Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Fiction: Ursula Le Guin: Fantasy & Science Fiction for All Ages

--by Hanje Richards

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (born October 21, 1929) is an American author. She has written novels, poetry, children's books, essays, and short stories, most notably in the genres of fantasy and science fiction.

Le Guin is well known for her adult books of fantasy and science fiction (also known as speculative fiction), and she also writes for children.

Always Coming Home - Envisioning a possible future (and attacking present folly), Le Guin reinvents a ``primitive'' past. Dancing their oneness with nature, valuing cooperation over competition, the Kesh survive contact with the hierarchic, war-making, death-dealing Condors, who are a lot like us. If it's hard to believe in a people who use computers and electricity but plow with oxen and see wealth as giving, that's part of the point. A rich and complex interweaving of story and fable, poem, artwork, and music, it totally immerses the reader in the culture of the Kesh, a peaceful people of the far future who inhabit a place called the Valley on the Northern Pacific Coast. [fantasy]

The Beginning Place - Fleeing from the monotony of his life, Hugh Rogers finds his way to "the beginning place" – a gateway to Tembreabrezi, an idyllic, unchanging world of eternal twilight. Irena Pannis was thirteen when she first found the beginning place. Now, seven years later, she has grown to know and love the gentle inhabitants of Tembreabrezi, or Mountaintown, and she sees Hugh as a trespasser. But then, a monstrous shadow threatens to destroy Mountaintown, and Hugh and Irena join forces to seek it out. Along the way, they begin to fall in love. Are they on their way to a new beginning... or a fateful end? [fantasy]

Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences - Harmony with nature is more than just a greeting card sentiment in this short story collection. The gap between the natural world and the human has become a virtual chasm. Shifting points of view allow even a lab rat his voice of protest. But, voice alone is not sufficient to narrow the gap: one must set fire to complacency and open oneself up to hearing voices other than one's own, as in the story “May's Lion,” about a woman who transcends her fears to help a mountain lion to die. [science fiction]

Catwings - Mrs. Jane Tabby cannot explain why all four of her kittens were born with wings. But when life on the city streets becomes too dangerous, it is clear that her dream for her children might some day come true – they can fly away from the city slums of their birth. And one day, they do. But not even their mother could have foreseen the hazards of country living. [juvenile fiction]

Catwings Return - James and Harriet, the youngest and most adventurous of four winged cats, return from the country refuge that they found in Catwings to the inner-city slum where they were born, to see their mother again. They find a frightened winged kitten before finding their mother, the genteel Mrs. Jane Tabby. She is delighted to see her grown children and grateful that they've brought back her lost kitten. She insists that they take the kitten to safety in the country. [juvenile fiction]

Changing Planes - In Le Guin's series of 16 vivid stories, an airport-bound woman with an inquiring mind visits assorted other planes of existence. With dispassion, wry humor, and a keen eye, and aided as well by research conducted in libraries of various kinds, she describes those excursions in hopes of inducing the reader to try interplanetary travel. Each story features a different society and culture, and some of these settings allow telling commentary on the foibles of our world. [fantasy]

Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places - This collection of lucid, witty, warm, and intelligent “talks, essays, occasional pieces and reviews” was written with the goal “to subvert as much as possible without hurting anybody's feelings” on matters about which she says, “I think I ought to stand up and be counted, lest silence collude with injustice.” Her subjects – which she categorizes (and even codes for the reader) as Feminism, Social Responsibility, Literature, and Travel – offer astute observations on a variety of timely topics. [adult nonfiction]

Earthsea Trilogy - Includes A Wizard Of Earthsea, The Tombs Of Atuan & The Farthest Shore [fantasy]

.....Book 1. A Wizard of Earthsea - Ged was the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, but once he was called Sparrowhawk, a reckless youth, hungry for power and knowledge, who tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance. [juvenile fiction]

