are her Earthsea series and the Hainish Cycle (this later series consists of standalone novels and includes The Left Hand of Darkness). My lovely wife bought me the illustrated Earthsea series for our one-year anniversary. I hope to read it this year.

Le Guin is known as one of many essential science fiction authors. She was advocating for the field around the time that these types of books were first being taught in schools. Many people today, myself included, grew up reading fantasy and science fiction in school alongside the other “classic” books. I read The Hobbit in middle school and again in high school (though I had already read it before it was “required”). I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and loved it. Science fiction and fantasy have become part of the norm. They remain popular and are growing fields. At the time Le Guin was becoming a popular writer of these genres, it was a somewhat niche field. She wanted it to grow and grow it did. In the 1970’s, Le Guin stated that only 1 in 30 writers of science fiction were female. She was a rarity. She worked to encourage women writers and urged them to resist the use of male pseudonyms which was still common at that time. I’m glad that the times have changed and the world of writing is more inclusive than the past, but we still have a ways to go. I, like Le Guin, will advocate however I can to promote diversity and inclusion in all areas of life.

Though many readers believe her work can be a little too political, primarily her non-fiction, I find it mostly reassuring and encouraging. Her writing was her form of learning her social environment and saying what she wanted to say. She wrote stories of worlds where certain aspects of our society were dismissed or exaggerated in order to explore what those fictional societies would look like. This is what I believe makes them so interesting to read. Many of the aspects she writes about are still very much relevant today, nearly fifty years later, and will likely remain for a long time. I think her writing will endure because most of her stories are simply other worlds we can enjoy. Oftentimes they are, but they still hold a gem which we can either discover or ignore depending on what we want from the book. That gem is much like a flag to be raised toward a cause we may wish to stand behind.

Le Guin has influenced many writers who are popular today. I hope she continues to influence writers and others, much like she has influenced me. I may not love all of her works, but I will respect her for who she was and what she believed. Her words survive her and will continue to influence the world to persevere and improve itself. That is the best that any writer can hope for.

 


*Link was available at the time of writing. If the link is unavailable, I recommend searching the web or checking your local library for a copy of this film.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001-a-space-odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke was published only a few months after the movie released in 1968. I have not seen the movie and had not read the book. The introduction to the copy I have states, by Clarke himself, that Stanley Kubrick commissioned the novel because he wanted a genuine story for his movie. Clarke and Kubrick thus worked on the screenplay together while Clarke was writing the book. I had no idea that this story was developed this way and thought it was an interesting and likely isolated case as most movies are based off of books or a novelization of a movie is released after the movie screening. One precedes the other. This one was more of collaboration or joint production.

I have known of this book for a long time but only recently read it. I knew of the movie but have still not seen it. They are, to me, quite older works (they were released more than two decades before my birth and only seven years after my father was born; also 2001 was 19 years ago now). I of course have read much older works, but this one came to be placed on my TBR pile after I read an introduction to another novel which claimed that there are six novels that have proved to be the most influential to the development of science fiction. Naturally, I was curious. I had only read one of the six listed and I respect the author of that introduction. I also greatly enjoy science fiction so I made it a goal to read every book on this list.

For those who are curious, the list was:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White

Of these six, the only I had read was Neuromancer. I am not sure why The Once and Future King would be considered science fiction as it centers on the Arthurian tales, but who am I to refute somewhat trivial genre categories.

I have now read all of these and agree that they were likely highly influential to science fiction as a genre. Most of them were written in the 1960’s or prior with the exception of Gibson. I loved a few and only liked others. As for Odyssey, I liked it and can see its merit, but do not believe it would be a popular novel if written today. It was written at the peak of space exploration and public curiosity with the cosmos, which unfortunately has diminished. Not so much the curiosity but we have stopped that fervent wish to explore beyond our planet. Probes are still sent out and they gather public interest momentarily (i.e. the Curiosity rover), but we no longer as a species desire to go beyond. We no longer care to have manned missions beyond orbit.

Odyssey is well written and is still interesting partly because we still have so little knowledge of what lies at the outer reaches of our solar system. We know a lot more than we did in 1968, but we no longer look out at the stars. We have reverted back to fighting each other and squabbling over idiotic disagreements or straight up greed. I’m sure anyone who lived in the 1960’s and watched the moon landings thought the year 2000 would be much different than what it turned out to be. Though I can probably say the same of what we believe 2050 will look like from today.

I wish we would return to the dreams of space exploration. This book was kind of a nostalgic reminder that the human race once did have such dreams. However, I am recommending it much like it was recommended to me. I believe it was influential to the growth of science fiction and has influenced many stories since. I knew of HAL 9000 without having read or watched the movie, but he is just a minor part of this book. So, if you are a fan of science fiction or are interested space, then you will likely enjoy this book. I hope you maintain your curiosity and go look out at the stars every once in awhile.

