Ursula K. Le Guin
Lathe of Heaven (1971)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Science Fiction (Philosophical Focus)
George Orr is a man who dreams change into the world. He is terrified of the ability he has to change the universe as he sleeps. After a nearly fatal attempt to suppress his dreams with illegally attained prescription drugs, Orr is forced to submit to a psychiatrist Dr. William Haber who takes Orrís power into his own hands. After many attempts by Haber to perfect reality with Orrís dreams and his own scientific gadgets, the world progressively grows more chaotic. As Orr dreams jobs, lovers, and even plagues in and out of existence he realizes he must put a stop to Haberís corrupted experimentation. SPOILER: With the assistance of the aliens that Orr dreamed down to earth, he is able to put a stop to Haberís distorted reality just before it is too late. However, it takes the near demolition of humanity for Haber to finally realize that a perfect universe is not even attainable in human dreams; a realization that puts the once renowned scientist into a mental hospital.
Geographical Setting: Portland, Oregon
Time Period: Future (approximately early to mid twenty-first century)
This is a leisurely paced story that gives more emphasis to the strongly developed characters and philosophical ideas than a fast plot. Each of the characters seem to represent a different aspect of humanity and all of their personalities work together to develop what is eventually a less than perfect but satisfactory world. Themes and symbols that Le Guin interweaves into the story add depth and poetic intensity. Le Guin addresses ideas such as descrimination, power and limitations of science, international war and peace, and free will.
Read-alikes: Good readalikes include Catherine Asaro's Alpha which is set in the future and examines the conflict between emotional needs and human technological progress; H.G. Wells' books The Invisible Man and The Time Machine are both literary SF classics (though Wells' writing style is a bit dated and may not appeal to some fans of the genre) that address social and moral issues; Alice Hoffmanís The Probably Future deals with a person with superhuman powers that give her abilities and responsibilities that others do not possess; and George Orwell's 1984 is a futuristic tale that tackles the issue of corruption of power.
Red Flags: Strong Language, Drug Use
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Science Fiction (Philosophical)
The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of Genly Ai, an envoy sent alone on a mission to the alien planet Gethen. His daunting job is to convince the rulers of the nations of Gethen to join the Ekumen, a trade consortium of worlds. Gethen, also known as Winter, is a place where almost artic conditions prevail. It is also a world without fixed gender. The citizens of Gethen are able to be both male and female, but are genderless for the most part of each month. SPOILER: Although initially celebrated by the citizens of Gethen, Genly soon finds himself overcome by political intrigue and winds up being kidnapped and sent to a labor camp. Just before Genly succumbs to the harsh conditions, he is rescued by a most unlikely ally, Estraven, who is the banished prime minister of Karhide. The two bond during their struggle for survival and Genly experiences an intimate look and Gethenian life. However, Estaven ends up getting killed when he and Genly try to cross back over into the nation of Karhide. Genly later makes a trip to see Estaven's family and attempt to posthumously reconcile Estaven with his estranged family.
Geographical Setting: The planet Gethen/Winter
Time Period: The far future
Series: Hain series, Book 6
Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness will appeal to readers who enjoy more philosophical science fiction. This is a thought-provoking read and the tone is serious throughout. Le Guin explores issues of xenophobia and gender roles, as well as different levels and meanings of alienation. The detailed setting allows the reader to become immersed in Gethen, even though it is such an alien world. This is an issue-oriented book but it also centers around the increasingly complex characters of Genly and Estaven. The pace is slower because of the wealth of details, but there is still a great deal of action going on in this book. The Left Hand of Darkness won both a Nebula award in 1969 and a Hugo award in 1970. This book is often considered a classic of the genre and appeals to readers who may not consider themselves typical fans of science fiction.
Read-alikes: Fans of The Lathe of Heaven who are looking for another philosophical science fiction novel with a small cast of characters that takes place in a dystopic future where facistic control reigns might be interested in 1984 by George Orwell. The Phoenix Code by Catherine Asaro may be interesting to those who are looking for another science fiction novel with well-rounded characters and lots of introspective, internal dialogue. Those who are interested in reading another book that discusses the future interactions of humans and technology and has a similar serious, philosophical mood might be interested in Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. Those interested in another novel by a classic, hugo-and-nebula-award-winning science fiction novel that has a similarly philosophical- and character-driven perspective and takes place in a futuristic setting may enjoy Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Those who are interested in reading something with even more of a high-philosophical-concept that shows the future of earth may be interested in Philip K. Dick's classic novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The book Master of None by N.Lee Wood deals with similar issues of being isolated on an alien planet. There is the dual struggle of trying to survive while trying to assimilate to a new culture. Gender plays an important role here too, because this new world is a matriarchal society. C.J.Cherryh's Foreigner also explores alien worlds and culture shock and takes place in a futuristic setting. Joe Haldeman's The Forever War shares the overriding theme of not being able to go home again. The main protagonists in both books are forever changed by their experiences. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick also won the Hugo award. It gives another view of racism and prejudice that takes place in America, but an America where the Nazis rule and slavery is still legal. It shares the same serious tone and thought-provoking qualities as The Left Hand of Darkness For another look at Le Guin's writing try The Dispossessed. This book also explores themes of gender roles and has a similar philosophical feel.
