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Dreams Must Explain Themselves: The Selected Non-Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin

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Ursula K. Le Guin has won or been nominated for over 200 awards for her fiction, including the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and SFWA Grand Master Awards. She is the acclaimed author of the Earthsea sequence and The Left Hand of Darkness - which alone would qualify her for literary immortality - as well as a remarkable body of short fiction, including the powerful, Hugo-winn Ursula K. Le Guin has won or been nominated for over 200 awards for her fiction, including the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and SFWA Grand Master Awards. She is the acclaimed author of the Earthsea sequence and The Left Hand of Darkness - which alone would qualify her for literary immortality - as well as a remarkable body of short fiction, including the powerful, Hugo-winning 'The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas' and the masterpiece of anthropological and environmental SF 'The Word for World is Forest' - winner of the Hugo Award for best novella. But Ursula Le Guin's talents do not stop at fiction. Over the course of her extraordinary career, she has penned numerous essays around themes important to her: anthropology, environmentalism, feminism, social justice and literary criticism to name a few. She has responded in detail to criticism of her own work and even reassessed that work in the context of such critiques. This selection of the best of Le Guin's non-fiction shows an agile mind, an unparalleled imagination and a ferocious passion to argue against injustice. In 2014 Ursula Le Guin was awarded the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and her widely praised acceptance speech is one of the highlights of this volume, which shows that one of modern literature's most original voices is also one of its purest consciences.


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Ursula K. Le Guin has won or been nominated for over 200 awards for her fiction, including the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and SFWA Grand Master Awards. She is the acclaimed author of the Earthsea sequence and The Left Hand of Darkness - which alone would qualify her for literary immortality - as well as a remarkable body of short fiction, including the powerful, Hugo-winn Ursula K. Le Guin has won or been nominated for over 200 awards for her fiction, including the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and SFWA Grand Master Awards. She is the acclaimed author of the Earthsea sequence and The Left Hand of Darkness - which alone would qualify her for literary immortality - as well as a remarkable body of short fiction, including the powerful, Hugo-winning 'The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas' and the masterpiece of anthropological and environmental SF 'The Word for World is Forest' - winner of the Hugo Award for best novella. But Ursula Le Guin's talents do not stop at fiction. Over the course of her extraordinary career, she has penned numerous essays around themes important to her: anthropology, environmentalism, feminism, social justice and literary criticism to name a few. She has responded in detail to criticism of her own work and even reassessed that work in the context of such critiques. This selection of the best of Le Guin's non-fiction shows an agile mind, an unparalleled imagination and a ferocious passion to argue against injustice. In 2014 Ursula Le Guin was awarded the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and her widely praised acceptance speech is one of the highlights of this volume, which shows that one of modern literature's most original voices is also one of its purest consciences.

30 review for Dreams Must Explain Themselves: The Selected Non-Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Orey