Happy Reading.

Talking to Strangers

Talking to StrangersTalking to Strangers (subtitled What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know) was published late last year. Of all the books by Malcolm Gladwell, of which I believe I’ve read all but one as of today, this is decidedly my favorite. I have recently become fervently interested in communication and this book encompasses that very concept in relation to how humans interact with each other.

I must admit that this book does cover some, what I consider, heavier subjects. Humanity has not treated itself very well throughout history. He does bounce around between subjects, but he masterfully ties them all together as is his modus operandi.

The book is centered around the arrest of Sandra Bland. Gladwell incorporates fascinating  information about policing, intelligence agencies, alcohol, and other topics such as rape. He covers psychologies and the tendency to default-to-truth. I believe he ties these all together tighter than the subjects of his other books, which are equally interesting. The bottom line tends to be that we as a species, even incorporating differences between societies and even after thousands of years of development, are not even close to being able to communicate without a plethora of barriers. These are often preconceptions or implicit biases that may guide to believe one thing and missing the mark (often completely).

The past few years have shown me that communication is essential. Within the workplace, it can expedite solutions to complex problems when done effectively, and when done poorly can create complex problems from a simple task. Communication is essential to understanding each other. Unfortunately, we see primarily divisive information online today. Huge gaps in political ideology and social subjects. I don’t believe we have more problems than we have had in the past. I just believe we are more aware of every little thing that is happening because we can access it and share with at any second of any day with the tiny computers in our pockets.

Even though we do have access to the sum of humanities knowledge, we often only see a partial narrative. Anyone who is unable to see beyond that partial narrative, or chooses not to, is simply (by definition) ignorant. I learned more about recent headline news from this book than I did at the time the events were happening. This is partially because I did not go looking for additional information on the cases in question. However, I was aware of them prior to reading this book. Primarily the cases of Brock Turner and Sandra Bland. I have a better understanding of these events, and am glad of this despite the unsettling nature of how they happened.

Gladwell does well, as he almost always does, in distancing himself from the narrative and preventing any personal bias to enter his prose. He admits one such bias in this book but without that admission we would not have known the passion he has for that particular event.

He also did something quite interesting with this book. I listened to the audiobook version which he reads himself. He structured this audiobook to be similar in a few aspects to a podcast. He uses recordings of interviews when possible to let us hear the person’s voice instead of Gladwell quoting them. He also has re-enactments done of court hearings and interrogations. This, within a book about communication, improved the experience. I recommend the audiobook version if you have access to one. I borrowed it from my library though I did have a long wait before it was my turn.

I hope you add this book to your list or pick it up soon to read or listen to. It encourages us to think about the way we interact with strangers and even friends. It dares us to do better while also letting us know that it is not our fault, or anyone’s, if we fail to understand each other whether upon first meeting or decades later. I hope to do better and communicate more effectively. Perhaps doing so will eliminate some of the bad we see in the world. Perhaps it will make only my own life a bit easier and hopefully brighter.

As for you, reader, I want to thank you for reading my words and taking in my intent to communicate my belief that this book is informative and enthralling. At least, it was for me, and I hope it will be for you.

Happy Reading.

New Year, New Series

Nothing like starting a new year, so why not start a new books series as well? Below is a list of book series I’ve read in the past few years which I enjoyed and have recommended to friends. Another list, below the first, includes several series I hope to read this year. These are books I’ve been hearing a great deal about or have always intended to read but have not yet gotten to them.

1. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the WorldI read this series last year and it was an incredible ride. This series begins with The Eye of the World and includes a total of 15 books, one of which is a prequel. The series started in 1990 and was completed in 2013. Brandon Sanderson completed the final novel (which was published as three novels due to length) after Robert Jordan passed away in 2007. If you enjoy fantasy and are up for an epic adventure filled with great characters, magic, several unique societies, and a genuinely friendly and non-toxic fanbase, then look no further. The series may take you a while, it took me 9 months, but the journey is worth the investment.

 

2. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

TNotWBeginning with The Name of the Wind, this trilogy first arrived in 2007. The sequel arrived in 2011 and there are rumors that the third installment will arrive later this year. There is a novella and a short story that are supplemental to the main story, which you likely will devour as I did after being pulled into the series. This series is considered fantasy due to the use of a detailed magic system, supernatural elements, and a few fantastical creatures. The story is beautifully written. If you don’t like waiting, I may recommend starting this series after the last book arrives. However, if you are a fan of great stories, don’t pass this one up.

