Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Ursula K. LeGuin (In Memoriam)
I picked up one or another of Le Guin's books several times growing up and in my twenties, and I never had a taste for them. They were thick and sticky, like the books we had to read in high school and there weren't enough proton phase blaster or quantum resonance detonations. Biff McManthighs wasn't unloading a cargo carrier of whup ass on some Badly Bad Baddies who were clearly analogues of Nazis or had an exoskeleton and a penchant for genocide.
At some point in my early thirties, I realized it was possible, even likely, that I did not actually have all the answers, and perhaps more profoundly, that the place where I perspicaciously insisted there could be no answers might include more insight than I was allowing if I stepped outside of the presumptions that everything I happened to believe right this moment was the natural order of things.
In Le Guin I found writing that asked questions rather than being cocksure of the answers. I found ambiguity. I found delightful characters and a moral compass that didn't presume righteousness, but only that the assumptions should be questioned. And the writing was so elegant and precise and a breathtaking example of prose rhythm.
Within a few days I picked up The Left Hand of Darkness as well. Then The Wizard of Earthsea. Then..... And then I just kept going. I couldn't get enough. I'm not sure there's a Le Guin novel I haven't read at this point (though I do occasionally stumble upon a previously undiscovered short story.) With every work I found an exquisite lesson in how to empathetically challenge the status quo.
Yesterday the news broke that Ursula K. Le Guin died. She was 88, in poor health, and it was not a shock, but I still retreated to my pillow fort, reread "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (again), and cried. She is so important to who I am a writer and I feel like I lost a mentor.
We were lucky to have her for the time we did. And so fucking fortunate that her words live on.