Ursula LeGuin at Eighty Five

Ursuls LeGuin at Eighty Five Photo by K. Kendall

Ursula LeGuin at Eighty Five
Photo by K. Kendall

I invite you to join me on my new web site and blog for a celebration of Ursula LeGuin at Eighty Five, including links to a new interview, comments by Niel Gaiman and others, as well as new BBC Radio productions of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness. and much more.

Thank you,

Paula S. Jordan

Jim Butcher and the Human Condition, Reprise

Copyright 2011 – 2015 by Paula S. Jordan

Oh, how I love to disappear for a weekend into an interesting book with characters who catch my heart! Urban fantasy writer Jim Butcher’s people do that for me far better than most, and I’ve been thinking about how he does it.

I had never read Mr. Butcher’s work before a month or so ago, and I am taking his Dresden Files series in sequence; eagerly catching up with Wizard Harry Dresden and his tremendous challenges, both magical and human, in the even-meaner-than-you-thought streets of present-day Chicago. I’ve just finished the fourth one, Summer Knight, and it caught me even better than the first three.

Of course, urban fantasies have a serious edge in earning reader buy-in, set as they are in places and times like the ones we live in. If the baddies attack in the garden department of a WalMart Superstore as they did in SK I am right there in the fray!

But Butcher’s gift goes far deeper than that.

Harry may be the most accomplished wizard actively practicing his craft on the street, but he is no immortal, and he faces adversaries far more powerful than himself on a regular basis. One of the many joys of these books lies in the cleverness and often downright comedy of his magical cheats and inventions.

But it’s in his characters’ inner struggles that Butcher shines brightest. When Harry is conflicted—and he is always having to endanger the very innocents he is fighting to defend—you feel his conflict in your bones. When he’s afraid, Butcher lets you know in ways large and small just exactly why this contest is so much scarier to him than most. Also, Harry is thoroughly invested in his struggles against evil, and when things go desperately wrong, which they sometimes do, he carries vast loads of guilt.

That’s not to say that his world is all dark. Harry is a profoundly human and intelligent man, facing Butcher’s  fiendishly imagined range of inhuman powers. But he faces them just as he does the same frustrations and ambiguities that life throws at us all: with that greatest of all human survival traits, a razor sharp sense of humor.

Still, when he’s confused or hurt or threatened, and especially when he’s thwarted in his efforts by skeptical officials of the mundane world or pigheaded members of his own, he may act out in ways that only deepen their animosity. But you, dear reader, have the inside track to his soul, and are never mislead.

So. A brief look at what Jim Butcher does to pull you into Harry’s life and mind. But as to how he does it so well? That’s his special gift: a clarity and depth of insight that are rare indeed.

Libraries and Their Keepers, Reprise

As a companion piece to my current post on Paula S Jordan’s Wordshop (my brand new website :-) ) I am resurrecting here a post of mine from 2011. It was then written as a followup to a DarkCargo piece entitled Everyman’s Library comparing traditional books (older reading devices) to e-books.

Copyright by Paula S. Jordan, 2011-2015

I’d like to offer a thought or two on the places of enchantment and discovery where those ‘older reading devices’ were to be found, i.e.: ‘older libraries,’ and the Librarians who brought them to life.

My earliest memory of a library was of a single pleasant room attached to the general store in my grandmother’s tiny Louisiana town.  My brothers and I would climb the steps to the long-unpainted porch that served both establishments, say polite hellos to the chorus of old men wearing down the benches outside the store, and pull open the screen door at the end of the porch.

The room was no more than ten feet by twenty, with windows on the front and one side wall, Miss Duckworth’s small desk to the right of the door, and all remaining wall space filled with books.  In the center was a table where featured books were displayed, and where members of the summer reading club colored in a segment of a smiling bookworm for each book we read.

Miss Duckworth was a world-expanding experience for me, with her suggestions of such new friends as the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, and the fabulous adventures they enjoyed.  When she discovered that I liked science fiction, she made sure that I found all the six or eight volumes with the space ships on their spines.  Later still it was biographies, maybe twenty in all, and I read all those as well.

She never had an assistant that I knew of. When she was ‘indisposed’ the door inside the battered screen was locked.  Her own pay, if she was paid, was surely very small.  What I regard, then, as the gift of her time, was pivotal for me.  Though other libraries have followed, with flashier technology and limitless collections of more serious and challenging fare, Miss Duckworth’s was the cornerstone of my reading life.

And I wonder, for all the convenience and variety of e-books dropping magically into our reading devices, isn’t something missing? And I’m thinking of something more than the bulk and heft of words resting physically in your hand. I am thinking of the absence of that other hand that put the book into yours.

