Ursula K. Le Guin: the Masterworks

If you were to draw a Venn diagram of Science Fiction & Fantasy authors** whose brilliance is acknowledged by critics and readers within the SF field and by critics and readers within the Literary community, you would not require an abacus to keep count of those who appear in the middle.

You’d find J.G. Ballard, of course, and his friend Michael Moorcock. You’d find Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, Iain (M.) Banks and – now, at least, though not during his lifetime – Philip K. Dick.  You’d find China Miéville, Karen Joy Fowler and Jeff VanderMeer and a handful of others. And without question, you would find Ursula Kroeber Le Guin.

On Monday, we re-posted Ursula Le Guin’s wonderful acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters – a clear indication of the esteem in which she is held by the literary mainstream. Now, we’d like to celebrate her triumphs in the field of science fiction, as illustrated by her titles in the SF Masterworks series.

For lovers of short fiction, there’s the omnibus of two of her finest collections: The Wind’s Twelve Quarters and The Compass Rose, which contains such classics as Hugo Award-winner ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, the Nebula Award-winning ‘The Day Before the Revolution’, and the Hugo-nominated ‘Winter’s King’. The omnibus is available as an SF Masterworks paperback with The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975) and The Compass Rose (1982) available as separate eBooks.

Then there are two great exemplars of anthropological SF: Hugo Award-winner The Word for World is Forest (1972) and the astonishing Always Coming Home (1985).

If anthropology isn’t your thing, you could do a lot worse than try Le Guin’s 1971 novel about a man whose dreams can change reality, The Lathe of Heaven (1971) – shortlisted for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Or you could enter her acclaimed Hainish universe with the novel that went one better than Lathe, and won both the Hugo and the Nebula: The Dispossessed (1974).

And, as of this very month, you can find a serious candidate for the title of greatest SF novel ever written: the extraordinary Hugo and Nebula Award-winner, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), which we’re delighted to welcome into the SF Masterworks list.

Looking back over those incredible titles it’s impossible not to be stunned by the range and calibre of Ursula Le Guin’s work. Arguably, from the late ’60s to mid-’70s only Robert Silverberg could claim to rival her for quality and quantity. And remarkably, this is only half the story!  It can’t have escaped your attention that we’ve only covered (some of) Le Guin’s SF. What about her Fantasy?

Ah! Stay tuned . . .

** For the avoidance of doubt, I’m referring to writers who came from within the SFF field, not those who made their names as literary writers but are also well-received by SFF readers and critics. Thus: no Margaret Atwood or Michael Chabon or Kazuo Ishiguro, et al.