Locus Online



Ursula K. Le Guin: The Age of Saturn
posted 24 October 2008
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in Berkeley CA, daughter of renowned anthropologist Dr. Alfred L. Kroeber (1876-1960) and writer Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi in Two Worlds (1961). Her first SF story was "April in Paris" (1962), and her first novel Rocannon's World (1966), which began her Hainish series that later included Hugo and Nebula award winning novels The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974), Hugo winning novella "The Word for World is Forest" (1972) and Nebula winning short story "The Day Before the Revolution" (1974), and later works such as story suite Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995) and novel The Telling (2000).

Among many other notable works, Le Guin wrote The Lathe of Heaven (1971), twice adapted for film, and the young adult fantasy Earthsea trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1972), and National Book Award winner The Farthest Shore (1972), with later books in the same world Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990), which won a Nebula, collection Tales of Earthsea (2001) and novel The Other Wind (2001).

Her stories have been collected in The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975), The Compass Rose (1982), and several others through The Birthday of the World (2002) and Changing Planes (2003).

In addition to anthologies and poetry, Le Guin has published notable nonfiction beginning with The Language of the Night (1979). Her most recent fiction includes YA series Annals of the Western Shore, Gifts (2004), Voices (2006), and Powers (2007), and historical Lavinia (2008).

Le Guin's many honors include SFWA Grand Master, World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement, five Hugos, five Nebulas, two World Fantasy Awards, and induction in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

(A more extensive biographical summary appears in the October Locus.)

Photo by Liza Groen Trombi

Ursula K. Le Guin's Web Site
Excerpts from the interview:

“Reading The Aeneid in Latin –- very slowly! -- I got fascinated with the second half of the book, especially the character of Aeneas. And what are all these battles? Did Vergil just include them because he's writing an epic? No, he's too good a poet for that. He had to have some reason. And the battles are horrifying. Homer's battles are kind of fun: everybody chops everybody's head off, and whoopee! Homer seems to enjoy it, and Vergil does not. So I got totally intrigued by what he was doing. Then the idea of looking at it from the girl's point of view appeared. In the poem, she doesn't have a line; she just watches. What does Lavinia, the little Italian girl, think of it all? So there's my book.

“Ploughing through it in Latin isn't exactly reading -- it's translating very slowly. (There's the English on the right-hand side of the page to help you figure out the more complicated bits.) I was reading about 10 lines a day, 15 on a really good day, but when you read something like that it really gets into you!

“I was still reading Vergil when I started writing Lavinia, so there's this overlap. I had to be in the poem, as well as the history -- a sort of double obligation, which was in fact a lot of fun. Until the Trojans arrive, Lavinia's Italy is fairly idyllic. That's the old Roman myth of the Age of Saturn, which was the Golden Age. Then history begins, and everything goes to pieces! Guys start killing each other in groups, and so forth.”


“I don't feel a great difference between what I've done in science fiction and Lavinia. There are some facts, and you want to get 'em right; and then you cut loose. In a historical novel, trying to imagine what it was like in eighth century BC or 1200 AD, you have to get your facts right, the way you do in science fiction. The same as in Realism. If you're writing about San Francisco and you don’t live there, you may have to do a little research. You have to make it plausible, and realize you have pretty knowledgeable readers. As Chip Delany said, 'You use what is known to be known.' And once you've got that, you can just go ahead and invent all you please. If it's science fiction, you can't break away from scientific fact, and if you do break away then I think it's properly called fantasy. That's the difference. I do feel that difference, and since 1970 or so I'm perfectly clear which one I'm writing. But an awful lot of science fiction is more fantasy than we want to admit. The whole thing about long-distance space travel is just as fantastic as it ever was. We haven't been able to do it, and it gets more unlikely the more we know.

“I think both science fiction and fantasy are now becoming part of the mainstream. I wanted them to be respected as part of the mainstream -- I didn't want genre snobbishness to prevail. But there is a difference between how you write science fiction and how you write a realistic novel and how you write a western, even if they always have miscegenated (as we used to say). I think it's improving the mainstream, but I'm not sure it's improving science fiction.”


“Am I going to sell another book to Hollywood? Probably not. Bit once, OK; bit twice, you're stupid. I think a couple of my books would make very good movies, but you've got to have somebody who really believes in you, really believes this book would make a good movie, not, 'I'm going to buy this book so we can use her name, and then I'll make the movie I want to make.' However, I got wonderful letters of condolence for months after the Sci Fi Channel's version of A Wizard of Earthsea. People were so sweet, so mad! I do have wonderful readers. They write the nicest damn letters.

“I have no idea what I'll work on next. There's one story in the setting of my recent YA trilogy that I'd like to tell, but so far it will not make itself into a book -- it won't come out book-size. So I'm just waiting on that. Sometimes a story happens, and sometimes it doesn't happen; it just lingers in the middle distance and says, 'Not ready yet.'”

© 2008 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.