I’d title this “ Book Talk: The Dispossessed” and talk about my experiences with that book, but I already know that it would veer off in an entirely different direction very soon if I tried, so that would be silly. Nevertheless, that book is going to be a fairly important note in my rambling here.
When I first read Le Guin’s books, I picked up the Catwings series. They were short; they were about cats with wings; they were perfect candidates to start with, even though I was over twenty at the time and they’re books aimed at smaller children. I branched out into Earthsea after that and from there I decided I’d try to jump into Le Guin’s science fiction with whatever books came to me first. I’d read a couple now. I knew I liked her writing. I wouldn’t have to worry so much about starting her science fiction with a book that I didn’t click with. The first book I picked up after the Catwings books was The Beginning Place, which I finished and hated. Most of the information I found out about it suggested that it wasn’t her best book by a long shot, and I’d liked the previous ones, so I decided I’d give her works more chances and when I saw The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness in a second-hand store, I snapped them up. I didn’t know much about the former, but I knew the latter was a big thing. They’ve been languishing until… Well, the latter is still languishing a little, but the former I’ve tried to read.
Yep, tried. I bailed two-thirds of the way through. It was a good book, don’t get me wrong, but we weren’t clicking with one another and then, on top of appreciating the book and not really liking it, it gave me a headache from hell. At which point I said “Stuff it” and went off to read something else. That’s not at all the reaction I was expecting at any point, but I’m not surprised by it either.
I think I have, at an earlier point (or will at a later if I said it in a scheduled post), discussed that I’m not really a fan of ‘hard’ science fiction. The Dispossessed leans towards that for me. Not because there’s a lot of physics and science discussed in it (though there’s a fair quantity), but because the ideas of the novel felt all important. They eclipsed the relationships between the characters (and, indeed, the characters themselves). Now, I learn well through stories to the point where if you want me to understand an abstract concept, a story is usually the best way to go. But only if I connect to and invest in the characters. Otherwise it’s just a thesis with a veneer of story passed over it, a bit a la Plato’s Symposium.
Le Guin’s work is a bit of an odd duck, almost, in that one of my earliest memories of science fiction books has been my dad pushing her books on me and refusing to take “No” for an answer. He still doesn’t. I spent years of my life shouting “No” at the top of my lungs. My dad likes Le Guin’s science fiction books. He likes books that discuss ideas and theories far more than he likes books that focus on people and relationships. He’d probably like The Dispossessed too. He’s not a great fan of Le Guin’s fantasy books.
I wouldn’t call myself a fan of them, but I did click with them to a far greater extent than I did to The Dispossessed. Anyway, my point is that my earliest memories of science fiction books include a lot of negativity. It’s involved a lot of pushing and fighting back against that pushing. I spent years utterly refusing to read anything by Le Guin — and I still refuse to read any part of Dune — as much because I’m more of a fantasy reader as because it became a matter of principle. I said “No” and I meant “No”.
But Le Guin is one of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy out there, so eventually curiosity won out. You probably guessed that. And I picked up the Catwings books not just because they were short and about winged cats, but because my dad had never read them. I could read those books free of baggage and negativity. And I liked them and that brings me neatly back to the second paragraph of this post. I’ve read two of Le Guin’s science fiction novels and liked exactly none of them. Appreciated them on an intellectual level, sure, well enough, but I haven’t liked them. I’m hoping that I’ll have better luck with The Left Hand of Darkness. I snuck a peek at the first page already and it did seem more likely to click with me than The Dispossessed did, even though first person, as a rule, doesn’t click as well as third for me.
But there you go. Some early memories of my encounters with Le Guin’s work as well as how my reading of her works has gone to date. Maybe what I need are some recommendations on where to start with her science fiction? They’d have to be from people who keep my interests in mind, though. My dad has no regard for whether something is actually interesting to you or not and thinks going “Readitreaditreaditreaditreadit. I say you must read it because I think it’s awesome” enough times is a good way to convince someone. (Hint: it really isn’t. At best people try to read it just to shut you up.)
So. Bearing in mind that I don’t like books that lean heavily toward discussing ideas, anyone have any suggestions on which of Le Guin’s science fiction novels I could poke? Should I be looking at the short story collections instead?