The Essential Ursula K. Le Guin

Don’t know where to begin? Here are her masterworks.

In These Times StaffFebruary 19, 2018

Ursula Le Guin at home in California Dec. 15, 2005. (Photo by Dan Tuffs/Getty Images)

A WIZ­ARD OF EARTH­SEA (1968)

Ursu­la K. Le Guin, who died on Jan­u­ary 22 at the age of 88, attract­ed an avid fan base, includ­ing the major­i­ty of In These Times edi­tors. Her com­ing-of-age nov­el A Wiz­ard of Earth­sea is set in a mag­i­cal arch­i­pel­ago notable for its racial diver­si­ty. My col­or scheme was con­scious and delib­er­ate from the start,” she wrote. I didn’t see why every­body in hero­ic fan­ta­sy had to be white.”

THE LEFT HAND OF DARK­NESS (1969)

In The Left Hand of Dark­ness, Le Guin takes us to Geth­en, a plan­et inhab­it­ed by ambi­sex­u­als, gen­der­less except for two days a month when they tran­si­tion to male or female, depend­ing on their roman­tic cir­cum­stances. We see the world through the eyes of Gen­ly Ai, a black man from Ter­ra on a diplo­mat­ic mis­sion, who nav­i­gates polit­i­cal intrigue, his own pre­con­cep­tions of gen­der, and falling in love.

THE DIS­POS­SESSED: An Ambigu­ous Utopia (1974)

This adven­ture is set on the anar­chocom­mu­nist Anar­res, the tit­u­lar ambigu­ous utopia. A fan of anar­chists Peter Kropotkin and Paul Good­man, Le Guin ful­ly imag­ines a func­tion­ing egal­i­tar­i­an soci­ety, warts and all, right down to who cleans the toi­lets (every­one). Her pro­tag­o­nist chafes at the strict social norms until he trav­els to neigh­bor­ing Urres and expe­ri­ences state social­ism and cor­po­rate capitalism.

THE UNRE­AL AND THE REAL: The Select­ed Short Sto­ries of Ursu­la K. Le Guin (2012)

This self-edit­ed anthol­o­gy, 38 sto­ries writ­ten over the span of 50 years, con­tains the 1974 Hugo Award-win­ning The Ones Who Walk Away from Ome­las” — an 8‑page fable about a city with a secret that some call life-chang­ing.” As Le Guin writes in her intro­duc­tion, this sto­ry has a long and hap­py career of being used by teach­ers to upset stu­dents and make them argue fierce­ly about morality.”

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