Ursula K. Le Guin is a master of speculative fiction. Her work spans literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and various reflexive essays on writing and fiction in general. She writes across age groups, for children and adults alike. Her writing is usually found in the form of a novel, a short story, or an essay.
Ursula is unique in the fact that she has explored language, culture, and politics to a great degree through her writing in fiction. Her gripping prose is designed to elicit thought and pondering. Her Hainish universe reflects a great deal of complexity and contradictions within itself, in this way it seems as though it is a reflection of our own universe. The combination of speculative fiction with this degree of imaginative capacity is what stands out as being characteristically Ursula K. Le Guin.
Ursula is a true herald of speculative fiction in the sense that she conjures complex worlds with ease. The license she takes with imagining world systems and cultures challenges our notions of living from an intellectual perspective. Her work is so provocative that it challenges readers on a linguistic level as well. Ursula demonstrates tremendous control over language which she uses to furnish perspectives and helps us immerse ourselves in the world of the narrator. This special imaginative feat has been tried by so few before her. She echoes the legacy of writers like Lewis Carroll or Edwin A. Abbott in her unapologetic forays into various dense themes and topics.
Ursula Le Guin is a master of language craft. Her writing always reflects the world and the people of the plot and is, as such, not based in our own world but in some far realm of her imagination. Something that is deeply admirable about her use of language is that she doesn’t talk down to her audience at all. Though she has written books for children, she does not patronize the audience but rather propositions them with ideas. This deeply egalitarian writing system holds no superiority over the reader and thereby encourages the reader to think and reflect authentically on the ideas being presented on paper. Even ‘The Wizard of Earthsea’, which is meant for children carries a lot of grim and explorative themes such that an adult can easily read it without being bored.
Ursula Le Guin is a farmer of perspective. She builds intricate and compelling viewpoints using characters to build an understanding of the world seamlessly. Another thing she is great at is using dialectical methods to expound on these rich and colourful characters. Her works set in the Hainish universe such as ‘Left Hand of Darkness’ or ‘The Dispossessed’ famously have this cultivation of perspective building. Again, she uses her control over language to establish this as well. The people of Annares in ‘The Dispossessed’ do not have a word for prison in their anarcho-syndicalist world. The protagonist, professor Shevek, doesn’t even have a working understanding of sexism. And these are not displayed as factoids that the world possesses but rather something that emerges from the language of the writing. Furthermore, the design of the world and the way it impinges on the language all show a certain level of consideration of the world. This can be incredibly rewarding for a reader of fiction as it lets you seamlessly dip into a world where the ideas it presents are most relevant. It can illustrate certain philosophical ideas better than some treatises on the same.
Ursula’s books frequently foray into philosophical discussions. Usually in the disciplines of metaphysics, epistemology, and morality. One of the greatest uses of speculative fiction is to unify it with speculations about our world or even better to speculate about concepts and ideas that transcend worlds. In the field of epistemology, this kind of knowledge is often known as apriori (meaning without the need for priors) knowledge. This is the kind of knowledge that Ursula builds in her explorations of philosophy in her books. For example, in ‘Left Hand of Darkness’ there is a cultural mechanism or ritual through which some saints can divine the future in a prophetic fashion. The protagonist has a discussion with one of these saints about the use of knowing the future and having knowledge of the same. The discussion is fascinating and highlights a number of different moral and ethical considerations about the nature of this kind of knowledge. Ursula’s writing is riddled with explorations and discoveries of this kind. They can be very stimulating and engage the introspective tendency within you.
Furthermore, Ursula uses politics and diplomacy as great themes that move her stories. Whether it is the political systems of the planet Winter or the implications of joining the Hainish galactic alliance or even something like the anarcho-syndicalist world of Annares. The speculation is heavy with these worlds but they are all well considered, designed, and developed by her. Taking differences in language and culture into consideration, she is able to develop complex political systems with internal strife and power struggles which is very symptomatic and insightful of our own world.