I am someone who has been often disappointed by vaunted authors of the past (Vonnegut, Clarke, etc.), because their work suffers from the "it's not novel (anymore)" feeling one often has when watching old movies. I get that these were ground breaking when they first came out, but they don't seem to shine anymore, because I was first exposed to works that have iterated upon them...no nostalgia factor to sweeten the deal for me.
Put another way: I totally get that muskets were ground-breaking for the time, but gosh-darnit, I have seen nuclear submarines.
When reading the linked article, I felt a lot of the same: a lot of the "amazing" things I have come across in other novels, and they feel like par for the course for a good book.
Also the whole spiel about Ursula wanting to change the world, and needing a lever and a place to stand...well, she didn't change the world, in hindsight. Did she?
A really bothersome quote from the article: "By speaking from Orsinia, as its only authorized emissary, Le Guin reminds us of everything we take for granted and everything we have neglected."
What the heck does that sentence mean? I can't imagine everything I have taken for granted and neglected as a single meaningful thought or concept. In fact, if I tried to imagine everything I have taken for granted and neglected, it becomes a thought stretched so thin, that it loses all meaning. It becomes nothing because its too many things.
So am I fair in discounting this sentence (and most of the article) as fan gibberish?
We can go all the way back and talk about Homer as the best example. The way that _The Iliad_ tells a story, conveys the experience of war, illustrates a character, even the way the language works as you read is completely different from a modern novel. It takes work to adapt to it.
I would say that, in general, that's the joy I find in all older literature, whether it's Joyce, or Dickens, or Philip K. Dick, or Jack Vance: in finding out how it wants to talk to you, and letting yourself fall into some strange mode of communication.
In my mind, every author brings something uniquely their own to the table, and the older you get, the more strange and unfamiliar that thing is.
Anyway — YMMV, of course, and you may be more right than I am. But your take on this made me think a bit, and I thought I'd talk about it.
But you can get enjoyment from reading hard/old things.
Driving to a great view might not be as enjoyable as hiking to an ok view.
But Philip K. Dick is crap. Not cool to say it. And like you say might have been great for his time, but try and read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" it's plain awful.
But you can't tell me you wouldn't love to see a musket battle, some of the classics are still around because they were good.
OT: I find Ursula K. Le Guin work just ok. Very overrated. But it's not hard to read something like Earthsea and you can then say you've done it.
As a ton of SF, his themes and the ideas behind are still really interesting, but it lacks a ton of polishing work.
(Gabriel Garcia Marquez was also in that group for a number of years/readings, but I finally got over the hump and love that style now. To the point that he may be my favorite author. I think Günter Grass was my stepping stone there.)
What you need is time. Lots of time. I've read the complete in search of lost time novels when I was around 15. I found it easy to read because I had nothing else to do. And I am plenty sure it changed a lot of things for me.
I've been reading the Magic Mountain and Ulysses for 10 years, unable to finish them yet, but I don't feel it's a problem. Just as you, if I try again time after time, it's probably because I know it's worth it somewhere.
Incidentally, it's not limited to old books. I had the same trouble with Quicksilver from Neal Stephenson until something cracked and I was able to read the whole baroque cycle in less than 3 months.
Also, I recommend listening to the Audible version of Ulysses, which I found much easier than reading it in printed form - the language really comes alive.
That would be my recommendation — not to worry about "getting" it, and just read and enjoy the words on the page, particularly the way they sound. The prose in Ulysses is song-like, it can pull you into a trance. (Much like the _Odyssey_.) Obviously sometimes you have to look up a word, but sometimes it's better to let it go and lose yourself in the effect.
I don't know if I'd push myself through to read it nowadays, though. I am more willing to give up on a book now.
Clarke and others established the mainstream of modern scifi: spaceships, advanced technology, robots etc. I do 100% agree that most of this genre has been done better later, and especially Clarke suffers from this.
Le Guin's scifi is ...different. Her emphasis is not on technobabble or flashy new gadgets. Her style is ...anthropologic. Technology and space travel are there, but in the background. And this line and tradition of scifi has received much less modern attention, compared to the mainstream.
So while Clarke has been surpassed many times in his chosen style, I don't think anyone has surpassed Le Guin in her style. Not that I am aware of anyone even having tried, really.
