Tag Archives: ursula le guin

In the Chinks of the World Machine

Look, any book whose title is taken from a Tiptree story – and “The Women Men Don’t See” no less – is likely to be very appealing to me. And ta dah! It was.

Unknown.jpegThis delightful feminist, academic, personal, humorous, thoughtful, and passionate examination of women in science fiction and women writing science fiction came out in 1988. So yes, it’s dated – of course it has. There have been lots more stories written in the last (oh heck) nearly thirty years that have a variety of female characters, and of course more female authors challenging and playing with science fiction ideas. But I think that the categories that Lefanu considers – Amazons, utopias and dystopias, women in love, and so on – these categories often still apply to the ways that women appear, or are thought that they should appear, as characters. So I certainly found these chapters resonant and not only from a historical perspective.

The second half of the book was the bit that I really loved, though. James Tiptree Jr, Ursula Le Guin, Suzy McKee Charnas and Joanna Russ: what a magnificent set of women, and a magnificent set of stories between them. Lefanu examines a set of the novels and short stories of each of the women (in Russ’ case, almost all her science fiction) and dissects the ways in which they present women. She’s not always flattering – she has some issues with Le Guin’s early female characters, which I don’t entirely agree with – but she is always interesting and insightful.

One of the things I really appreciated and enjoyed about this book is that while Lefanu is absolutely writing an academic piece and interrogating issues of feminism and how science fiction fails or encourages women, there are also personal moments that didn’t feel at all out of place. I really, really like this idea that the writer actually exists and has an opinion – that the book isn’t pretending to be a disembodied, clinical examination but acknowledges the very real body behind the … well, typewriter probably.

If you’re interested in feminist science fiction, in women in science fiction (in all senses), or have a somewhat historical literary bent, this is a really great book. It’s very approachable and even if you haven’t read the stories Lefanu examines (I’ve only read one of the Charnas books), she explains them enough that her analysis makes sense… and I still want to read the books.

Galactic Suburbia 136

355514-molly-meldrumIn which Alex and Tansy leap back into 2016 to talk Awards (it’s that season again!), comics, novellas, mysterious London novels and epic feminist canon.

Also, Molly Meldrum.

We’re on iTunes and over at Galactic Suburbia.
Locus Recommended Reading List.
BSFA Awards shortlist

Letters to Tiptree 99 cents! Bestseller on Amazon!

Tansy’s new podcast plug! Sheep Might Fly & Fake Geek Girl

Kickstarter for Ursula Le Guin documentary.

Nominating for Hugos (til end of March) don’t forget.

And Part 1 of the University of Oregon’s Tiptree Symposium, with Julie Phillips (Alex says: sorry not sorry, Tansy)

CULTURE CONSUMED:

Tansy: Hellcat by Kate Leth & Brittney Williams, Archie by Mark Waid & Fiona Staples, The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar, The Beatriceid by Kate Elliott, “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor, “The Heart is Eaten Last” by Kameron Hurley (note: Kameron says any new Patreon subscriber automatically gets access to all the stories she has posted so far including this one – bargain at as little as $1 a month!)

Alex:
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susannah Clarke; Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman; The Just City, Jo Walton; Walk to the End of the World, Suzy McKee Charnas. MOLLY.

Skype number: 03 90164171 (within Australia) +613 90164171 (from overseas)

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Galactic Suburbia 117: Ursula le Guin essays

In which we take apart “The Space Crone” and “Is Gender Necessary (Redux)” from Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, and Places by Ursula Le Guin. Get us at iTunes or from Galactic Suburbia.

Defying Doomsday
Night Terrace

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DancingAtTheEdgeOfTheWorld

The Other Wind

And then I finished the Earthsea series and I was simultaneously overjoyed and despondent.

Spoilers for the entire series.

Unknown This is a great and wonderful novel, full of death and life and love and loss and powerful changes and the steadiness of hope. It’s a spectacular way of bringing all the threads of the past five books of Earthsea together, and addressing most (perhaps all) of the issues raised in them: men’s and women’s magics, dragons and humanity, the necessity and fearfulness of change.

The plot: a witch’s son has been having dreams about the place of death. The dead are able to call him and even touch him across the wall that separates that place from the living, and this is a fearful thing indeed. He goes to Roke for advice, from there is sent to Sparrowhawk as a man who has crossed the dead lands, and from there is sent on again to the new king, Lebannen, since that’s where Tehanu and Tenar are. Coming to Havnor, Alder finds himself in the most court intrigue Le Guin has ever shown: a princess has been sent from the Kargad Lands with the clear intention that she should wed Lebannen; Lebannen is all petulant about being forced into something, plus he finds it hard to accept her cultural differences. Then there’s the dragons who have come to ravage the inner lands of Earthsea – although not killing humans… and then they all – bar Sparrowhawk – end up on Roke, where the changes that were suggested in the world back in The Farthest Shore, and the ideas of death and shadows and Old Powers from the earliest books, all come together in a mighty crescendo.

