If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you might be aware that Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my all-time favourite writers, and one of the writers who has deeply influenced my own writing. I first read her original Earthsea trilogy when I was in my teens, and it profoundly affected me. Her prose affected the way that I wanted to write, and the world and characters of Earthsea affected the way I saw the genre of fantasy, and deepened my love for it.
All her work is worth reading, but here are five of my favourite books and stories by Le Guin.
The Earthsea Cycle
It’s six books now, but I’ll put it down as one “read”, because it’s such an excellent series. The original trilogy pitches you into a vivid and mesmerizing world with magic, dragons, wizards, “true names”, and dark undercurrents of death and fear. This, together with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, is my gold-standard for fantasy. Both the older books, and the newer ones (starting with Tehanu), are brilliant works of fiction. The Tombs of Atuan in particular absolutely floored me as a teenager and still does. And when I re-read the books recently, I was amazed by the intensity and powerful prose of The Farthest Shore.
The books in the series are:
- A Wizard of Earthsea
- The Tombs of Atuan
- The Farthest Shore
- Tales from Earthsea
- The Other Wind
The Ones Who Walk Away From The Omelas
This short story is a classic, and it’s a classic for a reason. It’s available in Le Guin’s anthology The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, and also in many other anthologies. You can also find it in full online. It’s a beautifully told and utterly disturbing short story, and a prime example of Le Guin’s masterful writing. It’s the kind of story that will stick with you once you read it.
This science fiction novel is part of Le Guin’s Hainish cycle, set in the same fictional universe as The Left Hand of Darkness. It tells the story of two neighbouring worlds, Urras and Anarres, and it explores many themes that recur in her writing: gender roles, political oppression and freedom, and how cultures and peoples interact. It’s the kind of read that makes you think about, and look at, our own world in a different way.
Get it at Amazon: The Dispossessed.
The Left Hand of Darkness
This book was published in 1969 and won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. It takes place in a society where there are no genders, and where all individuals share the biological and emotional makeup of both sexes. To quote Le Guin’s own introduction to the 1976 edition of the book:
This book is not about the future. Yes, it begins by announcing that it’s set in the “Ekumenical Year 1490-97,” but surely you don’t believe that?
Yes, indeed the people in it are androgynous, but that doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millennium or so we will all be androgynous, or announcing that I think we damned well ought to be androgynous. I’m merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are. I am not predicting, or prescribing. I am describing. I am describing certain aspects of psychological reality in the novelist’s way, which is by inventing elaborately circumstantial lies.
Get it at Amazon: The Left Hand of Darkness.
The Lathe Of Heaven
Another Le Guin classic, this very evocative and absolutely mind-bending science fiction novel where the main character George Orr has dreams that quite literally change the world. I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t read it, but suffice it to say that this is another tour de force by Le Guin.
Get it at Amazon: The Lathe of Heaven.