Just grab one of Le Guin's books (The Left Hand of Darkness is the most famous) and see if you like her style. I think it's still unique.
That sounds like a general description of the "space opera" genre: more emphasis on numerous people and their complex interactions.
To be honest her responses (e.g http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2015/07/27/navigation-q1-how-do... and http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2016/03/21/navigating-the-ocean... )
seem saccharine and trapped in the past (1940s? 1950s?). This may be ageism on my part. I think there's a degree of pomposity and self-importance in these blog posts and in the Orsinia review.
See also Le Guin's views on the term "ichor":
'Author Ursula K. Le Guin, in "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie", calls the term "the infallible touchstone of the seventh-rate."'
(Seventh rate? This is ridiculously snobbish. She sounds like a stereotypical patronizing bearded UNIX programmer)
Here's a enjoyable (to me, at least) short story of hers that you can read online (neither in the Earthsea or Orsinia setting):
Then decades later she started to think of the implications of the chosen cosmology. They are cruel, but so are some of the actual folklore cosmologies. And then she invented this way to correct the cruel features in the fabric of her cosmology, and to write a very unique novel about it.
I don't see any hints in her pre-2001 Earthsea stories that she'd had intended this feature to be "fixed" later.
The last Earthsea books are a bit to the first three what the prequels are to Star Wars. They're the author being ashamed of their earlier work, and radically reinterpreting it.
Of course, Ursula Le Guin is a much better writer than George Lucas is a director, so the later books are not exactly bad. But they do retcon on the universe and the message.
The first three Earthsea books were heavy with Taoism, which is of course heavily gender essentialist. So it was a lot about gender roles, but in a complex way. The main character Ged is a celibate man, balancing between "doing" (yang) and "being" (yin). I liked it. I think she managed to take a pretty sexist world-view (Taoism) and make it more human, sympathetic - and balanced, ironically enough.
But in the latter books, she apparently didn't think she had been feminist enough. The villains are all men. The victims are all women. Ged now stabs a guy with a pitchfork to save a woman, stops being celibate (with the woman he saved...), I mean, come on. I think it went the wrong way entirely when it came to gender roles.
If I re-read this series I'll be on the lookout for the Taoism.
It's pretty hard to say why some stories click with some readers. I found some of her earlier stories fairly didactic, but then again they were written in the 60's.
E.g. some here have mentioned Left Hand of Darkness, which goes to great lengths to describe a society where gender is fluid (the people of Gethen changes gender regularly), and the consequences of that on a society where labelling people over gender makes no sense. By consequence, the man from Earth is seen as a pervert for being permanently male.
The idea of gender-changing aliens is not so novel any more, but while transgender people are more accepted, the society depicted in the novel where changing gender or taking on different gender roles is fully accepted is something we are nowhere near. The novel was published in 1969.
What sets it apart more than depicting a now "normal" type of aliens changing gender, is that it is not superficial.
E.g. you find lots of SF where novel details about aliens are basically visual. In Star Wars, for example, even characters like Jabba the Hutt or Chewbacca are pretty much treated like an awkwardly shaped humans - we see little evidence of consequences of any thought given to how their differences would shape their respective societies.
But when Le Guin sets out a world, she tends to weave together a society where the differences from our world have consequences. We don't get a Gethen that is basically Earth with people that change between man and woman with no societal consequences. We get a Gethen where the concepts we tie to gender roles don't make sense to the locals, because Le Guin have given her interpretation of what the consequences of such a change might be.
One younger (though sadly dead) author who adopted much of Le Guins sense of letting social aspects ripple through his work was Iain (M.) Banks, who while focusing more on technology than Le Guin, also spends more time than usual for SF exploring social dynamics and their consequences.
Orsinia tales are similar (and I wish I remembered more details) yet different. Similar in that she has made her changes to society, and then let them ripple through the fabric of her created society, and described the result, instead of inserting her changes and let the rest of society remain.
This attention to detail in depicting the social structure of her fictional societies tends to be what sets here apart. Her societies feel three dimensional and are often the point of her stories, where most fictional societies in literature tend to feel like cardboard cutout theatre sets in the background of the real focus of the story.
> Let me state here a personal conviction that appears, right now, to be profoundly unfashionable; which is that a planned economy can be more productive - and more morally desirable - than one left to market forces.