Book 2. The Tombs of Atuan - A tale about a reckless, awkward boy named Sparrowhawk who becomes a wizard's apprentice after the wizard reveals Sparrowhawk's true name. The boy comes to realize that his fate may be far more important than he ever dreamed possible. Le Guin challenges her readers to think about the power of language, how in the act of naming the world around us we actually create that world. Meet Tenar, a priestess to the “Nameless Ones” who guard the catacombs of the Tombs of Atuan. Only Tenar knows the passageways of this dark labyrinth, and only she can lead the young wizard Sparrowhawk, who stumbles into its maze, to the greatest treasure of all. [juvenile fiction]

.....Book 3. The Farthest Shore - Darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: the world and its wizards are losing their magic. Despite being wearied with age, Ged Sparrowhawk – Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord – embarks on a daring, treacherous journey, accompanied by Enlad's young Prince Arren, to discover the reasons behind this devastating pattern of loss. Together, they will sail to the farthest reaches of their world – even beyond the realm of death – as they seek to restore magic to a land desperately thirsty for it. [juvenile fiction]

Fisherman of the Inland Sea: Science Fiction Stories - The award-winning stories in this book range from the everyday to the outer limits of experience, where the quantum uncertainties of space and time are resolved only in the depths of the human heart. Astonishing in their diversity and power, they exhibit both the artistry of a major writer at the height of her powers and the humanity of a mature artist confronting the world with her gift of wonder still intact. [science fiction]


Gifts - Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability – with a glance, a gesture, a word – to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill. [juvenile fiction]

Lavinia - In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.

Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner – that she will be the cause of a bitter war – and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life. [adult fiction]

Left Hand of Darkness - The story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But, to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction. [fantasy]

Searoad - In one of her most deeply felt works of fiction, Le Guin explores the dreams and sorrows of the inhabitants of Klatsand, Oregon, a beach town where ordinary people bring their dreams and sorrows for a weekend or the rest of their lives, and sometimes learn to read what the sea writes on the sand. Searoad is the story of a particular place that could be any place, and of a people so distinctly drawn they could be any of us. [adult fiction]

Solomon Leviathan’s Nine Hundred and Thirty-First Trip Around the World - A far-fetched, humorous tale of two animal friends, an intellectual giraffe and a boa constrictor, both philosophers, who set out to sea in search of the horizon. Soon, however, they are swallowed by a whale, Solomon Leviathan, the same ancient whale who swallowed Jonah and Pinocchio long ago. To their dismay, Solomon tells them he has swum around the world 930 times and has never yet reached the horizon. An elephant they meet in India informs them that the horizon does not exist, but they decide to steam ahead just the same. As the story ends, they are still continuing their elusive pursuit, with the two philosophers reciting Runes and Odes and the whale telling tales from history. [juvenile fiction]

Tales From Earthsea - Five stories of Le Guin's world-renowned realm of Earthsea are collected in one volume featuring two classic stories, two original tales, and a brand-new novella, as well as new maps and a special essay on Earthsea's history, languages, and literature. [ya fiction]


Three Hainish Novels: Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusion - The first three novels of the Hainish Cycle – Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusions. The opener, Rocannon's World, shows what happens when an anthropological expedition to a new planet gets tangled in bureaucracy before going suddenly wrong. Planet in Exile, set 600 years later, follows a tale of two cultures - one alien, one human - forced to meld into one. Finally, World of Illusion closes the circle, showing us the final confrontation between humankind and the mysterious race variously known as the Shing, the Lords of Es Toch, the Enemy, and the Liars of Earth. [science fiction]

Very Far Away From Anywhere Else - Owen is seventeen and smart. He knows what he wants to do with his life. But then, he meets Natalie and he realizes he doesn't know anything much at all. [juvenile fiction]



Wind’s Twelve Quarters - Seventeen powerful stories, each with an introduction by the author, ranging from fantasy to intriguing scientific concepts, from medieval settings to the future. Including an insightful foreword by Le Guin, describing her experience, her inspirations, and her approach to writing, this stunning collection explores human values, relationships, and survival, and showcases the myriad talents of one of the most provocative writers of our time. [fantasy]