Cora guestblogs elsewhere and remembers Ursula K. Le Guin

First of all, my pals at the great podcast The Skiffy and Fanty Show are holding a “Month of Joy” event to celebrate the launch of their new website and they invited plenty of folks they interviewed over the years, including me, to share what gives them joy.

When I got the invitation e-mail, I was massively stressed out and didn’t feel particularly joyful. So I wondered what I could possibly write about, especially since very little gave me joy at that time. However, I found that no matter how stressed I was, I inevitably felt calmer when I sat down to make myself something to eat. So I decided to write about cooking.

The resulting post can be seen here. And coincidentally, I finally managed to recreate the elusive Schillerlocken salad mentioned in that post and you can see the result here. But I don’t just talk about cooking, but also a bit about writing. What is more, I share a genuine family recipe and holiday classic, namely my grandma’s recipe for herring salad. I wondered for a moment whether to share that particular recipe – it is a family legacy, after all – but then I thought why not. My Mom and I and possibly my cousin are the only people still making that particular recipe, so why not spread the joy of the best recipe for herring salad ever further?

So head over to the Skiffy and Fanty website, check out my post and maybe try the recipe. And while you’re there, read some of the other “Month of Joy” posts as well such as this one about translating Italian science fiction by Rachel Cordasco.

In other news, this was a sad week for the science fiction and fantasy community, because Ursula K. Le Guin, genre matriarch and grande old dame of science fiction and fantasy, left us at the age of 88. Over at the Speculative Fiction Showcase, I have linked to a number of lovely tributes from many of the big and small names in our genre in the weekly link round-up.

Those posts and tributes say pretty much everything there is to say about Ursula K. Le Guin and also show how important she was for our genre. So this isn’t going to be a long tribute, just a short rememberance.

When I fired up the Internet on Tuesday and saw that Ursula K. Le Guin had died, I was stunned, almost petrified. It shouldn’t be shocking, if someone dies at the age of 88, but she still seemed so active, still writing, still blogging, still publishing (her last essay collection, fittingly entitled No Time To Spare, came out barely a month before her death) that it seemed as if she would be here forever.

As with many other writers, readers and fans of science fiction and fantasy, Ursula K. Le Guin and her work have meant very much to me. However, when I saw someone asking others on Twitter, which was the first Ursula K. Le Guin book they read, I initially drew a blank. Which is odd, because for most of the other great writers of the genre, I can usually tell you which work of theirs I found first. But for Ursula K. Le Guin I honestly wasn’t sure.

Unlike many others, I never read A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels as a teenager. When I grew up, science fiction and fantasy in general were scarce in supply in my school library and the village newsagent cum tobacco store cum stationery store cum bookstore. And as a young reader, you are very much dependent on the books that are available to you, particularly in the pre-Internet era. And in the 1980s, that meant “realistic” books that reflected the lives and problems of young people (though hardly any of those books ever reflected mine), not fantasy and science fiction. And what fantasy and science fiction there was, was usually be German or European authors. Books by American authors were rare, probably because of the vicious Anti-Americanism at the time (from both the right and the left) that meant anything American was automatically dismissed as trash. So I never read the Earthsea books as a kid, just as I never read Narnia or the Prydain Chronicles or A Wrinkle in Time or The Dark is Rising or the Oz books or Doctor Suess or plenty of other cultural touchstones for people from the English speaking world.

And when I finally discovered written science fiction at the age of fifteen, I found Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and Anne McCaffrey and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Poul Anderson and Robert A. Heinlein and C.J. Cherryh and many others, but I still did not find Ursula K. Le Guin. I knew that she existed, but for some reason – probably a lack of availability – I did not read anything by her until much later. Once I did, I read The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven and The Dispossessed and enjoyed them all. I also finally read A Wizard of Earthsea and saw that I would have loved it, had I found it at the right time in my life. But most of all, I enjoyed her essays and her criticism. While I was working on my MA thesis, I thoroughly overdosed on science fiction criticism and could stomach neither science fiction criticism nor science fiction itself for a year or so. However, I still read any Ursula K. Le Guin essay or review I could find. Because unlike the preposterous blatherings of more or less preposterous men that I endured for my MA thesis, her work was always insightful and not preposterous at all.

So which was the first Ursula K. Le Guin work I read? Well, it turns out that there were two of her works that I read in my teens after all. One was “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, which I found in an anthology somewhere. But though it made an impact – well, is there anybody on whom that story doesn’t make an impact? – I did not recall the name of the author (it didn’t help that my teen self occasionally used what few bookstores carrying English language fiction there was as libraries, because I could not possibly afford to buy all the books that interested me) until I found it referenced in one of Ursula K. Le Guin’s essays much later. However, there is another work by Ursula K. Le Guin I encountered at around the same time, probably earlier, and that is The Word for World Is Forest. I suspect the reason I sought it out was because I saw it listed somewhere as an influence on the Endor scenes in Return of the Jedi. My teen self had made it her mission to track down each and everything that was supposed to have influenced the Star Wars trilogy. This quest led me to some strange places and to plenty of things where I could not see any connection at all, but it also introduced me to the films of Akira Kurosawa and the fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin.

So the first work by Ursula K Le Guin that I read was The Word for World Is Forest. I read it, because someone somewhere claimed it had influenced Return of the Jedi. I have no idea if it really did, though I can certainly see the parallels, but I’m still grateful to whatever critic drew that comparison, because they introduced me to one of the true greats of our genre.

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