"To light a candle, is to cast a shadow": Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929 – 2018
Who now has the stature and respect to call out poseurs like Atwood and Ishiguru? Who is there who can be relied on to correct the lazy and meretricious? She led lead by example, not just in speeches or reviews. The world is poorer for this but it's going to be decades before we really see how much.
Ursula k. Le Guin is one of my lifelong favourite authors who I return to often. I first read “A Wizard of Earthsea” when I was 8, in between the Hobbit at 7 and The Lord of the Rings at 9 (precocious child…), followed by the rest of the trilogy, and then later books like “The Left Hand of Darkness”, “The Lathe of Heaven”, “The Dispossessed” and on and on.
What a writer - in the six Earthsea books alone, she said more, and with more purpose and clarity, than any other fantasy author, except Tolkien, at least in my opinion.
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.
UKL said she wanted to write about Europe but felt that as an American, she wouldn't be taken seriously if she did so - so she invented a central European country (Orsinia) in the hope that would allow her to get away with it. She set her first novel, Malafrena, there and talked about love and freedom and revolution, but it didn't work; the novel was re-hashed several times before publication and she had already established herself as an SF novelist by that time. Superficially, a historical novel about trying to escape foreign control and gain self-determination doesn't seem to fit with the space adventures and magical worlds of the familiar later UKL - but I've already revealed the actual close connections; made up places, similar thematic concerns. Despite all the re-working it never really attains the greatness UKL was capable of and remains a quirky early book that only completists will probably want to read.
The following Orsinian Tales, which range across the entire history of the country from tenuous early Christian conversion to the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, however are on average greatly superior and I recommend them. Unfortunately to get the most from them, Malafrena is a pre-requisite, slight slog that it is. The stories are set not only at key points in European history but also just wherever they might need to be to tell the story UKL had in mind. The end of Summer in the countryside, 1935, doesn't particularly redound through history, for instance, but the story captures a mood exceptionally and delightfully.
The book ends in 1989, the most optimistic year in Europe since the start of WWI. The Iron Curtain fell and a great, menacing Russian shadow over Europe was removed. Shocking and scary to note, in 2018, the extent to which that shadow is regrowing and spreading over America, too. Ukraine, and Georgia strategically nibbled at. America that defined itself as standing against the Soviets, now a client state of a resurgent Imperialist Russia.