Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

That Time Ursula Le Guin Was in Playboy

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And so it is that the women you’d least like to see in the centerfold of a girlie magazine often turn out to have the greatest amount of bile and resentment.

That’s perhaps the most ironic thing about Ursula Le Guin’s “Nine Lives”, which really was published in Playboy magazine: the contrast it provides when set against the inherent appeal of the young, the voluptuous, and the fertile:

He had to stand up then wearing only the shorts he slept in, and he felt like a plucked rooster, all white scrawn and pimples. He had seldom envied Martin’s compact brownness so much. The United Kingdom had come through the Great Famines well, losing less than half its population: a record achieved by rigorous food control. Black marketeers and hoarders had been executed. Crumbs had been shared. Where in richer lands most had died and a few had thriven, in Britain fewer died and none throve. They all got lean. Their sons were lean, their grandsons lean, small, brittle-boned, easily infected. When civilization became a matter of standing in lines, the British had kept queue, and so had replaced the survival of the fittest with the survival of the fair-minded. Owen Pugh was a scrawny little man.

There it is. An unattractive woman fantasizes about a future in which all the unattainable good looking men have simply ceased to exist. And to make it work, she’s willing to go so far as to repudiate Darwin in order to sustain that state of affairs.

(Where are the poindexters intent on playing the game when you need them?!)

The way she tells it, Communism over and above both human nature and the laws of nature is the inevitable outcome. But the communist propaganda of old at least took the time to paint the exemplars of the party as being healthy, strong, beautiful, and awash with plenty. Le Guin can’t be bothered to lie about the track record of the ideology she serves. She and her ilk are committed to a different method of forwarding her aims: that of destroying our capacity to even imagine wonder, heroism, truth, and beauty.

I suppose you can demonstrate a certain amount of technical proficiency in advancing such a ludicrous agenda. But the results cannot be good. They cannot thrill or inspire. And they cannot under any circumstances be considered to be a first class element of the science fiction and fantasy canon.

12 responses to “That Time Ursula Le Guin Was in Playboy

  1. jaynsand February 3, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Good God. I fully expected you to trash the story for some reason or other – but I thought at least you’d be clever enough to READ it first. Instead, you reveal your amateurishness by making a perfectly avoidable error of fact. “There it is. An unattractive woman fantasizes about a future in which all the unattainable good looking men have simply ceased to exist.”

    From the story:
    “The face filled the screen, the nose of an Assyrian king, the eyes of a samurai, skin bronze, eyes the color of iron: young, magnificent. “Is that what human beings look like?” said Pugh with awe. “I’d forgotten.”

    And that’s right at the beginning of the story, too. And (foreseeing your next nitpick) there are ALSO beautiful women in it, if you want to use that photo of the author as a weapon against her writing.

    Really, WHY are you flipping through this story with your fingers covering your eyes, peeking through only long enough to find a paragraph that offends you, instead of reading the story straight through and giving it your positive or negative review as a whole, like an ordinary reviewer would? Are you prudishly frightened that a story published in Playboy might offend your delicate sensibilities? Or maybe what you’re REALLY frightened of is that if you read the story, you might *gasp* LIKE it, or at least find some virtue in it that you would hate to publicly admit? Think it over, dude.

    • Jay Seedibi July 10, 2019 at 1:49 am

      Umm yeah, and all the beautiful and virile people ARE CLONES in the story. Not to mention those blasted Irish somehow grew the least food because they didn’t take up birth control. Well instead of population dwindling to meet food supply like nature dictates, instead they perished the worst. They got what’s good and coming to those backward family loving folk. Not to mention LeGuin alludes to actual history but laudes the “enlightened” British eugenists… (Oh you didn’t know the Irish “potato famine” was just cover propaganda story for the British stealing the food from Ireland and shipping it off to their imperial expansion efforts?)

      • jaynsand July 10, 2019 at 6:55 pm

        “Umm yeah, and all the beautiful and virile people ARE CLONES in the story.” Umm yeah, so? Are you saying they don’t count as attractive human beings because they are clones? Genetic testing would call them human, and the plethor of porn movies starring identical twins (basically naturally occurring clones) shows there’s nothing humanity finds intrinsically unattractive about genetically identical people. My point stands – Jeffro was talking through his ass when he said that there were no attractive people in the story.

        As for the rest of your post – I don’t think it’s so very farfetched to say a country with no effective birth control might do worse with a shortage of food than a country who had effective birth control. It simply says the same thing in a brief aside that Monty Python said comedically with an extended musical number in the movie “The Meaning of Life.” Have you gone to YouTube and ranted in the comments to “Every Sperm is Sacred”? You might agree or disagree with that particular view expressed, but that doesn’t affect the fact that Monty Python is hilarious…and whether you agree or not with a brief aside in Le Guin’s story doesn’t affect the quality of her writing as a whole. As for your views about the superiority of ‘the devil take the hindmost’ winnowing vs societal collaboration to save as many as possible – it ALSO has nothing to do with the quality of the story.

