The many articles written in memory of Ursula le Guin, who left this world on her final voyage last month, are testament to the great power of her storytelling. Le Guin’s tales give us insights into different ways of being human, from the deceptively mundane (the Orsinian Tales) through the remote but plausible (the Hainish Cycle of science fiction novels), and into the enchantingly fantastic (the Earthsea stories). Her stories help us to understand others and ourselves. They demonstrate the great power that language has in creating imagined worlds.
This is perhaps most obvious in her 1974 award-winning novel, The Dispossessed. The book has been in press since 1974, and has been translated into at least 30 languages. The novel tells the story of a scientist, Shevek, and his battle against the bureaucracies of two planets to ensure his invention will benefit all humans. The invention is an instantaneous communication device which overcomes the limitation of light speed communication; but the device is just an artefact of the narrative. The real story is about people, their cultures, and how they build these – through language.