World Fantasy Con 2014

Copyright by Paula S. Jordan 2015

Art by Centennial Artist Virgil Finlay

Art by Centennial Artist Virgil Finlay

A great con, as the 40th World Fantasy Convention (held the 6th through 9th of last November in Washington DC ) certainly was, should be recognized here however belatedly.

Themed in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the convention also paid tribute to the births in that same year of two notable talents in the field of fantasy: writer/filmmaker Robert Aickman and acclaimed artist Virgil Finlay.

Several convention offerings spoke directly to the centennial theme.

Michael Dirda, scholar and Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic for the Washington Post, presented a spritely discussion entitled Fantasy and the Great Age of Storytelling: mid-1800’s to World War I. His delighted audience scribbled down pages of new titles for their to-be-read lists,

In addition to examinations of the works of Messrs Aickman and Finlay, panel discussions on the period included Historical influences in Fantasy, Women’s Roles in Fantasy Fiction Changed by World War I, and Myths and Legends of World War I..

World Fantasy Award Nominees

World Fantasy Award Nominees

The primary business of the annual convention, the presentation of the 2014 World Fantasy Awards, got underway at the opening ceremonies as nominees in the various categories were welcomed and given their nominee pins. Life Achievement Honorees Ellen Datlow and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro were also introduced, as were the convention guests of honor: author Guy Gavriel Kay, artist Les Edwards, author and creator/editor of Whispers Magazine, Stuart David Schiff, very special guest Lail Finlay, daughter of Virgil Finlay, and Toastmaster author Mary Robinette Kowal. A nicely staged remembrance of World War I was presented during the ceremonies.

Other highlights of the con included An interview with Life Achievement Honoree Chelsea Quinn Yarbro [author of an astonishing 91 novels – horror (28 Saint-Germains), mystery, science Image3fiction, western and YA – plus 7 nonfiction books and 78 short stories, under 5 pseudonyms] … A lively discussion of R.A. Lafferty as an American Fantasist … A panel on Young, Middle-aged, and older writers – How Does Age Affect Writing … Comments from Julie Czerneda on the Ecology in World Building panel … The Cicerones, a film by Robert Aickman … and readings by Patricia  McKillip, Andy Duncan. and Carol Berg.

Sadly, I was unable to stay for the Sunday afternoon World Fantasy Awards Banquet. The winners, in case you haven’t seen them yet, can be found here.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro photo credit: Facebook

Tales from my Ursula K. Le Guin Bookshelf: The Earthsea Cycle Part II

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

smilings2When Ursula Le Guin revisited Earthsea some years after her completion of Tehanu, as she explains in her Foreword to Tales from Earthsea:

A mere glimpse at the place told me that things had been happening while I wasn’t looking. It was high time to go back find out what was going on now … [and also about] … things that had happened back then, before Ged and Tenar were born. A good deal about Earthsea, about wizards, about Roke Island, about dragons, had begun to puzzle me ….

Tales of EarthseaAnd so, as she put it, she went back, “to spend some time in the Archives of the Archipelago.” The five luminous stories that resulted shed a few bright rays on the people and the forces that unmade and remade and reoriented the world of Earthsea  during the 300 years before Ged. They are told in that quiet Le Guin voice that contains the raging of the storm. The calm that is the storm

“The Finder,” recounts the time after “Elfarran and Morred perished and the Isle of Soléa sank beneath the sea,” after further depredations from warlords and self-serving mages and wild dragons out of the west, after Erreth-Akbe’s Ring of Runes was broken. In that dark time the safest and most reliable magic rested with the “Women of the Hand,” long forgotten in Ged’s time, and with a Finder named Otter, a man who, with the women of the heavily-warded enclave on Roke, began to build the future.

“The Bones of the Earth” gives insight into the selfless strength and generosity of the true mage, and of the sorcerers who would teach the sorcerer who would teach Ged.

“Darkrose and Diamond” tells of the love between two gifted people and the trials they face in times when such gifts were both coveted and suspect.

“On the High Marsh,” from the “brief but eventful six years” when Ged was Archmage of Earthsea, tells the story of a child whose great powers were so harshly misunderstood and repressed that even on Roke he could not be mended, and of the one who went alone and on foot to find him in yet another place of ignorance to which he had run.

The final story, “Dragonfly,” occurring a few years after the end of Tehanu, introduces a powerful new character and provides a bridge, “a dragon bridge” as Le Guin says, between that book and the next one, the masterful novel The Other Wind.

Tales concludes with a 23-page “Description of Earthsea,” filled with details and explanations for much of the world of Le Guin’s creation. Close readers of her stories will revel in this. And for writers aspiring to Le Guin-quality fantasy, there are riches to be found in the Foreword: about “the way one does research into nonexistent history,” and the importance of stories that “have weight and make sense.” You’ll want to read it. Over and over again.