It’s a captivating plot, and it’s one of the most plot-driven of the Earthsea stories, but the characters are absolutely still the essence of the book. I love that Sparrowhawk is an old man in this book. He has been in previous stories too, but I love how generally comfortable he is with his new station. He still mourns for wizardry but it’s an accustomed thing rather than a gaping wound. His happiness with Tenar is comfortable and comforting. Their adoption of Tehanu and their respect for her oddness is a lovely example of Family. Doing the hard things, and ensuring that your family does the hard but necessary things and supporting them in it… it’s strong and honest and inspiring. There may have been a tear at the very end, for Tehanu. And I love Tenar; she is an awesome example of old women doing what old women can do: say the truth, get things done, not care about perceptions – she’s the fictional example of Le Guin’s essay “The Space Crone.”

I was so excited to have Irian/Dragonfly back! To know that she has found her place in the world with the dragons is very satisfying. She’s another character who agrees to do the hard thing – come back and deal with the humans for a short time – even though she doesn’t especially want to. I like that aspect of her character. And her passion.

Seserakh, the Kargish princess, is the most intriguing of the new characters (Alder is vital for the plot, but he’s still just a man with an unfortunate manner of dreaming). I’m a little uncomfortable about the fact that she wears a red veil, and that going bare-faced is a really big deal – the women who made fun of her at home were “bare-faced whores” – because I can’t figure out whether this is a dig at Islam or not. Seserakh herself is a strong, vulnerable, determined and passionate character… but she does end up removing the veil to be accepted. So I don’t know whether to be disappointed by this aspect or not.

Basically everything about this novel (with exception above) is wonderful and I’m so sad that it’s the end of Earthsea.

Galactic Suburbia 116

Our special 2014 Galactic Suburbia Award episode! Listen to find out our winner and shortlist for our award to honour activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

CULTURE CONSUMED:

Alisa: Haven S5, Tempest’s Reading Challenge

Alex: Tehanu, Tales of Earthsea, and The Other Wind, Ursula le Guin; Jupiter Ascending; Waistcoats and Weaponry, Gail Carriger.

Tansy: D’Artanyan i tri Mushketyora (1979); New Avengers: Breakout prose novel by Alisa Kwitney; New Avengers: Breakout, by Brian Michael Bendis; Curb Stomp #1 – Ryan Ferrier (writer), Devaki Neogi (artist); Princess Leia #1 – Mark Waid (writer) Terry & Rachel Dodson (artists).

NEXT TIME: tune in for our Ursula Le Guin essay spoilerific. We will be covering: “The Space Crone” & “Is Gender Necessary? (Redux)” (both in Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, and Places) and “Science Fiction and Mrs Brown”(in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction).

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Tehanu

It’s official. I like the Tenar-focussed books more than the Sparrowhawk-focussed ones. Don’t get me wrong – I adore Ged, and I love the quests and the excitement of A Wizard and The Farthest Shore. But there’s something wonderful about Tenar as a character, and there’s something wonderful about the more inwardly-focussed and (is this silly?) more relatable stories of Tenar’s life, that makes my heart ache with joy.

UnknownI can only imagine the wild joy that Tehanu must have been greeted with when it was released in 1990, 17 years after The Farthest Shore. Intriguingly, it begins before that story has finished – there is a problem with magic, and eventually Ged is delivered to Gont by the dragon Kalessin, but that’s not even the start of the story.

The story really begins with The Tombs of Atuan, and more even than The Farthest Shore continues A Wizard this is basically the second half of Tenar’s story. We skip the bits about being a wife and a mother… I don’t believe that’s because Le Guin sees those bits as unimportant, but perhaps because this bit – the being a widow stage – allows for more freedom of story, and even perhaps because this bit is told less often. There’s an ironic comment at some point about how once she got old, Tenar disappeared to men’s eyes. I adore how much this story is about being old, and getting on with life, and old =/ dead.

