Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Ursula K. Le Guin

Go To
If science fiction is the mythology of modern technology, then its myth is tragic.

"If a book told you something when you were 15, it will tell it to you again when you’re 50, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book."

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (October 21, 1929 — January 22, 2018) was a prolific American writer, and is most known for her Speculative Fiction novels, although she also wrote poetry, nonfiction, and young adult novels. She was the daughter of a well known anthropologist and it shows in her world building which rejects the standard Eurocentric models. Her works often explore cultural, sociological, ecological, or feminist themes; anarchism and Taoism also occasionally show up subtly (she is probably the best-known Western Taoist and has both written a commentary on and translated the Tao Te Ching) or, in the case of The Dispossessed, not so subtly (Anarres is an anarcho-communist society; this is a political book but not an anvilicious one: the subtitle is An Ambiguous Utopia, and a central theme of the work is that Anarres has decayed in the years since its founding due in no small part to ideology and bureaucracy replacing revolutionary fervour). Her works have greatly influenced modern Fantasy and Science Fiction authors, with systems, words, and ideas from her works showing up so often that some have become tropes in and of themselves. One of these was her coining of the word ansible, which has appeared in numerous scifi works since.

Her Earthsea novels have twice been adapted to visual medium. One is the oft-maligned Sci Fi Channel miniseries Earthsea and the other is the Studio Ghibli film Tales from Earthsea. Le Guin made no secret of the fact that she was not particularly fond of either adaptation, though she was rather more charitable towards Studio Ghibli. She was herself very keen on a planned adaptation of the first Earthsea book with director Michael Powell (of The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus fame) a screenplay of which was previously published, and regretted that it never received funding. The one adaptation she did work closely on was a popular PBS TV movie of The Lathe of Heaven as a creative consultant.

Her story "The Word for World is Forest" was included in Harlan Ellison's anthology Again, Dangerous Visions.

Her works include, but are not limited to:

Works by Ursula K. Le Guin contain examples of:

