Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

A Mythology for No One and a Future for Anybody But You

Ursula Le Guin didn’t want to hurt anyone. She just, as reader Michael points out, “an influential writer who created beloved works of fantasy and science fiction; who didn’t like Lovecraft’s work (and possibly the man himself); and was interested in a little representation in her stories.” Is that so wrong…?

Well to be sure, she was dead wrong about Lovecraft. He was a first rate writer who mentored a surprisingly large number of people that would go on to define fantasy, science fiction, and horror for a generation. He wrote pieces that could pass for work written by Lord Dunsany. If anything gave his homage away, it was not his command of the cadence and motifs of the King James bible. It’s the downright disturbing aspects of the payoff that remind the reader of just who it really is that’s penned the work.

Le Guin manages to be disturbing in an entirely different way, and her approach to representation is a central element to that. In her story “Nine Lives” for instance, you wouldn’t really know there was a non-white character in the story. She has to tell you he’s there with an explicit reference to his “Hershey-bar-colored face.” There’s a blandness about her non-white characters… as if their skin color is just painted on. I couldn’t tell you why that is, exactly. It’s self evident that people from different regions and different cultures vary from one another. And as it happens, Lovecraft was expert at conveying just this aspect of rural New England.

Who is she writing for exactly…? I can’t see it. Are there really non-white people out there that are honestly embracing her work, praising her, and thanking her profusely for creating visions of the future and mythologies of the past that include them…? I doubt it. Other nations seem to have a handle on providing that for themselves just fine. At any rate, the Irish aren’t sitting on the hands waiting for a Japanese person to finally tell their story.

And that’s the thing about authors who go ahead and accept their own people and work from that rather than things they know very little about. They provide a way for people in other places and times to encounter something very specific. Something almost alien. Something infused with a nuance that people elsewhere could only guess at.

From what I’ve read of her, Le Guin seems to be in revolt against that very thing. As if her most likely audience deserves neither a past nor a future. As if she herself were a product of a post-cultural society. I really can’t see the appeal of this. Maybe you do. Either way, her work cannot be considered to be part of the same literary canon as that of Lord Dunsany and H. P. Lovecraft.

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2 responses to “A Mythology for No One and a Future for Anybody But You

  1. jaynsand February 10, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Congratulations! You’ve forced yourself to read another sentence of Le Guin’s story. https://www.baen.com/Chapters/9781625791405/9781625791405___2.htm
    Judging from your expressed disgust for the author, I can appreciate the effort it must have cost you.

    Unfortunately, you’re still using that cherrypicked bit to misrepresent the rest of the story. The character Alvaro is not just mentioned as dark-skinned and no other significant individual trait. He uses both his patrilineal and matrilineal family names to introduce himself, which shows the discerning reader that that old Spanish custom still exists in the far off future. He is bilingual, speaking English and ‘Argentinean,’ defined in the story as a future descendant of Spanish. Most importantly, his friend, Owen Pugh, the Welsh commander of the mission, has learned that language and speaks it with him at times for reasons of friendship, and later to speak confidentially to him without danger of eavesdropping from the third main character. This tells POC readers that not only is their darker skin acceptable in the future, their cultural differences are also appreciated and useful. This may not seem like much to you, but to POCs who have been discriminated against for those traits in the present, seeing people like themselves represented as equals in the far-off future by this author can mean a hell of a lot, especially seeing so few similar characters in the SF of the time.

    AND, with beautiful narrative economy, she makes those differences a necessary part of the plot, to forestall your whine that cultural differences are on display ‘for no reason’ except political correctness.

    Not to mention that the third character in the story is ALSO explicitly described as a POC of mixed descent, a fact I’ve already pointed out to you, though you seem to be bent on forgetting it.

    You’ve complained that I’ve been unfair in accusing you of not reading her story, only skimming it to find bits to complain about. You don’t seem to realize that I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt by doing so. Because if you DID read the story thoroughly, that means you’re outright LYING to your blog readers here:

    https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/that-time-ursula-le-guin-was-in-playboy/

    ….when you represent her story (without linking to it, of course) as “An unattractive woman fantasizes about a future in which all the unattainable good looking men have simply ceased to exist,” a summary which is provably false to anyone who read the first two pages of the story. And you’re lying to try to turn your readers off an author they are unfamiliar with, without reading her. (Your fifth-grade level mockery of her author’s photo is just the dickish icing on the distasteful cake you’re trying to serve your readers.) This is a disservice to your readers, and to yourself as a legitimate critic of literature.

    Not to mention that by making shit up about how bad her story is, you’re actually involuntarily paying Le Guin a great compliment as an author. Whether you like it or not, you’re communicating that after a thorough read of her story, you CAN’T find a legitimate flaw in it as a whole that you can honestly dissect in a review to prove how bad it is, and must resort to inventing lies instead.

    Since you have such obvious contempt for Le Guin, I’m sure you don’t want to be paying her such compliments. Better concede instead that you skimmed the story to look for things you didn’t like, and just assumed you understood the rest because you think all them SJW’s write the same. You come off a lot better in that version. I urge you to go with it.

  2. Pingback: White Feminist’s Burden | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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