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28 August 2001



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Ursula K. Le Guin: A Return to Earthsea September 2001

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the most respected and acclaimed authors of SF and fantasy, with 5 Hugos, 5 Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and many other awards to her credit. She was one of the earliest SF authors to gain literary recognition outside the genre, and to be embraced by the academic community.

Many of her books lie in two ongoing series. The science fiction "Hainish" series, set in a future universe spanning 2500 years, includes classic novels The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974), short works such as "The Word for World Is Forest" (1972), and last year's Locus Award-winning novel The Telling. (In this series she coined the word "ansible" for a faster-than-light communication device, a word that has become part of the SFnal lexicon.)

Her fantasy "Earthsea" series began with a trilogy, The Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore (1968-1972), followed 18 years later by Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990), and then (despite that volume's subtitle) two more books this year: Tales of Earthsea and The Other Wind (forthcoming Sept. 2001).

Other works include the Philip K. Dickian novel The Lathe of Heaven (1971); multimedia novel Always Coming Home (1985) with music and poetry; and numerous collections of stories, poems, and essays. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Photo by Beth Gwinn

Fan/Tribute sites:
Ursula K. Le Guin
Unofficial Page
Le Guin's World

Salon interview
Encyclopedia of SF entry

for books by Ursula K. Le Guin

Excerpts from the interview:

ĎĎI thought Tehanu was the last book of ĎEarthsea.í My two protagonists were well along in their 50s or so, and had already got married. Things seemed to have been wound up. But there were obvious big holes, like: who is the child, Tehanu? (Or what is she?) I thought they were questions I couldnít answer, that were best left to the readerís imagination. I thought this must be the end. Was I wrong? Yes. Tehanu is obviously more than just an abused child, because the dragon treats her as daughter and she can speak dragon, the old language. And then I got interested in why Earthsea is the way it is. Why arenít there any women in the school? Why has wizardry been gendered the way it is? Thereís an interplay which Iím getting more aware of as I get older: the writer as reader. Youíve got to be able to do that. So I started Ďresearchingí the history. I went into the archives—which are all in my head, of course! íí


ĎĎMy books are character-driven. I donít have plots; I have situations, I have stories. Iím a good storyteller. But plot! When I read a mystery, I canít even follow the plot. I say, ĎJust tell me what happened and who did it! I donít understand all these intricate convolutions.í A real plot writer, like Dickens, Iím awed by. How did he do it? How did he remember? With The Other Wind, I had characters I needed to follow, and I let them lead me. In most science fiction, thereís a more rational process going on—in fact, itís one of the most intellectual kinds of writing there is, and thatís part of the beauty of it. But it still doesnít have to be very heavily plotted, as long as you understand what your subject is and can tell a story about it. Story is so strong, we all just instinctively follow. Thatís what story is for: to try to explain the labyrinth weíre in, to guide us through somehow.íí


ĎĎCommercial fantasy? It fills a place that romance doesnít, because romance is so fixated on sexuality. The romances I like are the nursy-novels, which tell you a good deal about life for a nurse in a big hospital. But a lot of romances are just emotional orgies. Commercial fantasy supplies the same reassurance as romance does, and a lot of the same familiar themes, but at least there is some imagination, at least itís a slightly different world.íí


ĎĎIíve never been very good at analyzing my own processes as a writer. I think I have considerable resistance to just that. So long as I can just do it... Itís like a refrigerator. I really donít know how the freezer works, but so long as it does, Iím not asking. Iím a little reluctant to dig too hard into my own processes; I just enjoy using them. The capacity to write is what I enjoy most, and always have. I do not understand writers who say. ĎOh, itís a pain, a pain, and a strain, and I hate doing it, and Iíll do anything to avoid it!í Well, of course itís hard work. I would say writing, composing, is the hardest work Iíve ever done except for maybe having a baby. Composition uses all of you. It doesnít get harder, it doesnít get easier—itís just very hard work. When Iím doing it, Iím in a kind of trance state where I really couldnít tell you who Ursula is, because Iím just doing the story. But all the same, itís what I most want to do. Everybody has lazy times when they donít want to do hard work. It isnít Ďfun.í The fun part of writing for me is when the composition is done and Iíve revised it and Iíve got it pretty near right. Then you can start twiddling and polishing—get every single little word just right, all that little end work. Thatís like a crossword. It eats you up, and you can do it forever! In fact, Iíve learned to stop fiddling and twiddling. The book is never finished till the writer stops writing it. Iíve read overpolished fiction, and itís kind of a bore. Fiction needs a certain roughness.íí

The full interview, and bibliographic profile, is published in the September 2001 issue of Locus Magazine.


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