  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Nine Lives: The story is about his attempt to come to terms with being an individual after the rest of his "siblings" are killed (the clones having been bred and raised as Single-Minded Twins).
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": In "Paradises Lost", the colonists of a new planet (who are just off the generation ship where they've lived for several generations) dub a certain kind of insect a "dog". They know it's not what the word originally referred to, but no-one's ever seen a dog, so no-one cares.
  • Chaste Hero: In Very Far Away From Anywhere Else, the protagonist mentions that he's never really understood why his high-school classmates are so interested in sex.
  • City in a Bottle: "Paradises Lost" is the generation ship take on this, with the twist that the ship isn't stranded. Some of the people on the ship (by the end of the story, a large majority) believe that there's nothing outside the ship and "the journey is all". A minority remember the original purpose of the voyage, which is to explore and possibly colonize a far-flung planet.
  • The Constant: In "April in Paris", the protagonists occupy the same apartment in different centuries. Notre Dame is another Constant.
  • Cutesy Name Town: "Ether, OR" (1995), about a town that moves from place to place.
  • Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: "The Birthday of the World" has a royal family in which the eldest boy and girl siblings marry each other, in the manner of many royal dynasties of the ancient world. Ze, the only daughter, knows she is slated to marry her brother Tazu, but when she is little, she isn't overly pleased about this and expresses a desire to instead marry another of her brothers, Omimo. Tazu grows up wise. Omimo becomes a horrific war criminal.
  • Generation Ships: "Paradises Lost" focuses on the generations who grow up on the ship.
  • God-Emperor: "The Birthday of the World" is about a civilization where the ruling couple are God. The law is that God must be a man and a woman, and they're referred to as God Himself and God Herself. The tradition is fractured when Omimo tries to usurp the position of God Himself from his brother, leading to a division in the culture between the original God and the fake God. When the humans arrive, the current God decides to make them God, and when they pass without children the tradition dies out.
  • Human Resources: In "Paradises Lost", when people die their bodies are taken to the "Life Centre" for "recycling". The story takes place on a generation ship where all resources must continually be recycled for everyone to survive.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The Birthday of the World features several instances of this.
  • Inexplicable Cultural Ties: Deconstructed in The Pathways of Desire, where more and more suspicious resemblances to American stereotyped notions of "primitive" tribes turn up in the Human Aliens' culture. In the end the adolescent fantasies of a boy back on Earth turn out to have created the entire planet.
  • Love Before First Sight: In Lavinia, there's a sort of case of Destiny Before First Sight: Lavinia knows by her belief in prophetic visions that she will marry Aeneas even before he arrives in Italy, and knows that this is the right thing to do for the sake of her people; she rather loves Aeneas before meeting him, too, but that's a bonus.
  • Lunacy: "The Wife's Story" is a twist on werewolf tales that involves a transformation on moonless nights. It's made obvious early on that something even weirder than usual is going on. The narrator's a wolf, and the "monster" transforms into a human.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: Le Guin took many of these on in her essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie". The worst, she claimed, was "Ichor", the 'infallible touchstone of the 7th rate'. For the record, "ichor" is properly the blood of angels or gods, not "blood in general" or "any liquid." Le Guin makes a point of noting this.
  • Mental Picture Projector: In "The Diary of the Rose", a mind viewer is used against a supposedely insane engineer.
  • Mundane Dogmatic: "Paradises Lost" has no aliens, no faster-than-light travel, just a slow generation ship full of humans traveling (mostly out of scientific curiosity) towards a distant, possibly habitable planet.
  • Opposite-Sex Clone: In "Nine Lives", Earth is in a sorry state, and most people suffer from inborn defects; to remedy the situation, the best people are cloned. Usually the donors are male, since it allows to easily clone both sexes, and mixed-sex groups of clones are proven to function better. The story explores the reaction of normal humans who have to work with a "ten-clone" created from a genius who died young. And then how the sole survivor reacts to the death of his nine siblings. Among other things it's mentioned that clones routinely share sleeping bags and sex seems just as natural for them as breathing.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: "Darkness Box" features gryphons used as war animals; they are apparently immortal (or near to it) and bond closely to their owners.
  • Rogue Drone: Nine Lives: The story is about his attempt to come to terms with being an individual after the rest of his "siblings" are killed (the clones having been bred and raised as Single-Minded Twins).
  • Ruritania: Orsinian Tales - The fictional Central European nation Orsinia fits this trope perfectly, covering several centuries of imagined history.
  • Sanity Meter: "SQ" is a fable about the development of a scientific, accurate method of measuring a person's sanity (the Sanity Quotient score) and the unfortunate effects it has on society.
  • Screw Yourself: Nine Lives: A set of ten clones, five male and five female, join someplace where there were already two normal people working. When the clones have sex with each other, one of the non-clones says, "Oh, let them have their damned incest!" and the other says, "Incest or masturbation?" (The clone-sex wasn't a major plot point, just a part of showing how the clone-group couldn't relate properly to outsiders.)
  • Single-Minded Twins: Nine Lives: 10 clones who were essentially one being. When nine of them died in an accident, the survivor considered himself "nine-tenths dead" and nearly lost his will to live.
  • This Was His True Form: Pointedly averted in "The Wife's Story". When the monster that her husband transformed into is killed, the narrator hopes that it will revert and she'll get one last look at her husband, but it doesn't.
  • Tomato Surprise: In "The Wife's Story", which at first looks like a standard werewolf story, the narrator's husband is a werewolf — but the narrator herself is a wolf, appalled when her husband horrifyingly turns into a human.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside:
    • In The Beginning Place, heroes Hugh and Irene are able spend a week or so in the Evening Land while only being absent from their usual lives for a single night.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: The nature of space travel in the Ekumen means that while the trip takes decades or even centuries, time dilation makes that much shorter for the travelers. A century's trip could be a month. Thus, while it's possible to undertake long trips, it's not something taken lightly, given how much could change in the time between takeoff and landing.