So Tenar is a widow, and she’s in charge of her dead husband’s farm because her son is off being a sailor, and she takes in a young girl who has been left for dead after being severely burnt. There’s a lot in the story about perceptions of physical appearance – whether through age or this sort of physical impairment. There’s also a lot about why men (humanity in general I suppose, but the major focus is on men) do what they do, and the child’s situation is emblematic of all of this. As is Tenar’s steadfast, generous, stubborn heart in caring for Therru as her own. Ged does turn up, eventually, but he doesn’t take Tenar on adventures. This time, he is drawn into her world, in an inversion of their first encounter. This time, it’s he that’s struggling with his identity and his purpose in life, and Tenar who takes him in hand.

There is adventure, of a sort – nasty men and even an encounter with the king – but they’re blips in an ordinary life, a brush with celebrity. The very end of the story is a different matter (which: !!!), but still the resolution is in keeping with Tenar’s desire for an ordinary life. There’s more interest in goats, and spinning; in peach trees; in small-town relationships – especially between women – and understanding changed-but-the-same friends. I have to say that in writing in this I experienced a twinge of concern, that perhaps I’m not selling this to – yes, you guessed it – male readers. And then I realised how I was feeling and nearly despaired. Of course I think men should read this, in the sense that I think everyone should because it’s saying such deep things about life and because it’s written so gorgeously. If men – and indeed women – choose not to read this because they think they only enjoy adventures, well, their loss.

Because Le Guin is saying a great deal about ‘real life’ in this book. In her discussion about where power lies, and what power is; about the relationship between men and women in terms of power and trust; about motherhood and what it means; about the nature of knowledge; and perhaps even a suggestion of how to live ‘the good life’.These themes are another way in which the continuity between this and The Tombs is evident. I don’t particularly like some of what she has to say about men’s and women’s power, and I’m not sure that I’m even meant to agree with or like it, but it’s still intriguing.

I adore this book.

Comment on revelation about Ged: SPOILER!!
I am deeply fascinated and intrigued by Le Guin’s revelation that wizards are essentially sexless – neutered in some way by magic. Hmmm, the terminology here may get me in trouble. At any rate, he’s basically not experienced adolescence. I can only imagine that she was asked whether Tenar and Ged had had sex in the boat en route to Havnor, and this is her explanation of why not! It’s a very cunning way of helping to partly explain the lack of women on Roke – that is, no wives or girlfriends – as well as reassuring the readers about wizards not using their powers for manipulation.

Galactic Suburbia 115: in which we are five!

It’s our birthday! (We’re on iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.)

CAAAAKE

Nebulas!

Aurealis Awards! (Alisa moonlighting at Coode St)

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin, Perth Writers Festival – Elizabeth Gilbert

Alex: up to date with Saga (in trade); The Chimes, Anna Smaill; A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Ursula le Guin; Etiquette and Espionage, and Curtsies and Conspiracies, Gail Carriger.

Tansy: Spider-Gwen #1, Companion Piece, Fangirl Happy Hour #4 (Renay’s rant on female characters & agency)
Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/galacticsuburbia) and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

The Farthest Shore

UnknownFor a book written for children – perhaps a young adult audience – this sure is a bleak book. It’s also a deeply philosophical book, as well as having a great deal of adventure and learning about life. It’s the most Tao book of Le Guin’s Earthsea series. It’s an odd book to come after The Tombs of Atuan, as that was after A Wizard of Earthsea; the pace is so different. I think Wizard must come first but for these two the order is irrelevant. It’s also back to bring an almost exclusively male narrative.

I know young adult books are often bleak; we have a rash of dystopian novels to prove that. But in roughly 170 pages Le Guin explores the consequences of rushing off after life at the expense of losing life; of fearing death so much that you give up on life; and the sheer loss of hope, and what that might do to society. Somehow the fact that Le Guin does it so quickly makes it seem more bleak. Like the first book
this book is about one quest, one search for one man. Instead of taking an entire trilogy, with lots of disappointments and setbacks and newfound friends, Le Guin has Sparrowhawk, now with a new young friend, simply track that man down. Of course it’s not really a case of doing anything “simply”. There are set backs. The book does show us more of Earthsea and its environs, and we meet a variety of different people; but everything is designed to assist in the one quest. And as I said before, it is only 170 pages. Le Guin’s words are evocative and precise. There is glorious description, but it doesn’t go on forever. Characters are swiftly sketched. Swiftly, and brilliantly. The story is as driven towards its conclusion as Sparrowhawk is towards his.