        You’re falling into the same nitpicking trap that Jeffro did when he hastily made up stuff and grabbed at insignificant details to be offended by to discredit Le Guin, instead of reading and judging the story as a whole and giving a mature critique of why he did or did not like it. And with your jumping back into this argument over a year later, you might have missed that even Jeffro seems to have changed his mind about Le Guin being COMPLETELY devoid of worth…at least, he recently cited her as an authority on Tolkien in her article “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie”, which I also highly recommend.

  2. Robert James Eaglestone February 4, 2018 at 7:49 am

    At least she does us the favor of SHOWING us that socialism reduces people to an even spread of sickliness. I suppose, however, she fails to show what Orwell showed us about the rulers of said socialist republics?

    • jaynsand February 4, 2018 at 10:47 am

      I invite you to read the story online and judge for yourself what it says. It really IS a good story. I don’t expect you to take my unsupported word for it, of course. Fortunately, the publisher that HAS the story online has a good opinion of it, and is also a publisher that, I believe, has a good reputation among readers of this blog; Baen.

      “Although science fiction has always been fascinated by the idea of the duplication of human beings, and has long used ingenious twists on the idea of matter-transmission, or sometimes time-travel paradox loops, to produce such dopplegangers (stories about android duplicates of human beings, one of Philip K. Dick’s most obsessive themes, are clearly related as well—another few years, and most of the android stories of the fifties would have been clone stories instead, I’m willing to bet), the genre as a whole didn’t begin talking about “clones” until the last few years of the sixties, after the appearance of Gordon Rattray Taylor’s extremely influential nonfiction book, The Biological Time-Bomb. (Le Guin has explicitly acknowledged Taylor’s influence on the story that follows; one of your editors was also writing an early clone story in 1969— “A Special Kind of Morning,” published in 1971—before Le Guin’s story hit print, and certainly Taylor was his inspiration as well; rarely, in fact, has a nonfiction book had as much impact on the evolution of the genre as Taylor’s had.) Although there were earlier stories that dealt with some of the conceptual material of cloning—Theodore Sturgeon’s “When You Care, When You Love, ” for instance, or Damon Knight’s “Mary”—the eloquent and hard-hitting story that follows, “Nine Lives,” is perhaps science fiction’s first true clone story, and is probably the first to use the word “clone” in its true context.

      It’s a story that had a tremendous impact on the field, and one that is still as fresh and germane today as it was in 1969, telling the moving story of a young man who is suddenly left all alone in life in a way that no one has ever been alone before. . . .”


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  4. Alas, poor anon February 5, 2018 at 2:01 am

    The virulence and petulance of your anti-Ursula Le Guin thing is bizarre, boring, and beneath you. Talk about something else, maybe?

    Also, for the record — Playboy had a whole thing for decades where the literary content was at an extremely oblique angle to the cheesecake. They published fiction by all kinds of what you would call ugly subliterate Poindexters, both male and female. The contrast with the centerfolds was par for the course.

  5. gary glittergold February 5, 2018 at 8:23 am

    this guy is fascist, after all. he fails to understand howard if he feels that conan’s ‘virility’ is without melancholy.

    no one should spend time arguing with this inanity.

  6. gordonclandis February 5, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    Two comments that’ll probably bounce off their intended targets:

    1) Jeffro – Nothing in the story requires any kind of repudiation of Darwin – success at sufficient survival for reproduction might well be favorable via the strategy in the section you quote.

    2) gary glittergold – Pointing at Conan, virility and melancholy is an excellent illustration of how Howard is so much more than many credit. But leading with “this guy is fascist”? Telling others what they should spend time on? Your good comment almost gets lost among typical internet drivel like that, at least for me.

  7. Bies Podkrakowski February 5, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    OK, English is not my native language so for God’s sake could somebody point me where in this story an unattractive woman fantasizes about extinction of good looking men? It is simply an example of gloomy SF vision of global hunger. You may not like this school of SF or their ideology but such accusations are bullshit.

    Damn, you really, really don’t like Le Guin.

  8. Pingback: The Ugliness of Ursula Le Guin | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  9. Ken Hunter June 20, 2019 at 10:46 pm

    I’m really enjoying the short stories in Ursula’s K.Le Guin’s book, The Birthday of the World.” I am fascinated by Ursula’s vision of marriages involving 4 people, gender changing and the ease of having heterosexual and homosexual relations among her characters. So I thought I’d go online and find interesting facts about the author whose mind is blowing mine. Then I found this slam and critique. Boo! K. Hunter

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