Red Flags: Some non-graphic sexual situations and limited violence along with themes of xenophobia.a name = "tell">
The Telling (2000)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Science Fiction (Philosophical Focus)
The novel's protagonist is Sutty,an alien from the world of Terran, who is an Observer employed by the Ekumen. She and other Observers were sent to live in Dovza City several decades ago and at the beginning of the novel, Sutty is asked to go to the small city of Okzat-Ozkat to do research on the old writings and ways of Aka, which may still be in use in the small city. She travels to Okzat-Ozkat and befriends the members of the city. Sutty uncovers all the information she could have ever wished to find on the old writings and ways of Aka and she discovers 'the telling' which includes the sharing of tales and practices of the past,which are done in secret because they have been banned by The Corporation State, which is the authoritative government of Aka. After being in Okzat-Ozkat for quite sometime, Sutty is invited to join a group of people who are going to travel to the Lap of Silong. SPOILER: When they reached the Lap of Silong, Sutty discovered that it was just a bunch of caves where people came to share 'the telling' and read the old books, manuscripts, and artifacts that had been left there over the years. The Lap of Silong included a large library that was filled with the old books and manuscripts. Sutty learned a great deal about 'the telling' while she was there. After they left the Lap of Silong, Sutty went back to Dovza City with two of the guides that had gone with her to the Lap of Silong. When they arrived in Dovza City, they met with Tong and they asked Tong to save the library of books in Silong and even 'the telling'and in exchange Sutty would give Tong her research on the old books, artifacts,and ways of life and 'the telling'as a whole. The Corporation State's top executives enter the room where they have been having their discussion and the novel ends.
Geographical Setting: The world of Aka, specifically Dovza City,Okzat-Ozkat.
Time Period: The present (2000)
Hainish Cycle (Book Eight)
The Telling has a story line that focuses heavily on moral, social, and philosophical questions. Le Guin asks questions about religion, government, politics, science, and human nature. She asks the reader to consider whether a government founded on "pure science" and demanding total control is so very different from a religion claiming moral superiority and demanding widespread adherence. These are heavy issues and they give the book a dark, foreboding tone. The story has a special background frame. It is the eighth of the Hainish Cycle books, all of which take place in the same universe, guided by common principles including a detailed history of the organization of the universe and technological advances. This book takes place on Aka, a planet for which Le Guin provides detailed description, both topographical and historical. The character of Sutty is well-drawn. Le Guin describes her background on Earth and always provides the reader with information about her emotional state. Secondary characters remain distant and not too detailed, as they are less important than the issues surrounding them. Le Guin maintains a measured pace throughout the story, slowly revealing the intricacies of the planet Aka and the Telling as Sutty discovers them. Le Guin uses a writing style that is poetic in its descriptions of the setting, graceful in its handling of flashbacks, and deeply thoughtful in its musings on the culture of The Telling.
Read-alikes: Readers who enjoy the philosophical tone of Le Guin's work and enjoy stories that address issues of culture clash among planets and the role of technology may enjoy Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. It is the story of a planet that wished to avoid the technological revolution and the repercussions when technology actually attacks it. In Eden by Stanislaw Lem, the crew of a crash-landed spaceship observe a strange planet and discover its sinister underpinnings. Those who enjoyed Le Guin's thought-provoking story line and the theme of the outsider-looking-in will enjoy this social criticism. As in The Telling characters in Eden take a back seat to the exploration of philosophical issues. Those who are fascinated by Le Guin's account of cultural upheaval and her focus on the way it affected individual characters may enjoy reading a similar account of real-world events. Le Guin drew on events in China during The Great Leap Forward to write The Telling so John Pomfret's Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China might appeal to those interested in the historical aspects of Le Guin's story. In Chinese Lessons, Pomfret, who was one of the first American students to be admitted to a Chinese university after the Communist Revolution, gives intimate accounts of the lives of five of his classmates and the ways that their lives were affected by the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. If you enjoy Le Guin's poetic, almost allegorical writing style and the dark tone surrounding the Corporation State, you may also enjoy Jose Saramago's The Cave, an allegorical tale about one man's creative struggle against a consumerist bureaucracy know as "the Center." Readers who enjoy Le Guin's dense prose and the detailed universe of her Hainish series, might also enjoy Frank Herbert's Dune series. Readers should start with the first book, Dune, which sets the tone for the series, introducing the planet Dune, the feuding factions of the empire, and the boy Paul who will become their Messiah. The series is heavily steeped in issues pertaining to the clash of cultures, factions, and religions. If you are interested in learning about life on other planets you may enjoy Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov. The novel is about The Father of the Foundation, Hari Seldon, who believes that the theory that he has developed, the Theory of Psychohistory, will make his legacy last forever. If you like novels about being an outsider in a strange land you may like The Veiled Web by Catherine Asaro, which is about the prima ballerina, Lucia del Mar, who has recently cheated death, who ends up in the home of a famous computer expert in Morocco, who has come upon a computer that has a soul and may be dangerous. If you like novels about strong female protagonists and repression you may appreciate Terrorists of Irustan by Louise Marley, which is about a planet that has been taken over by human beings and a woman who kills her abusive spouse. If you like to read novels about the collision of cultures and the ramifications of what it means to be human you may enjoy C.J. Cherrych's Foreigner Series which is a science fiction series about these themes. Finally,if you want to read more by Ursula K. Le Guin, I suggest reading The Left Hand of Darkness which is the sixth book in the Hainish Cycle and it's a classic novel by Le Guin.
Red Flags: There is a very large amount of explanation about philosophy and spirituality and there is some content about homosexual relationships.