    I got this to read an essay about rhythm in Tolkien (brilliant, as expected). Then I read everything else because all of it was golden.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    You might have noticed that after a pretty quiet time, there’s been a resurgence in the availability of Ursula Krober LeGuin’s writing in the last couple of years or so. I reviewed The Word for World is Forest on its republication in the UK in 2015 (review HERE), but more importantly the publication of The Complete Orsinia and The Hainish Stories and Novels by The Library of America in 2017 is perhaps mostly to blame. We’ve also had reissues as lovely hardbacks by Saga Press and here in the UK Go You might have noticed that after a pretty quiet time, there’s been a resurgence in the availability of Ursula Krober LeGuin’s writing in the last couple of years or so. I reviewed The Word for World is Forest on its republication in the UK in 2015 (review HERE), but more importantly the publication of The Complete Orsinia and The Hainish Stories and Novels by The Library of America in 2017 is perhaps mostly to blame. We’ve also had reissues as lovely hardbacks by Saga Press and here in the UK Gollancz have paved the way with re-releases such as Rocannon’s World, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters and The Left Hand of Darkness. For those of us who have been reading the stuff for a while, it is a useful reminder of how important Ursula has been in the past. For those who know less, if nothing else, this book is a timely introduction to relatively new readers, showing how important Ursula is to the genre. With this in mind, Dreams Must Explain Themselves is a cause for celebration. For it is a grouping of fifty – yes, fifty – speeches, scripts and articles written since 1972. The first speech is an acceptance one given at the National Book Award in 1972. The fiftieth is another acceptance speech, but for the National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014. There’s a lot of ground covered between the two. However, some themes are consistent. Ursula has always been recognised as one of the most influential advocates of science fiction and fantasy, and this is shown time and time again through these articles. For example: “And I also rejoice in the privilege of sharing this honor, if I may, with my fellow writers, not only in the field of children’s books, but in that even less respectable field, science fiction. For I am not only a fantasist but a science fiction writer, and odd though it may seem, I am proud to be both. We who hobnob with hobbits and tell tall tales about little green men are quite used to being dismissed as mere entertainers, or sternly disapproved of as escapists. But I think that perhaps the categories are changing, like the times. Sophisticated readers are accepting the fact that an improbable and unmanageable world is going to produce an improbable and hypothetical art.” As if her fiction was not enough to love her, through this book she regularly rails against the increasingly business-like nature of the art of writing, advocates the need for the genre to stretch and challenge and not be accepting of mediocrity, and, most of all, defends the genre against those who would decry its value. This is a book of gems. I could have filled this review with quote after quote, but I think that part of the fun of reading this collection is discovering them yourself. Suffice it to say then that you will be pleased, intrigued and challenged by what you will read here. There are thoughts on writing, reviews of books and comments on the state of science fiction and the importance of books. Stories of her life and interests, of her environmental concerns, her fascination with social science and her feminist viewpoint are clear from the start.  It is perhaps best treasured as a book to be dipped into, with a couple of articles at a time, in order to appreciate the precision of the language, the word-smithery and the sheer honesty of what is being said. You may not agree with everything (I didn’t!), but it is a book with a voice that you will want to listen to. It is, by turns, thoughtful, funny, considered, critical, argumentative and even grumpy, I suspect rather like its author – I would not want to be on the wrong side of Ms LeGuin in an argument! Dreams Must Explain Themselves is a book that reflects the times that the articles were written in. They show us that there has been change in the genre, although some would argue that there is still a long way to go. As such, they are both a statement of intent as well as a rallying call to action, from a time when injustice was accepted more than today. The changes in the genre since then are in no small amount due to the high standard Ursula set and the inspiration she gave to others. For all those writers since who have acknowledged her influence on them – off the top of my head, Ada Palmer, Michael Chabon, N. K. Jemisin, David Mitchell, Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, Christopher Priest. There are many, many others. I started reading this book before the sad news of Ms LeGuin’s death in January. (In fact, much of the above was written before her death.) I finished it after she had died, realising what a huge loss she is to the genre, and what a talent. Her written works of fiction stand the test of time, but this book shows the reader the intelligence and imagination behind those stories. Hers is a voice worth listening to, should you wish to hear it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kitty

    arvestades sellega, kui hea raamat see üldiselt on, võttis selle läbilugemine mul kohutavalt kaua aega, sest kompletist (on siuke sõna eesti keeles olemas või?) minus keeldus ühtegi esseed, kõnet või artiklit vahele jätmast, aga nagu ikka selliste tekstidega... iga teema lihtsalt ei kõneta, ja siis jäi jälle nädalateks või kuudeks pooleli. aga tegin heroilise aastalõpuponnistuse ja olen lõppeks ikkagi väga rahul. taas kord on meil tegu kirjaoskaja terase vanainimese heietustega sellest, kuidas as arvestades sellega, kui hea raamat see üldiselt on, võttis selle läbilugemine mul kohutavalt kaua aega, sest kompletist (on siuke sõna eesti keeles olemas või?) minus keeldus ühtegi esseed, kõnet või artiklit vahele jätmast, aga nagu ikka selliste tekstidega... iga teema lihtsalt ei kõneta, ja siis jäi jälle nädalateks või kuudeks pooleli. aga tegin heroilise aastalõpuponnistuse ja olen lõppeks ikkagi väga rahul. taas kord on meil tegu kirjaoskaja terase vanainimese heietustega sellest, kuidas asjad üldiselt elus ja kirjanduses on ja olla võiks. olles viimasel ajal lugenud-kuulanud palju kirjutamisõpetusi (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, William Storr), näen nende osas mustrit - Le Guin soovitab üldiselt ka täpselt samu asju. *** Well, the secret to writing is writing. It’s only a secret to people who don’t want to hear it. Writing is how you be a writer. *** ja siis lisaks räägib ta palju fantaasiakirjanduse olemusest ja rollist maailmas. aga ta räägib kõigest muust ka, abordist ja koertest ja kassidest ja tantsijatest ja ühtteist detailset omaenda raamatutest ja põlisameeriklastest ja veel natuke kassidest ja palju koertest. naiskirjanikest üsna palju. kirjutamisest kui käsitööst (craft). lohedest mitme nurga alt. nii et kokkuvõttes on selle raamatu seltsis veedetud peaaegu terve aasta olnud üks hea aasta :)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Lloyd

