Ursula K. Le Guin, the renowned author of the Earthsea series, has died at the age of 88. Her more than 20 novels and more than 100 works of short fiction, which won numerous Locus, Hugo, and Nebula awards, expanded the way many people thought about the science fiction and fantasy genres; authors who cite her as an influence range from Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman to Salman Rushdie and George R. R. Martin.
Her work often explored sociology and politics, from the anti-colonial and environmentalist themes of The Word for World is Forest to the otherworldly anarchist imaginings of The Dispossessed. It also pushed boundaries around gender, particularly the award-winning 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness, which imagined a world where people could change between male and female.
Not content to limit her incisive examinations of society to fiction and allegory, Le Guin spoke and wrote frequently about contemporary politics. She often described fantasy and fiction as a tool for social change, a way of imagining the world — not as it is, but as it might be. Her criticisms, in both fiction and beyond it, often focused on social inequality, the unsustainability of capitalism and its deleterious effects on the environment.
“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings,” she said during a speech at the 2014 National Book Awards. “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”
In 2010, at the age of 81, Le Guin arrived in the digital age and started a blog, with essays that were later published in a book titled No Time to Spare. It included everything from moving reflections on her cat to wry observations about coming to terms with her advancing age: “If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.”
Her insight, wit, and presence in this world will be deeply missed.