By: Dylan McCuskey, Features Editor
Last month, one of the giants of science fiction writing passed away. Ursula K. Le Guin was one of the most influential authors of her time. She was unafraid to write about controversial subjects, such as gender, religion, and sexuality. She also often addressed human characteristics in her work, such as desires and flaws in our nature. These influential works were inspired by other famous authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Virginia Woolf. Novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven perfectly embody the themes that Le Guin attempts to address.
The Left Hand of Darkness, published in 1969, is set in a different galaxy from our own. The story follows the adventures of Genly Ai, a man who is an ambassador on a foreign planet. The residents of this planet, called Gethen, do not have a fixed gender. They call themselves “ambisexual.” This creates a barrier between Genly Ai and them, as he doesn’t understand their ambisexual culture. Le Guin is trying to show the fluidity of gender and sexuality through this novel. The Gethen can change their gender and sexuality to be whatever they want, which is how she believes society should be. This was a controversial theme during her time, and continues to be controversial today. However, Le Guin addresses this by displaying the difficulties Genly Ai has in understanding their culture. She is saying that not everyone will accept fluidity, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. These are important issues, and Le Guin addresses them brilliantly in The Left Hand of Darkness.
Le Guin’s other famous novel, The Lathe of Heaven, was published in 1971. This novel is about a man, named George Orr, who has dreams that become reality. His psychiatrist, Dr. Haber, tries to use Orr’s ability to help the world. However, most things Orr dreams come true with a catch. For example, when Haber wants Orr to make a racism-free world, everyone becomes the same shade of light gray. Eventually, the power goes to Haber’s head, and he starts to ask Orr to dream things that only benefit him. This book delves into the nature of human desire and how easily humans can become corrupted. Although Haber starts off with good intentions, he soon is corrupted by the power at his fingertips. Le Guin wants her readers to realize that human nature is easily corrupted.
Ursula K. Le Guin has greatly impacted our world today with her work. She addressed important social issues like gender and sexuality fluidity and corruption of human nature. For her work, she received much recognition, including the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and her induction into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Le Guin also inspired many other famous authors, such as Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, and Neil Gaiman. Although Le Guin is no longer with us, her works continue to influence both current science fiction literature and our modern world.
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