> The market is a good example of evolution in action; the try-everything-and-see-what- -works approach. This might provide a perfectly morally satisfactory resource-management system so long as there was absolutely no question of any sentient creature ever being treated purely as one of those resources. The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is - without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset - intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.
> It is, arguably, in the elevation of this profoundly mechanistic (and in that sense perversely innocent) system to a position above all other moral, philosophical and political values and considerations that humankind displays most convincingly both its present intellectual [immaturity and] - through grossly pursued selfishness rather than the applied hatred of others - a kind of synthetic evil.
> Intelligence, which is capable of looking farther ahead than the next aggressive mutation, can set up long-term aims and work towards them; the same amount of raw invention that bursts in all directions from the market can be - to some degree - channelled and directed, so that while the market merely shines (and the feudal gutters), the planned lases, reaching out coherently and efficiently towards agreed-on goals. What is vital for such a scheme, however, and what was always missing in the planned economies of our world's experience, is the continual, intimate and decisive participation of the mass of the citizenry in determining these goals, and designing as well as implementing the plans which should lead towards them.
> Of course, there is a place for serendipity and chance in any sensibly envisaged plan, and the degree to which this would affect the higher functions of a democratically designed economy would be one of the most important parameters to be set... but just as the information we have stored in our libraries and institutions has undeniably outgrown (if not outweighed) that resident in our genes, and just as we may, within a century of the invention of electronics, duplicate - through machine sentience - a process which evolution took billions of years to achieve, so we shall one day abandon the grossly targeted vagaries of the market for the precision creation of the planned economy.
> The Culture, of course, has gone beyond even that, to an economy so much a part of society it is hardly worthy of a separate definition, and which is limited only by imagination, philosophy (and manners), and the idea of minimally wasteful elegance; a kind of galactic ecological awareness allied to a desire to create beauty and goodness.
> Whatever; in the end practice (as ever) will outshine theory.
He just philosophizes like that in the middle of some discussion about some artificial space civilization lmao it's amazing
I'm very sorry but if you don't think one of the most influential writers of the 20th century has changed the world, that view seems like a failure of your perspective.
The article was absolutely fan gibberish ;).
I wouldn't say Le Guin is a huge part of the main stream lineage of fantasy, but for a particular branch she definitely is. If that branch is important to you, you're missing out if you haven't read her stuff.
Le Guin sort of writes social/political commentary through the vehicle of fiction. Just read more. You'll get it eventually.
James S. A. Corey writes beautiful socio-political commentary in The Expanse series.
Max Brooks' World War Z was biting in its own special way, more (admittedly positive) social than political commentary.
Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice shows us a world where the only pronoun is "she", and what it might mean for a ship to love her crew.
There are lots of people who write social and political commentary through the vehicle of fiction. It has kind of been one of the defining features of fiction for all of its existence, no?
> Just read more. You'll get it eventually.
This is reasonable. I get that some things can't be communicated too well, and a lot of my favourites I could recommend only in the same way.
Why didn't the article simply begin and end with those two phrases?
That said, I find Le Guin quite dull, though the characterisation is excellent.
In suspect we're in that ambiguous area in which people have different opinions but I do find it a little absurd to reference those three books in response to a comment which implicitly disses Vonnegut.
Maybe you are pretty meh on those books, because something else has captured your fancy much more. I would be interested in knowing what captures your fancy, because we have a common ground we're working off of (in terms of what we've both read).
> In suspect we're in that ambiguous area in which people have different opinions but I do find it a little absurd to reference those three books in response to a comment which implicitly disses Vonnegut.
I wouldn't dare diss Vonnegut, or even Le Guin, or any writer, for that matter---it's not my place, but when I come across articles that evangelize them in the way the OP does, I can't help but think "but what's so great about them?". For instance, Vonnegut established tropes and themes that writers today riff off of constantly, so he's a pioneer. I get that. In some distant sense, I can appreciate that too. I just can't enjoy his works the same way I can with stuff that has come out more recently, because his stuff doesn't seem novel to me anymore.
I just think Le Guin works are still worth reading in themselves without having to justify why they are better/more novel/more correct etc than any other particular work.
Makes sense to me.
Anyone who writes fantasy should read her essays in "The Language of the Night". (Also Poul Anderson's "On Thud and Blunder".)