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

DuneDune is a series I must admit I have not completed. I have only read the first book, which can be read as a standalone novel. Frank Herbert wrote 6 Dune novels and 14 more were written by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson. This brings the total to 20 books should you be interested in a long series. You can simply just read the first one, like I did, as it is a great story which ends without leaving you hanging like some installments in a series do. You therefore have the option of moving forward into the longer series if you want.

 

4. John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

princess-of-mars-tpEdgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan series, but he wrote a fun science fiction series that follows the protagonist John Carter. He is a former american civil war soldier who gets unexpectedly transported to Mars where he finds that it is inhabited by several species. There are 11 books in the series, but only the first three follow John Carter himself and is called the first Barsoom trilogy. I have only read the first four, and therefore can only recommend the first three as a trilogy to read. The first book is titled A Princess of Mars. It was first written in 1912 but reads as if it were written recently.

5. The Inhuman Trilogy by John Marco

Eyes of GodThis trilogy begins with The Eyes of God. A fourth book actually came out fairly recently which extends this trilogy, but I have not yet read it. Mostly because I would likely reread the trilogy before reading the new book. This story has elements of the Arthurian tales and follows a knight named Lukien who falls in love with his queen, Cassandra. This is just the beginning and the story goes well beyond simple court politics. It is an adventure into realms of ancient sorcerers and magical weaponry.

 

Series I hope to read this year.

1. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
Books of the New SUn.jpg

Starting with The Shadow of the Torturer, I first discovered Gene Wolfe from a book of nonfiction by Neil Gaiman. I later purchased the New Sun series after I learned Gene Wolfe passed away last year. I’m exited to read it.

2.  The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
Murderbot-novellasI’ve been hearing a lot about this series and they are all great things. This series consists of four novellas. Therefore, I will likely read through the series pretty quickly. The fifth installment comes out later this year as a full novel. I may wait to read the first four until closer to the release date.

 

3. The Tales of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Books of EarthseaI’ve become a huge fan of Ursula K. Le Guin since I read her book The Left Hand of Darkness. I know the Earthsea novels have been well-loved by many, but I never knew about them until recently. My wife bought me the entire illustrated series as an anniversary present and I hope to read it soon.

 

 

4. The Imperial Radch Series by Ann LeckieAncillary-trilogy.jpg

This trilogy begins with Ancillary Justice. I first discovered this series when I went to see Ann Leckie. I saw her a second time at a library event. Despite attending two events, I have yet to sit down and read her series. I hope to change that this year and read all three.

5. The Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti Trilogy.jpg

Binti has been on my radar for awhile now. I hope I can read the series this year. This is a another series of novellas, so I should be able to read them quickly.

 

Well there you have it. Several series I recommend, and several series I look forward to reading myself. I hope you have a bountiful year of books and great reading. I’m sure I will discover new favorites myself.

Happy Reading.

A Monster Calls

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls was written by Patrick Ness and was inspired by an idea from the late Siobhan Dowd. I believe this story holds a power that can help many people. It follows a young boy named Conor O’Malley who must face a harsh truth; that his mother’s illness is not going away. His mother’s illness has impacted his entire world from his own relationship with his mother to how he is treated by teachers and other kids at school. A “monster” visits Conor to tell him three important stories, and in return Conor must tell the monster his own story. It is the journey of these stories that force Conor to re-evaluate his view of the world and ultimately face his own truth.

What I believe is so powerful about this book is not the “monster” or Conor’s gradual understanding, it isn’t even the power of stories (though I will always argue that stories have power, as this one does), this book holds a power to help those experiencing grief. Especially anyone who must face the gradual decline of someone they love. Anyone who is in a position where they feel powerless and can do nothing but hope. That limbo between sickness and death. The power of this book is how it helps those stuck in that limbo, which is something most people have no idea how to do.

That may not make it seem like a particularly uplifting book. Any discussion of death is not particularly uplifting, but this book faces it with strength and makes the reader evaluate not only how they would react to such a situation but how others react when they must face it as well. This book is not just for anyone who has faced the grief of a loved one’s passing. It is for everyone because I believe we all have, in some way, experienced grief.

This book was adapted into a move a few years ago in 2016. I have not yet seen the movie, but I think I will watch it eventually. I hear it was well-adapted and it does have a great cast. Liam Neeson voices the monster. I usually prefer the book to the movie in most cases. However, I think this story would do well on screen accompanied by that always emotion-inducing medium of music.

I am recommending this book because I believe it has the power to heal beyond just those who are grieving. It has the power to help us understand and better accept ourselves as human beings. We all have emotions and sometimes they get the better of us. This story reassures us that sometimes that is okay. Sometimes that is best. That it doesn’t make us lesser people because we cannot fully comprehend our own feelings.

My hope is, yet again, that we can all go into this new year with a goal to better understand and accept ourselves as well as others.

Happy Reading.