The Other Wind reaches back, nearly to the dawn of history, to identify and address the greatest wrong ever done by the mages The Other Windof Earthsea. This ancient miscalculation, a colossal failure of magic, comes to light through the heartbreak of a sorcerer named Alder, whose young wife calls to him from across the low wall between the living world and the realm the dead. What can be done to mend this vast error and make right the harm it has caused? And who has the power for the task? Tenar, Tehanu, the young king Arren, the former Archmage Ged, and Irian, a dragon who can take the shape of a woman, gather in the Immanent Grove on Roke, to try.

It was in reading the Tales From Earthsea this past week that I felt the whole of this long, patient story wash over me, the slow gathering together of whose parts Le Guin has pursued over these thirty-one years. It is a simple story, seen whole: a world of sometimes rough, sometimes marvelous beauty, populated by a people of rich imagination and great but often flawed intention, who insist on the superiority of their own limited vision over the deep-rooted wisdom and power of the natural world around them.

So, is there more of Earthsea’s story yet to come?

Le Guin tells us in the new Afterword provided in the 2012 edition of The Other Wind that, so far as she knows, “the story that [she] had to tell ends here.”  And yet, she says, she knows what Tehanu will do, and where Ged will go now.

For this series of posts there is definitely more: the science fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. The Dispossessed, which many consider her masterwork, and my favorite, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Always Coming Home. And more? We shall see.

Tales From My Ursula Le Guin Bookshelf: The Earthsea Cycle

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Trilogy2“The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.”

So begins A Wizard of Earthsea, volume one of The Earthsea Trilogy, and so began my readerly friendship with Ursula K. Le Guin. The trilogy was perhaps my first deep insight into that amalgam of dreams and imperfections that is the human condition. It is a permanent fixture of my heart.

There have been periods since that first experience when I did not read Le Guin’s books, and periods when I did, so my experience of her is spotty. But I can tell you that I have, in one way or another, been informed, deeply moved, and emotionally strengthened by every work of hers that I have read.

As many of you undoubtedly know, Wizard is the insightful coming-of-age story of Ged, known as Sparrowhawk, a gifted boy whose pride would lead him into such troubles as would last through the Trilogy and shadow his magic for life. The book is filled with whimsy and hope and learning and deepest despair, and again hope, in the heart of a much wiser young man.

The Tombs of Atuan, volume two of the Trilogy, is that rarity, the coming-of-age story of a girl. Taken from her home and family as a small child, Tenar was dedicated for a life as high priestess to the “ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth.” And so she served, until a young wizard named Ged came as a thief in search of the greatest treasure of the Tombs she guarded.

In The Farthest Shore, volume three of the Trilogy, an older Ged has risen to become the Archmage of Roke, the most powerful wizard of an Earthsea from which the magic seemed to be fading away. Together with the young Crown Prince Arren, and Kalessin, Eldest of the dragons, Ged travels across the world to “confront his own past, and test the ancient prophecies.” With them also sail Earthsea’s every hope.

Tehanu2It seems clear at the conclusion of The Farthest Shore, completed in 1972, that Le Guin thought she was done with Ged. But Ged, it seems, or perhaps Earthsea itself, was far from done with her. Some 18 years later both Ged and Tenar are back, with Tehanu, a foster child of strange and violent origins, who would add her own indelible brush strokes to the evolving portrait of Earthsea and its inhabitants. If the original Trilogy was–and was not–a tale for children, Tehanu is a story for those same children grown, not old, but older. Ready for another course in wisdom.

Once again, a decade after Tehanu, Earthsea had more work for its historian and gazetteer. Unfortunately I cannot comment on Tales From Earthsea. Not just yet. For though I have read The Other Wind, the most recent (note that I did not say the final) book in the Cycle, I have not yet read the Tales. So I will save the fifth and sixth books in the Cycle for next week, after I have read it.

Following that, I will proceed with brief looks, in varying depths, at the other books of Ursula Le Guin on my shelf.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read Tehanu, or the Trilogy itself, I recommend that you do. The elegantly slim volumes of the Trilogy read rather quickly. But Tehanu is a full length novel, requiring and deserving your extended attention. You won’t regret it.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Foretaste

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

beachThe post on the writings of Ursula Le Guin which I intended to have for you today is still in the works and will appear here next week. Meanwhile, a distillation of the writer, her mind, and her craft.

Love3plots stories3

unread story



Creative adult

lifes hardsm


journey piclg

Credit for quotations as presented here, unless otherwise identified, go to http://quotepixel.com or http://www.quotessays.com.

