The very first modern science fiction book I can remember reading was Rocannon’s World, by Ursula K. LeGuin, published in 1966 as an Ace Double with a forgettable novel by some other author on the flip side. (That is, you literally flipped the book over and there was another cover, another book that started on the other side.) The title was LeGuin’s first, too, and the beginning of her Hainish universe series. I don’t remember much about the story—age 13 not only seems a lifetime ago, it is a lifetime ago. I just know after I read that book I couldn’t get enough of science fiction—or of LeGuin either.
I read her award-winning SF books The Lathe of Heaven and The Left Hand of Darkness in college, long before I’d ever heard of the Hugo or Nebula awards. (The latter title won both awards in 1969.) Her next novel, The Dispossessed, also won the Nebula and the Hugo from the science fiction community in 1974. My husband and I used a quote from that book in our wedding ceremony when we married in 1976.
By this time, though, the SF world was undergoing a major upheaval. The kind of character-driven. “psycho-social” SF LeGuin and the rest of her New Wave fellows were known for was derided as “too soft” by hard-science writers like Ben Bova and Larry Niven. Tolkien was hot (showing up in Led Zeppelin lyrics and hippie artwork), so fantasy crowded science fiction off bookstore shelves, leading to an ugly backlash among SF pros. LeGuin, like many of her female peers, turned to fantasy and YA, leaving SF behind. Other female SF authors stopped writing altogether.
I lost track of my heroine for some time. But LeGuin never stopped. She wrote several award-winning fantasy and young adult series. She wrote children’s books. She wrote poetry. She was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2001, was made a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2003 and received numerous other awards over the years for her writing and contributions to the SF and fantasy communities.
In recent years, though she was in her eighties, she wrote a regular blog—thoughts about her life, her writing, the adventures of her cat. I caught up with her, glad to have access again to her acerbic wit and keen insight. Now I have reason to say I’ll miss this woman who has had so great an influence on my life. Ursula K. LeGuin transitioned to the next world January 22, at the age of 88, after several months of declining health.
She leaves behind her body of work to have its impact on succeeding generations of readers, including this passage from The Dispossessed, which has such personal meaning for me and my husband:
We come from great distance to each other, over great distances, over years, over abysses of chance. It is because we come from so far away that nothing can separate us. Nothing, no space, no time can be greater than the distance that stretches already between us, the difference of our being, our minds; that gap which we bridge with a look, with a touch, with a word, the easiest thing in the world.