We always knew that Sparrowhawk would turn out to be the archmage. We were told that in the first book. And here he is, Archmage for five years, now being confronted by something strange going on to the south and to the west of the Inner Lands. Unsurprisingly Sparrowhawk is feeling confined by the walls and the tasks and the requirements of being archmage. It’s not clear how long after the events of the previous books this is happening. And in some ways, as the book reminds us, it doesn’t really matter. Sparrowhawk has had a long and distinguished and occasionally difficult career as a sorcerer. Many of those deeds get recorded in the songs made about him at some point in the future. This is another one to add to his long list. Of course, he is not the only – and perhaps not even the main – protagonist of this book. He is joined by a young prince, perhaps just slightly older than Sparrowhawk himself was in A Wizard of Earthsea. It’s therefore a coming-of-age story for young Arren, as that book was for Sparrowhawk. Not that Sparrowhawk doesn’t have a lot to learn: about himself and about his world and about what must be done.

Life and honour and death and hope and love and fear. What more could an author hope to explore?

The Tombs of Atuan

While there’s a similar feel in the language – sparse and intense – this is a very different book from A Wizard of Earthsea. It’s bound to just one place; it’s focussed on a girl. The struggle for identity is similar but Tenar/Arha has less agency than Ged, which is understandable given her very different situation. There’s very little magic.

I might love this more than A Wizard of Earthsea.

UnknownIt’s so… peculiar. It’s simple enough to find parallel stories – mythic ones, modern ones – for Ged, since he is basically a young man finding his purpose and his way in the world. It’s a coming of age story, if not ‘simply’. For Arha though… the situation is different. It’s still a coming of age story; it is about Arha finding her purpose and place and understanding the world. But it’s focussed so tightly on the Place that it feels completely different. Is there a difference in a girl coming of age and a boy? Certainly in terms of myth there is, and Le Guin is, I think, interested in writing Myth in these stories. In fact she makes some quite obvious comments about mythology; we know, in A Wizard of Earthsea, that Ged goes on to become something great (how’s that for foreshadowing and reassurance?), and that there are stories about him. Arha is basically living a myth.

I’m fascinated by Arha. I love Le Guin’s exploration of the fact that she is a wilful young girl – and who wouldn’t be, being told that they are the First Priestess reborn, and basically untouchable by any of the people around her? When you are so set apart from those around you, it makes sense that you would become aloof and indifferent. And yet Arha is also vulnerable; she fears Kossil, the High Priestess of the Godking, but also relies on her. She is overcome by her fear of the dark, when first taken to the Undertomb, and then overcomes the fear in turn. I can imagine that, left to her own devices, she would have become quite formidable… within the restricted space she can access.

This is a claustrophobic novel. Where A Wizard introduces the reader to many parts of Earthsea, this one only really allows us to see one remote, nearly forgotten, temple complex. And yet the plot itself doesn’t feel that constrained, perhaps because – for most of it – Arha doesn’t notice it. It’s a testament to Le Guin that she makes such a small area so intensely powerful and important.

I had forgotten how much I love this book. In fact, perhaps I didn’t used to love it so much, and this is a reflection of greater maturity… I guess I read this in early high school, and I don’t think since. Onwards to more Le Guin!

A Wizard of Earthsea

I first read this… I don’t remember when. I think I was at primary school. And I’m not sure whether I’ve read it since, but it had a very big impact on me. I could still remember a lot of the little details, and my fierce appreciation, fear, and sympathy for Ged.

UnknownA friend who read this as an adult just couldn’t cope with Le Guin. It made me think that perhaps Le Guin is like a really amazing pencil sketch, where someone like Martin or other such epic writers are oil painters. Le Guin doesn’t waste words; she doesn’t give lush, page-long descriptions. But this isn’t a detraction; she’s evocative and masterful in her language, and she tells a grand tale in (in my copy) well under 200 pages. That’s not something to be frowned upon! … but it could be something that people with tastes shaped by more modern fantasy writers find hard to cope with. And that’s fine; it’s just a different tastes thing.

I love that Le Guin starts with Ged as a wild young thing. I read somewhere that when she was commissioned to write a children’s book she looked at the wizards she knew and they were all old men (she’s a big LOTR fan), and she thought: how did they get there? So forty years before Rowling, she wrote of a wizard school. And Ged is nothing like Harry.

The friendships are wonderfully understated but nonetheless feel real; the dangers are never dwelt on in horrific detail but are nevertheless palpable. Ged’s efforts, his fears, his determination – all come through. Perhaps this is why I appreciate Rosaleen Love: her sparse language is a lot like Le Guin’s, and they both manage to capture a great deal in few words.

I also love that the only white-skinned people in this story are the invading barbarians, who only occupy a few pages.