One of the all-time greats is gone: Ursula LeGuin has died, and the world of sci-fi & fantasy — hell, the world in general — is far the poorer for it.
As a kid, I didn’t care if my favorite writers were men (Zelazny, Heinlein, etc…), couples (David & Leigh Eddings), or women (Cherryh, LeGuin…), I just loved to read. Hell, did it matter to me that Samuel Delaney was a gay, black man? No, not then…and not now. The man could write, and that was all that counted…
I never thought then about who my favorite writers were, but now…now, I know so much more. That’s why I call LeGuin one of the true titans: Left Hand of Darkness is one of those books that anyone who wants to claim a breadth of knowledge and experience needs to read. It is not only brilliantly written, but is also one of those key stories that is about far more than it is “about”.
LeGuin, when you get right down to it, could flat-out write. She wrote with an honesty, and an energy and strength, that are damned near perfect. Her career, beginning in the 60’s when women “didn’t write sci-fi/fantasy,” very much helped to change the landscape. She had an effect then, and is still doing so now.
Hell, even those to whom the 90’s and 00’s are “ancient history” owe her a massive debt: you would not likely have Harry Potter without the Wizard of Earthsea series…
LeGuin lived to a great age, and had a life of success and influence, but her death is still a blow. As great a blow as the early losses of Douglas Adams and Roger Zelazny, as great a blow as the losses of the likes of Dick, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury and Heinlein.
That pantheon of the true greats is getting awfully thin on the ground…and I’m struggling to find the new writers who can truly fill their shoes. Oh, there are very good writers out there, writers with talent and vision and a true gift, but who can truly stand among those names who are gone? Gaiman…Cherryh…Butler…
A few, there are, that I think could also rise to be among that pantheon, but they aren’t quite there yet: Scalzi…Rothfuss…Sanderson…Stephenson…*
*Great, so now I have a new challenge; it’s time to go hunting for new writers, and new greats.
But the one thing I ask — hell, the one thing I demand — is that those writing now acknowledge and understand the debt we owe to the past. As writers and dreamers and creators, we stand on the shoulders of giants…and yet one more of those giants is gone.
Be at peace, LeGuin, and rest well, you have earned it. And thank you.