In the early 1960s, when Ursula K. Le Guin began to publish, science fiction was dominated by so-called hard sci-fi: speculative fiction grounded in physics, chemistry, and, to a lesser extent, biology.
The understanding of technological progress as an unalloyed good went largely unquestioned; America was enjoying unprecedented prominence in world affairs, and the science fiction of what has come to be known as the “golden age” projected this same sense of exceptionalism onto the cosmos. The space adventures that filled the pages of Amazing Stories and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction tended to be written by, for, and about white men, with only occasional nods to racial or gender (or, for that matter, species) diversity. But a sea change was coming.
No single work did more to upend the genre’s conventions than The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
In this novel, her fourth, Le Guin imagined a world whose human inhabitants have no fixed gender: their sexual roles are determined by context and express themselves only once every month. The form of the book is a mosaic of primary sources, an interstellar ethnographer’s notebook, ranging from matter-of-fact journal entries to fragments of alien myth.
Writers as diverse as Zadie Smith and Algis Budrys have cited The Left Hand of Darkness as an influence, and Harold Bloom included it in The Western Canon. In the decades that followed, Le Guin continued to broaden both her range and her readership, writing the fantasy series she has perhaps become best known for, Earthsea, as well as the anarchist utopian allegory The Dispossessed, to name just a few books among dozens. Her productivity is remarkable. Lavinia (2008), her most recent novel, was her twenty-third book-length work of fiction.
Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-three novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc.
All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor.
What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life-science, all the sciences, and technology, and the relativistic and the historical outlook among them. Space travel is one of these metaphors; so is an alternative society, an alternative biology; the future is another. The future, in fiction, is a metaphor. Ursula K Le Guin