Tag: Ursula Le Guin


Review – Outer Space, Inner Lands

Posted 10 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Unreal and the Real by Ursula Le GuinOuter Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin

Outer Space, Inner Lands is the second of two volumes collecting together the best of Ursula Le Guin’s short fiction. It’s also the one containing all the SF work, or at least all the less realistic work, and it contains stories like ‘Those Who Walk Away from Omelas’, one of Ursula Le Guin’s most famous stories (at least among people I know) — though not my favourite, as I think the moral is obvious from the beginning.

As always, Le Guin’s writing is clear and strong, and the stories chosen here span her career and showcase all kinds of different ideas and different phases of her work. I prefer it to the first volume, because I find Le Guin’s speculative fiction more accessible.

She’s brilliant. Do yourself a favour.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Other Wind

Posted 14 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Other Wind by Ursula Le GuinThe Other Wind, Ursula Le Guin

The Other Wind ends the Earthsea Cycle by resolving an issue which, for attentive readers, has been present since the very first book. Despite all the joys of wizardry and the great things the wizards can do, the world of death looms from the very first, and it doesn’t sound like a great place. In the second book, Tenar’s background reveals that her people believe their souls are reborn, but that wizards’ souls are not. In the third book, we see the world of death: a dead, dry, empty place, surrounded only by pain, where lovers can pass each other on the street and not recognise one another.

That’s not a world we want to see Ged or Lebannen condemned to, and so The Other Wind is a fitting end in that it dismantles that — and brings in another female character who is Kargish, makes Lebannen examine some of his issues, makes Tehanu grow up, and ties in the thread of Irian from the novella ‘Dragonfly’. Other themes that’ve been a big part of the books previously (the role of women, for example) are still here, now integral to the world where perhaps they weren’t in time for A Wizard of Earthsea and Yarrow.

It wasn’t my favourite of the series when I first read it — I think I have to concede I love the first two books most and always will, though Tehanu and The Other Wind are growing on me — but reading it this time, it seems like a very fitting ending point. I think I’m right in saying that Le Guin isn’t writing novels anymore, so it’s likely this really is Earthsea’s end, and it’s a good way to finish, with Ged and Tenar in their house and the dragons flying on the other wind.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Tales from Earthsea

Posted 2 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Tales from Earthsea by Ursula Le GuinTales from Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin

If you read nothing else from this collection, you should grab this to read ‘Dragonfly’. The other stories fill in bits and pieces of the background, or use the world to tell a new story that is small in scope compared to Ged’s. ‘Dragonfly’, on the other hand, is necessary (to my mind) to really understanding The Other Wind, and should definitely be read first. It introduces a character who becomes important, and events which are referred to throughout the novel.

As for the writing of the stories themselves, well: Ursula Le Guin’s prose is as fine as you would expect, and the words are precise and crisp and each placed exactly right. The glimpses of history and other places which we get in these stories is worth the price of entry, too. I think ‘Darkrose and Diamond’, for instance, is incredibly slight compared to Ged’s story, but on the other hand it does reflect on some of the same themes as Tehanu. As does ‘Dragonfly’, in different ways.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Tehanu

Posted 24 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Tehanu by Ursula Le GuinTehanu, Ursula Le Guin

This still wasn’t a favourite book for me in the Earthsea sequence, because it deals so much with the consequences of what happened to Ged in The Farthest Shore. Considering I’m not a great fan of that plot (though I have come to appreciate it more as an artistic choice and for the way it changes Earthsea), I guess it’s not surprising that I’m not such a fan — even though, like The Tombs of Atuan, this brings the female point of view to the fore and deals with some of the issues of sexism in the world.

The brief glimpse of Lebanen as the young king is lovely, and the understanding Tenar and Ged eventually come to is too. The stuff about the friendship between women, and the way Tenar realises that she’s totally failed to raise the kind of man she’d like for a son, also works pretty well.

But it takes away Ged’s dignity — and that, more than the loss of his power, I dislike intensely. He’s always been proud, and here… he can’t fight, can’t save himself. He needs Therru and the dragons.

So as with The Farthest Shore, I see the thematic importance. I just… don’t like it that much.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 24 May, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme is an interesting one: ten books I feel differently about now time has passed. There’s a lot of books I feel that way about from when I was a kid, of course, but I’ll try to go for more recent stuff.

