In recognition of International Science Fiction Day on January 2, I am writing about two great authors of the genre who passed away in 2018. Both were influential members in the New Wave movement of the 1960s, but continued writing well into this century. I write of Ursula K. Le Guin and Harlan Ellison, two of the most important writers in the science fiction genre. All the titles in this post can be found here.
Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away on January 22, 2018, was a pioneer of feminist science fiction. Two of her best known novels, “Left Hand of Darkness” and “The Dispossessed,” can be found in “The Hainish Novels and Stories, Volume 1.” “Left Hand of Darkness” tells of a diplomat to a planet where there is no concept of gender, and what follows is a story of political intrigue and the dangers of making assumptions. “The Dispossessed” is the story of a scientist from an utopian society who must now attempt his research on a planet in a similar situation to our own Cold War.
Le Guin’s “The Hainish Novels and Stories, Volume 2” includes excellent stories as well, such as her environmental novella “The Word for World is Forest,” which was influenced by the events of the Vietnam War, and “Five Ways to Forgiveness,” which tells of a society dealing with the aftereffects of slavery.
I'd be remiss if I did not also mention her celebrated “Earthsea” series of fantasy novels: “A Wizard of Earthsea,” “Tombs of Atuan,” “The Farthest Shore,” “Tehanu,” “Tales From Earthsea” and “The Other Wind.” Here, Le Guin wove a fully realized fantasy world where she explored themes such as facing your fears, taking responsibility for your mistakes, overcoming your upbringing and self-realization. I also highly recommend “No Time to Spare,” a collection of her thoughts that she originally published to her blog near the end of her life.
Harlan Ellison passed away on June 27, 2018. He was a contentious and controversial figure who is sometimes remembered more for his own conflicts than his works. A lot of his writing was bold and experimental, as seen in the short story collection “Top of the Volcano, the Award Winning Stories of Harlan Ellison.” Here, you can read about his stand against the tyranny of deadlines in “‘Repent Harlequin,’ Said the Ticktockman,” his bleak apocalyptic tale of horror “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” the tragic “Jefty is Five,” and “A Boy and His Dog,” which is a post-apocalyptic story of a raider and his telepathic dog, and others. “A Boy and His Dog” is also collected with some related stories in the same setting in “Blood’s a Rover.” Another title worth checking out is “Gentlemen Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation,” which is a collection of socially conscious stories outside the science fiction genre.
Ellison was also a great advocate of other talented writers in his field. His anthologies “Dangerous Visions” and “Again, Dangerous Visions” feature stories from sci-fi greats such as Samuel Delany, opens a new window, Gene Wolfe, opens a new window, Philip K. Dick, opens a new window, Kurt Vonnegut, opens a new window, Joanna Russ, opens a new window, J.G. Ballard, opens a new window, Fritz Leiber, opens a new window, James Tiptree Jr., opens a new window and Ursula K. Le Guin, opens a new window.
Le Guin and Ellison were influential in how science fiction developed as a genre. It’s hard to imagine what the genre would look like today without their work.