Celebrate the Life & Writing of Ursula K. Le Guin (R.I.P.) with Classic Radio Dramatizations of Her Stories

Until yes­ter­day, had you asked me to name my favorite liv­ing writ­ers, Ursu­la K. Le Guin’s name would appear near the top of the list. As of yes­ter­day, I can no longer say this. Le Guin passed away at the age of 88, and left mil­lions of fans bereft—fans with whom she had shared some of the finest sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy writ­ten in the 20th cen­tu­ry, and with whom she hap­pi­ly shared her wis­dom and advice in the free online work­shops she held in her lat­er years, her way of con­nect­ing with read­ers when she retired from writ­ing.

Like many peo­ple, I first came to Le Guin’s work through her 1969 Neb­u­la and Hugo-win­ning nov­el The Left Hand of Dark­ness, a book that explod­ed ideas about what sci­ence fic­tion could be and do. That nov­el is part of a series of sto­ries called the “Hain­ish cycle,” which—like C.S. Lewis’ Space Tril­o­gy—are deeply philo­soph­i­cal and deeply sen­si­tive to the emo­tion­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal res­o­nances of the ques­tions they grap­ple with.

But unlike Lewis, Le Guin sought not to res­ur­rect old mytholo­gies, but to show how the bound­aries and divi­sions we take for grant­ed might eas­i­ly become arbi­trary and unfa­mil­iar; how we might become some­thing entire­ly new and dif­fer­ent.

There are many oth­er writ­ers who come to mind when I think of Le Guin—Octavia But­ler, Frank Her­bert, Iain Banks, and, of course, Tolkien. Like many of the best writ­ers in her gen­res, Le Guin’s fic­tion is con­tem­pla­tive as well as spectacular—she could write space opera, sword and sor­cery, and adven­ture sto­ries just as well as any of her con­tem­po­raries, but her sus­tained focus on the nuanced inter­re­la­tions of char­ac­ter and theme—on the agony of choice, the pos­si­bil­i­ty of free­dom and con­nec­tion with­out coer­cion, the social and eco­log­i­cal con­se­quences of blind acqui­si­tion and thought­less action—gave her work a depth many of her con­tem­po­raries lacked.

Le Guin’s anar­chist envi­ron­men­tal­ism and “tough-mind­ed fem­i­nist sen­si­bil­i­ty” opened up paths for dozens of writ­ers who came after her and who also did not fit the typ­i­cal molds estab­lished by the pulpy mag­a­zine sto­ries of the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. She was a schol­ar, earn­ing an M.A. in French and Ital­ian lit­er­a­ture and doing doc­tor­al work in France on a Ful­bright in the mid-fifties. But unlike cer­tain, more inse­cure, writ­ers, Le Guin did not wear her learn­ing on her sleeve. She wove it into the tex­ture of her nar­ra­tives and the allu­sive lyri­cism of her prose.

Le Guin’s high­ly dis­tinc­tive qualities—her poet­ry and inquiry, tough­ness and sensitivity—are evi­dent in even minor, less­er-known sto­ries. Today, to cel­e­brate her life, we bring you a few of those sto­ries, as adapt­ed into radio dra­mas by the 70s pro­gram Mind Webs and the late 80s NPR show­case Sci-Fi Radio. At the top of the post, hear “Diary of a Rose,” below, “Field of Vision,” and, above, “The End.”

And, just above, hear part one of a CBC drama­ti­za­tion of Le Guin’s nov­el The Dis­pos­sessed, the fifth nov­el in the Hain­ish cycle, though chrono­log­i­cal­ly the cycle’s begin­ning. (Hear all six parts of the dra­ma­tized nov­el here.) Sub­ti­tled “an Ambigu­ous Utopia,” the nov­el, writes DePauw University’s Judah Bier­man, is “a prize­wor­thy con­tri­bu­tion to the debate about the respon­si­bil­i­ty of knowl­edge, of the vision­ary and of the sci­en­tist, in a planned soci­ety.” But like all of Le Guin’s fic­tion, it is so much more than that, a work that bears repeat­ed read­ing, and lis­ten­ing, and that nev­er exhausts its pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Note: If you’re inter­est­ed in get­ting pro­fes­sion­al­ly read ver­sions of Le Guin’s nov­els, con­sid­er sign­ing up for a 30-day free tri­al to Audible.com. When you sign up for a free tri­al, they let you down­load two audio­books for free, and keep the books, regard­less of whether you become a long-term sub­scriber or not. Get details here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Hear Inven­tive Sto­ries from Ursu­la LeGuin & J.G. Bal­lard Turned Into CBC Radio Dra­mas

Sci-Fi Radio: Hear Radio Dra­mas of Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Ray Brad­bury, Philip K. Dick, Ursu­la K. LeGuin & More (1989)

Ursu­la Le Guin Gives Insight­ful Writ­ing Advice in Her Free Online Work­shop

Dimen­sion X: The 1950s Sci­Fi Radio Show That Dra­ma­tized Sto­ries by Asi­mov, Brad­bury, Von­negut & More

Lis­ten to 188 Dra­ma­tized Sci­ence Fic­tion Sto­ries by Ursu­la K. Le Guin, Isaac Asi­mov, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Bal­lard & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (1)
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  • narda h mahanga says:

    Hul­lo, I appre­ci­at­ed your suc­cinct appraisal of a writer I too, also
    admire, but your name as com­men­ta­tor does not appear here.

    I’ll find it use­ful to describe Ursu­la K Le Guin’s work to those of
    the rather seri­ous book club group I’m part of — most of whom, ‘don’t
    do/read sci­ence fic­tion, let alone good fan­ta­sy. I’ve begun with a
    short sci­ence fic­tion sto­ry, around which there was some stim­u­lat­ed
    dis­cus­sion. Some­thing of Ursu­la’s writ­ings next I think.


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