  1. Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood. I reaaaally changed my opinion on this one, and ended up devouring the whole series. But the first time I tried it, I hated it.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve always liked reading it, but I’ve gone through periods of being more or less critical. There was one point where I didn’t dare reread it, because I thought I’d find it too racist, sexist, simplistic… But thanks to Ursula Le Guin’s writing on Tolkien’s work, and then studying it during my MA, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. A lot of the things people complain about post-Tolkien fantasy really are post-Tolkien — he didn’t bring them in. Derivativeness, lack of thought about the implications of this choice or that on the world — I’ve come to see that lack of thought was never Tolkien’s problem, though it has been a problem for people after him.
  3. The Diamond Throne, David Eddings. I’ve had a long succession of feelings about this too; loved it and thought it really romantic as a kid, grew up and thought it was crappy and derivative, but recently I reread a bit and thought it was kind of funny anyway. (Even if Sparhawk and Ehlana is actually a creepy relationship.)
  4. Chalice, Robin McKinley. I think I originally gave this one three stars, but I keep thinking about it and I’ve read it again since and I just… I love it.
  5. Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton. Didn’t love this the first time, fell right into it on a reread. The right book at the right time, I guess.
  6. The Farthest Shore, Ursula Le Guin. This is less one that I’ve got to like more, and more one I appreciate more. I’m still not a big fan of it and wouldn’t idly pick it up the way I would, say, The Tombs of Atuan. But I see its purpose and beauty.
  7. Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn. I loved this at the time, but I don’t know if it’d stand up to that now. I’m a little afraid to try, so I think that counts for the list?
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden. I know in how many ways this is exploitative and so on, but I did love this at one point. Another one I don’t think I’ll try again.
  9. Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country, Rosalind Miles. I might like this more now that I read more romance, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. My opinion got worse and worse as I read more of her books.
  10. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart. The misogyny drove me mad the first time, but I actually appreciated parts of it more the second time.

That was… harder than I expected. Although I was also distracted by being a backseat driver to my partner playing Assassin’s Creed.

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Review – The Farthest Shore

Posted 10 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le GuinThe Farthest Shore, Ursula Le Guin

This has always been my least favourite of the Earthsea books, and I think that’s sort of inevitable given the central conflict, the issue that the whole book centres around. It’s about magic dying out, about death and fighting death and being afraid of death, where few people are whole and entire and able to see the world as it is rather than wishing it was something else. Ged is one of those people, of course: he’s the Archmage for a reason, and more importantly, he’s faced the dark part of himself and accepted it.

But it’s not primarily about Ged: it’s primarily about Arren and his journey to kingship. We saw Ged from an outside POV in The Tombs of Atuan, and it’s not as though Tenar completely trusted or respected him instantly… but Arren’s distrust and indifference at times grate, especially set against his hero worship at first.

I can see the beauty of the story, of what Ged does, but I don’t enjoy it. It’s a shadow of a story, a feeling of foreboding – the shadow at the door. It’s, in part, an ending to an adventure that I wanted more of. It makes sense that Earthsea has to change, but that doesn’t reconcile me to the fact.

Needless to say, Ursula Le Guin’s writing is great and that’s not the problem.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Tombs of Atuan

Posted 6 December, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le GuinThe Tombs of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin

This always used to be my favourite of the series, both for sheer atmosphere and because it featured a female-centred world, in complete contrast to the first book. It’s almost the opposite, in that way: Ged isn’t the POV character anymore, and instead we follow Arha/Tenar, seeing her experience in a different land, seeing Ged as an outsider. That latter is especially fun, because though he talks about not learning Ogion’s lessons, it seems that he really has. And there was always an attraction for the dark rituals, Arha’s dance in front of the Empty Throne, the drums struck softly at heart-pace. Le Guin didn’t just blindly throw together a bunch of superstitions and fake rituals: it hangs together as a cohesive whole, and the fact that even the characters find the rituals meaningless, strange, the significances lost in time… that also works for me.

One image that always sticks with me is that of Ged asleep on the ground, the small thistle by his hand. That image somehow epitomises the book for me: his serenity and trust, his link to the world around him, and also the way Tenar sees him, truly sees him, alive and in the world and not at all a part of the dark existence she led before… it’s hard to put into words, but that image does it.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – A Wizard of Earthsea

Posted 1 December, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin

This month’s challenge in the Book Club on Habitica is reading (or rereading, in my case) Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books. I scarcely need the encouragement to come back and read them again, so of course, I was in for this. It’s interesting reading this first one as an adult, having gone through my own coming of age and seeing Ged as young — just seventeen! It’s also interesting because I’ve read some of Le Guin’s critiques of her own work: the lack of place for women, “weak as women’s magic”, the typical male-centred quest story. It’s interesting to think about what could’ve been changed, and how that would have changed the canon of fantasy.

At first glance, the world of Earthsea is relatively typical fantasy. Yet there’s a spirituality here, too, and Le Guin’s interest in anthropology — her references to the customs like Sunreturn and the Long Dance — give it depth. It’s definitely its own thing, not derived solely from the fantasy tradition. And I’ve thought of Ged’s flight away from and then toward his shadow in very personal terms for a while now: to me it echoes my struggle with my anxiety, the way that I was weak and unable to fight it whenever I tried to pretend it away or avoid it. I had to face it and admit it was part of me, as Ged does with the shadow he’s unleashed. And like Ged, I didn’t stop being scared of it, but I gained strength from finding the way to fight it.

(Don’t get me started on the parallels in The Tombs of Atuan between the forces of the Nameless and depression, abuse. Now that I’ve thought about it, I think I could write a paper on it.)

“Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life.”

Rating: 5/5

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Kids and Reading

Posted 21 September, 2015 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

The twitter conversation that caught my eye this weekend was started by Joanne Harris, talking about ways to get kids to read, and one of the important things she said is that you mustn’t denigrate a kid’s choices — even if they’re too young or too old for them, even if you don’t think it’s appropriate. You shouldn’t take the book away, even if an eleven year old is picking up Fifty Shades of Grey. And, well, I agree.

See, the thing is, if you forbid something, it becomes even more intriguing. And if they then seek it out for themselves, you’ve put a barrier between yourself and them — they can’t come to you with any questions or problems related to it, because you forbade them to do it and they’re worried about getting in trouble. So say your eleven year old does read E.L. James’ work; wouldn’t you rather they be able to ask questions about what they read, discuss problems with it with you, and not needlessly have them enshrining it as the epitome of adulthood and sexiness and romance?

I don’t recall my parents ever saying I shouldn’t read something. Sometimes my mum thought a book was a bit too ‘old’ for me and it’d spoil it if I tried to read it too young (The Lord of the Rings, for instance), but I only recall that happening once or twice. I had the run of her bookshelves from a very young age, and she got books out of the adult section of the library for me when our librarians wouldn’t even let me into that part of the library. I don’t recall her ever vetting ahead of time the books I was reading, and I don’t recall either of my parents ever talking trash about a book I was reading.

The first time I remember anything of the kind was a school librarian scolding me for reading Enid Blyton — and so I went home and asked my mother why I’d been scolded, and we talked about the racism and sexism of the books, and why people didn’t think much of them. And I’m pretty sure Mum told me that it was okay to read them as long as I understood that, and that of course the books were fun, they were meant to be, and there was nothing wrong with enjoying them. (I’m also fairly sure that was about the same time as I realised that there were much better books out there, as I was meeting wizards and robots; Tolkien, Le Guin and Asimov.)

Racking my brains, those are the only instances I can even think of where I was discouraged from reading anything as a kid. And, well, look at me now…

But seriously, if you want your kid to read, don’t try and drag the “wrong” books out of their hands. Just try and make sure that they know you’re open to them coming and asking questions, and perhaps you could even let them know if you think a book is better put off (it worked with me and The Lord of the Rings, at least). Even if they’re reading comics, books below their reading level, books you don’t like — it’s a door into the world of literature, and if you slam that door, it might put them off finding another. I was older than my peers when I finally started reading, and was still reading books with rhymes and pictures and lots of colour. A year after I finally unlocked that door and learnt to read, I’d leapt ahead of everyone else, while my peers were still bouncing off the school reading books.

(The first door I went through into literature was the door to Cat and Mouse’s house. After that, it was small and round and painted green, with certain marks scratched onto it with a staff: “Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward.” I don’t know how many times I read and reread The Hobbit; again, my parents didn’t try to stop me. Well, there was a creaky floorboard and a loud bedside light designed to let them know if I was reading late into the night, but that was just to make sure I slept.)

Oh, and if your child gets most of their vocabulary from books, don’t mock them when they inevitably pronounce things wrong, please. My mother has had much jollity at my expense because I couldn’t pronounce even simple words, and it didn’t exactly encourage me to use my vocabulary and express myself. Puts a bit of a halt in the conversation when I have to stop and spell out a word because I don’t want to be laughed at if I say it wrong.

Should I ever have children, they’re getting their own library cards and as soon as they’re old enough to express any preference, I’m gonna let them choose whatever they like. Even if I’m sick of reading it. Even if it’s more pictures than words. Even if it’s too difficult for them and it’ll take a long time to get through it, or they’ll get bored of it. I’m going to let them choose, let them know they can talk to me about any and all of it, and make sure that they always, always have access to books — new and old. If they have favourites that they want to revisit, I’ll buy them so that enchantment is waiting ready to hand whenever they want it.

And if they don’t want books, well, I won’t despair. My sister didn’t read much from the age of ten to sixteen or so, and then I put a copy of Century Rain (Alistair Reynolds) in her hands, and she’s been devouring books ever since. Sometimes it just takes the right book at the right time.

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Review – Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences

Posted 13 August, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences by Ursula Le GuinBuffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences, Ursula Le Guin

I imagine most of these stories are collected somewhere else by now, but I was also interested in this book for the introductions to each story, which may not be collected elsewhere. It’s interesting to see what Le Guin feels the stories are about, what she thinks is important to know. For example, with ‘The Wife’s Tale’, she apparently warns audiences that it is not a werewolf story at the beginning. But I thought that mistake was kind of the point? That flip-flop moment of, oh. I got it wrong. I assumed.

I’d read most of the stories before, but the poems were new. Ursula Le Guin always has a beautiful clarity about her writing, capturing mannerisms and small moments, crystallising it… and sometimes her plots feel too clever for me, but most of these are pretty accessible, and the introductions helped.

Rating: 4/5

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