Obituary: Ursula K. Le Guin Passes at 88

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Ursula K. LeGuinUrsula K. Le Guin, the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the Earthsea series, died on Monday at her home in Portland, Ore. She was 88.

Ms. Le Guin embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes. The conflicts they face are typically rooted in a clash of cultures and resolved more by conciliation and self-sacrifice than by swordplay or space battles.

Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. Several, including “The Left Hand of Darkness” — set on a planet where the customary gender distinctions do not apply — have been in print for almost 50 years. The critic Harold Bloom lauded Ms. Le Guin as “a superbly imaginative creator and major stylist” who “has raised fantasy into high literature for our time.

Ms. Le Guin embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes. The conflicts they face are typically rooted in a clash of cultures and resolved more by conciliation and self-sacrifice than by swordplay or space battles.

Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. Several, including “The Left Hand of Darkness” — set on a planet where the customary gender distinctions do not apply — have been in print for almost 50 years. The critic Harold Bloom lauded Ms. Le Guin as “a superbly imaginative creator and major stylist” who “has raised fantasy into high literature for our time.

Her first science-fiction novel, “Rocannon’s World,” came out in 1966. Two years later she published “A Wizard of Earthsea,” the first in a series about a made-up world where the practice of magic is as precise as any science, and as morally ambiguous.

Ursula K. Le Guin dies at 88

The first three Earthsea books — the other two were “The Tombs of Atuan” (1971) and “The Farthest Shore” (1972) — were written, at the request of her publisher, for young adults. But their grand scale and elevated style betray no trace of writing down to an audience. She returned to Earthsea later in her career, extending and deepening the trilogy with books like “Tehanu” (1990) and “The Other Wind” (2001), written for a general audience.

Ms. LeGuin was a bit of a revolutionary in Sci-Fi writing. Not only was she a woman, but she wrote books with protagonists that were female, male, and gender neutral. She was a feminist, devoted to telling stories that women would want to read. Stories about women, powerful women, women taking control of their lives. In “The Dispossessed” she wrote about social organization: a messy but vibrant capitalist society, which oppresses its underclass, and a classless “utopia”  which turns out to be oppressive in its own conformist way.

Ms LeGuin won dozens of awards from 1972 through 2017, most of the awards multiple times. Hugos, Nebulas, Locus, Jupiter, and in 1995 she received  the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. But she always pressed her publishers not to publish books because they think they will sell, but to publish books that need to be read, stories that need to be told. To ply a readers imagination with “the best and purest nourishment that it can absorb.”

Ms. Le Guin left us with an extensive collection of writings. In her Earthsea world, there are six novels and short story cycles, and five pieces of short fiction. The Hainish Cycle included eight novels and short story cycles, and thirteen pieces of short fiction. She also wrote In her Orsinian Tales there are six stories and pieces of poetry. Her Catwings Collection, a series for children numbered four books. She also wrote dozens of additional novels and short stories, as well as poetry and ten nonfiction books.

Besides her husband and son, Ms. Le Guin is survived by two daughters, Caroline and Elisabeth Le Guin; two brothers, Theodore and Clifton Kroeber; and four grandchildren.

Rest in Power Ms. Le Guin.

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Robin LynnObituary: Ursula K. Le Guin Passes at 88