    I read this collection slowly and over a period of a little over two months, so I am hardly hope to offer a thorough review. I did make a few notes - and nearly 600 highlights! - but I think brevity is the best call here. Ursula K Le Guin's writing is a delight in both fiction and non-fiction. This collection covers several decades of writing, picked from four former collections of her non-fiction, and it is somewhat clear how her thoughts developed. The first half or so, which covers the '70s an I read this collection slowly and over a period of a little over two months, so I am hardly hope to offer a thorough review. I did make a few notes - and nearly 600 highlights! - but I think brevity is the best call here. Ursula K Le Guin's writing is a delight in both fiction and non-fiction. This collection covers several decades of writing, picked from four former collections of her non-fiction, and it is somewhat clear how her thoughts developed. The first half or so, which covers the '70s and '80s, reflections on Earthsea and the early Hainish Cycle, and infamous quotations about Americans who don't believe in dragons being eaten by them from within, is fantastic. So is a lot of the later writing, up to her fierce 2014 National Book Award speech. In between, the section that I believe comes largely from the collection A Wave in the Mind, there are a lot of bits and pieces of writing advice that I found interesting but repetitive. I'm not a fiction writer, and while I might be interested in Le Guin's process I'm not so invested that I'd go out of my way to read, say, Steering the Craft, so for me that part dragged a little. Overall I think that this is a good collection to dip in and out of, to have on the go and read the odd essay here and there. Virtually everything Le Guin had to say was interesting, whether you agree or not. I recommend finding out.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

    I love Ursula Le Guin for her Fantasy novels, but most especially for the characters that emerge from the blank parts of the map in those novels – whether it is Shevek, Tenar, Ged or Genly Ai. In Dreams Must Explain Themselves we’re provided with access to Le Guin’s mind through a broad, deep selection of her essays drawn from more than three decades of her illustrious career. Essays which provide insights into her thinking about the craft of writing, both her own and others, among many other top I love Ursula Le Guin for her Fantasy novels, but most especially for the characters that emerge from the blank parts of the map in those novels – whether it is Shevek, Tenar, Ged or Genly Ai. In Dreams Must Explain Themselves we’re provided with access to Le Guin’s mind through a broad, deep selection of her essays drawn from more than three decades of her illustrious career. Essays which provide insights into her thinking about the craft of writing, both her own and others, among many other topics. From criticism of Lessing‘s Science Fiction and Twain‘s Adam and Eve Diaries via an assessment of the rhythm in Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings to a long discourse on... https://gavincostello.wordpress.com/2...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mantareads

    4.8 stars. Eating the same thing, even your favourite thing, can wear thin after a while. Reading LeGuin's solemn, serious clarity requires some breaks. But otherwise this collection is really full of such original, individual ideas. I enjoyed them very much. I learned very much about feminism, about manhood, about writing, about animals, about fantasy and science fiction in this collection of essays. One comes away from this book feeling like one has had a satisfyingly robust meal, or a proper, 4.8 stars. Eating the same thing, even your favourite thing, can wear thin after a while. Reading LeGuin's solemn, serious clarity requires some breaks. But otherwise this collection is really full of such original, individual ideas. I enjoyed them very much. I learned very much about feminism, about manhood, about writing, about animals, about fantasy and science fiction in this collection of essays. One comes away from this book feeling like one has had a satisfyingly robust meal, or a proper, solid workout.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Wigmore

    I probably read only about 2/3 of these -- some didn't interest me for one reason or another -- but those I did were easily worth the purchase price. Wise words from a sharp mind and an open soul, especially on gender, why genre fiction is shunned by most critics, and the writing process, all written in her clear and elegant prose. I probably read only about 2/3 of these -- some didn't interest me for one reason or another -- but those I did were easily worth the purchase price. Wise words from a sharp mind and an open soul, especially on gender, why genre fiction is shunned by most critics, and the writing process, all written in her clear and elegant prose.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maryanne

    The bits I read were interesting and insightful. Some of it a bit old now, as is to be expected, and some chapters fresh and sharp. If you have to choose one Le Guin text, I suggest Steering the Craft of Story.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barbora Benova

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carmel Whelan

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eilis O sullivan

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jediah

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joy

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tim Goodacre

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  16. 4 out of 5

    Caleb

  17. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Mills

  19. 5 out of 5

    jennet wheatstonelllsl

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ruth K Sullivan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Piotr Nowicki

  23. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

  24. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sol Yoga

  28. 5 out of 5

    Johanna Käck

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ole-Jørgen

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