In Memory: Ursula K. Le Guin

Authors William Alexander and Ursula K. Le Guin

By Robin Galbraith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations

Author Ursula K. Le Guin died while Cynsations was on winter hiatus.

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – 2018) from The Horn Book. Peek:

“Author Ursula K. Le Guin, who challenged the male-dominated fantasy and science fiction fields starting in the 1960s, died January 22, 2018, in Portland, Oregon. She was eighty-eight. 

“Her YA novel A Wizard of Earthsea (which explored the struggle of good versus evil as an internal struggle, not an external one) won the 1969 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, Acclaimed for Her Fantasy Fiction, Is Dead at 88 by Gerald Jonas from The New York Times. Peek:

(Parnassus , 1968)(reprint HMH Books)

“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.”

Ursula & Iris by William Alexander from his blog. Peek:

“She [Le Guin] collaborated a few times with my youngest daughter. Together they told stories about monkeys and cats…. Iris is five years old now. I told her that Ursula died today.

“‘I’m going to go invent a machine that makes dead people alive again,’ she announced, and then went into the playroom to get started. She’s still there, right now, reinventing the very first science fiction novel. 

“I like to think that Ursula would be proud of her.”

Where to Start with Ursula K. Le Guin by Nicholas Parker from The New York Public Library. Peek:

(Scholastic, 2009)

“If you’ve never read Le Guin before, you’re missing out on some great literature. You don’t have to be a hardcore fantasy fan to appreciate the beauty of Le Guin’s writing, her wonderful storytelling, or the vivid fictional worlds she creates… We’ll help you figure out where to start.”

A Book From Ursula Le Guin For Every Age by M. Lynx Qualey from Book Riot. Peek:

“Le Guin’s oeuvre is sprawling and it can be difficult to know where to step in. 

“Although not if you’re six months old: In that case, you really should begin with Cat Dreams.”

(Harper Perennial, 2017)

Ten Things I Learned from Ursula K. Le Guin by Karen Joy Fowler from The Paris Review. Peek:

“I can’t possibly provide a complete list of what she taught me, by word and example. But here is my starter list… 

“1. There is no reason a book of ideas can’t also be deeply moving, gorgeously written, and inhabited by people who take rooms in your heart and never move out.”

Le Guin and the Sleeping Castle by Bonny Becker from Books Around The Table. Peek:

“She engages the reader…there’s almost no way to read [Ursula] Le Guin and not have one’s mind opened to ideas, feelings and possibilities that feel like your own explorations. That refresh and engage your mind and your emotions.”

Margaret Atwood: We Lost Ursula Le Guin When We Needed Her Most by Margaret Atwood from The Washington Post. Peek:

“When I finally got the brilliant and renowned writer Ursula K. Le Guin all to myself on a stage in Portland, some years ago, I asked her the question I’d always been longing to ask: ‘Where do the ones who walk away from Omelas go?’ Tricky question! She changed the subject….  

“How do we build Omelas, minus the tortured child? Neither Ursula K. Le Guin nor I knew, but it was a question that Le Guin spent her lifetime trying to answer, and the worlds she so skillfully created in the attempt are many, varied and entrancing.”

(The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin. It was originally published in 1973 in New Dimensions 3, a hard-cover science fiction anthology edited by Robert Silverberg.)

(HMH, 2015)

Book Video: An Evening of Ectoplasm

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the acknowledgements: “Icky paranormal history with award-winning authors William Alexander, M.T. Anderson, and Kekla Magoon. Special thanks to Alice Dodge for her spirit photography, Kelly Murphy for the gorgeous illustrations, and The Parlour Trick for graciously granting us permission to use ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and ‘Pandora’ from their album ‘A Blessed Unrest.'”

About A Properly Unhaunted Place (Margaret K. McElderry, 2017)

From National Book Award–winning author William Alexander comes a wryly humorous story about two kids who try to save their town by bringing back its ghosts.

Rosa Ramona Díaz has just moved to the small, un-haunted town of Ingot—the only ghost-free town in the world. She doesn’t want to be there. She doesn’t understand how her mother—a librarian who specializes in ghost-appeasement—could possibly want to live in a place with no ghosts. Frankly, she doesn’t understand why anyone would.

Jasper Chevalier has always lived in Ingot. His father plays a knight at the local Renaissance Festival, and his mother plays the queen. Jasper has never seen a ghost, and can’t imagine his un-haunted town any other way. Then an apparition thunders into the festival grounds and turns the quiet town upside down.

Something otherworldly is about to be unleashed, and Rosa will need all her ghost appeasement tools—and a little help from Jasper—to rein in the angry spirits and restore peace to Ingot before it’s too late.

Guest Post: William Alexander on Alien Astronauts & Nomad

By William Alexander
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations


“In Teothuacan, artists made masks with no breathing places, forms, neither practical nor descriptive, yet exciting to behold. And the architects took up the building of the great form that does not exist in nature, the pyramid. They invented the order of cities, always mind-made, not following the existing course of a river or a rut. In Teotihuacan the architecture and urban design were as devoted to form as the mathematical depictions of the pattern of the solar system.”

I have written about ancient alien astronauts. This was, quite possibly, a terrible idea. But the concept is so deliciously brain-tickling. What if starships visited our planet long before we had the telescopes to see them coming? What consequences might have followed a prehistoric first contact?

Sadly, this kind of thought experiment usually unfolds with all the nuance and subtly of that embarrassing scene in “Return of the Jedi,” the one in which C3-PO hovers over prostrate Ewoks—or the more recent and equally embarrassing scene of Enterprise-worship in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”

This is the single story, the cliché and condescending story we always tell about first contact between cultures with different relationships to tech. But it isn’t the only story.

When Ishi, last of the Yahi, saw an airplane for the first time he did not fall to his knees. Instead he asked if there was a white man in that thing.

His friend said yes.

Ishi shook his head, laughed, and went on with his day.

It doesn’t help that the most famous and popular proponents of ancient alien contact are Erich von Däniken (author of Chariots of the Gods and convicted fraud), Utz Utermann (editor, co-author of Chariots of the Gods, and actual Nazi), and that guy from the History Channel.

It also doesn’t help that proponents of this notion give aliens credit for our ancient accomplishments. The human architects of Teothuacan were very good at math, astronomy, and building huge, beautiful things out of stone. They did not require aliens to teach them their business, thanks very much.

But what if alien ships did come calling, and were impressed by those same accomplishments? What if this resulted in open dialogue and diplomacy rather than a condescending lesson in pyramid construction? What if an ancient Mexican city joined a fleet of nomadic starships? What sort of spacefaring civilization might result, thousands of years later?

These are, I hope, more interesting questions than “What if aliens built our pyramids?”

The best answers I know how to give are in Nomad (McElderry, 2015), the sequel to Ambassador (McElderry, 2014).

No aliens are worshiped in either book.

Cynsational Notes

Also, Will wears Batman socks.

William Alexander writes fantasy and science fiction for kids. He won the National Book Award in 2012 for his first novel, Goblin Secrets (McElderry, 2012), and the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. His second novel, Ghoulish Song (McElderry, 2013), was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. His third, Ambassador, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, finalist for the International Latino Book Award, and a winner of the Eleanor Cameron Award.

Will studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop. He teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.