Ursula K. Le Guin
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: Fantasy, HiLo Heroes, Literature, Sci-Fi, Utopia


Her Earthsea fantasy novels — most signally, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971), and The Farthest Shore (1972) — concern the education of a young wizard, and are recommended for those who labor under the delusion that the middlebrow Harry Potter series is any good. However, URSULA K. LE GUIN (born 1929) is particularly talented as an author of science fiction, a genre she uses better than most to criticize gender roles, capitalism, and the Western shibboleth of “progress.” Long before Iain M. Banks set his “Culture” series in an egalitarian, galaxy-spanning social order, there was Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle — The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974), and The Word for World is Forest (1976) are the must-reads — in which an egalitarian social order, the Ekumen, explores the outposts of a collapsed Galactic Empire. These outposts include (respectively) Gethen, whose inhabitants can become male or female each month; Anarres, an anarcho-syndicalist moon orbiting around a capitalist planet; and Athshe, a forest-world whose aboriginal natives are brutalized by Earth’s military-industrial complex. NB: The Lathe of Heaven (1971), a PKD-esque epistemological workout, appears more or less between the two series — and it appealed, at the time, to fantasy and SF fans alike.

NEW WAVE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: 75 Best New Wave (1964–83) Sci-Fi Novels | Back to Utopia: Fredric Jameson’s theorizing about New Wave sci-fi | Douglas Adams | Poul Anderson | J.G. Ballard | John Brunner | William Burroughs | Octavia E. Butler | Samuel R. Delany | Philip K. Dick | Frank Herbert | Ursula K. Le Guin | Barry N. Malzberg | Moebius (Jean Giraud) | Michael Moorcock | Alan Moore | Gary Panter | Walker Percy | Thomas Pynchon | Joanna Russ | James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) | Kurt Vonnegut | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics | REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD: a series of posts featuring deconstructed heads from New Wave sci-fi book covers.

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MORE FANTASY ON HILOBROW: CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM series | 65 Fantasy Adventures | Mervyn Peake | Lord Dunsany | H.P. Lovecraft | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Ursula K. LeGuin | Michael Moorcock | Gary Gygax | Clark Ashton Smith | Frank Frazetta | George MacDonald | John Bellairs | T.H. White | Wilkie Collins | M.R. James | Edgar Allan Poe | Lewis Carroll | Mikhail Bulgakov | Guy Endore | Alasdair Gray | Maurice Sendak | Tove Jansson | L. Frank Baum | Roald Dahl | Abraham Merritt | August Derleth | William Hope Hodgson | Madeleine L’Engle

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Fran Landesman | Lux Interior | Yoshikazu Ebisu |

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).



Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011); and he is co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.