Le Guin photo credits:

Below the headline: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/ArwenCurryDocumentary.html

At middle left: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/ArwenCurryDocumentary.html

Ursula K. LeGuin To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award

Copyright 2014 by Paula S, Jordan

Ursula K. LeGuin Photo by  Marion Wood Kolisch

Ursula K. LeGuin
Photo by Marion Wood Kolisch

It isn’t often that a genre writer is recognized with a prestigious literary award. So when it happens, any SF/F bookish blog worth its pixels should take note.

And so it is noted here, with endless respect for the author and gratitude for her work, that Ursula Kroeber LeGuin is to be presented the 2014 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

The award was created in 1988 to recognize a lifetime of literary achievement and has previously been awarded to Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison, along with some 23 other authors, including Eudora Welty, David McCullough, John Updike, Joan Didion, and E.L. Doctorow.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) report that Ms LeGuin has been named this year’s honoree in recognition of, among other accomplishments: “… her transformative impact on American literature,” saying that “ …for more than forty years she has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, and transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism to forge new paths for literary fiction.”

She is the past recipient of numerous other awards, including the National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction, and a Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, plus 21 Locus Awards, 6 Nebulas, 5 Hugos, 3 Asimov’s Readers Awards, a Pushcart Prize, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and a Newbery Silver Medal plus many other honors.

Ms, LeGuin’s blog, biography, bibliography and much more may be found at her web site.

The National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner will be held on November 19, in New York City. Neil Gaiman will present the award.

Further Links:

National Book Foundation

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)

io9.com article



Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan


     Kelp Forest, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Kelp Forest, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

There are plenty of ways to research a novel at arm’s length: Internet, libraries, books, conversations with practicing professionals. But sometimes you have to step in a little closer, get your hands on the real thing.

Great Pacific Octopus, Birch Aquarium

Great Pacific Octopus, photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium

For some time now, that real thing for me has been a living, thinking octopus, the basis for several characters in my present-day alien-contact novel-in-progress.

I had read about these wily animals, seen video evidence of their astonishing feats of camouflage and intelligence, and asked about a zillion questions of patient professionals. Still I needed to know what the critter felt like. How slippery or squishy or cold might those eight arms be? And how tightly might those suckers grip? What would their skin, with its quick-changing colors and textures, actually look like? How might I feel, looking into the eyes of an octopus that was looking back at me?

Click for larger image

Photo by Ken Jordan. Click any photo for a larger image

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, it happened. Big “Thank you!” to the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

I first saw the large, reddish Great Pacific Octopus clinging suckers-out onto the thick glass of his tank in the aquarium’s Hall of Fishes. Those suckers were impressive, but it was hard to tell from that tangle of arms just what he looked like, and certainly no way I could reach in for a quick handshake.

Jenn Moffatt introduces Ken and me to the Octopus!

Jenn Moffatt introduces Ken and me to the Octopus! Photo by Cindy Watson

Wandering out to the seaside plaza, I found a dozen or more middle-schoolers petting the residents of a tide-pool aquarium. When I asked, one of the staffers on duty there pointed me to a sea cucumber as the next best thing to touching an octopus. So I too, the oldest kid in the bunch, reached into the chilly water and touched carefully, as directed, with no more than two fingers. Cold and soft and squishy the sea cucumber certainly was, and not too slippery for comfort.

But friends, he wasn’t an octopus.

Jenn points out larger suckers. Note triangular extrusions at left center.

Jenn points out larger suckers.  Note the triangular extrusions at left center.  Photo by Ken Jordan

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Fishes, my husband had arranged a visit with the real thing. Yay!  Jenn Moffitt, a trained marine biologist and the aquarium’s Director of Husbandry, ushered us into the dark space behind the scenes. She emphasized that it is never wise to handle any animal without proper training. Then she removed a panel from the lip of a tank, and there, in a wash of blue light, was the big guy himself.

My long-awaited handshake. Cold but very nice.

My long-awaited handshake.  Cold. Slippery.  But not unpleasant.  Photo by Ken Jordan.

I touched his arm, holding only the lower end of it as Jenn directed, felt it slide between my fingers, felt the surprising strength of even the smaller suckers near the tip. His flesh was a bit firmer to the touch than the sea cucumber’s, colder too. And really slippery. This is good, among other things, for sliding free of an attacker’s grasp while still holding tight with his suckers to whatever he wants. Another theory suggests that it keeps his boneless arms from tangling into knots. Well, maybe.

Some color shift was subtly discernible, even under the blue light, and Jenn pointed out 1-to-2-inch triangular extrusions on his head. These, she said, seem to appear when he is thinking. When she touched one of them I was surprised at how easily it flexed, not at all the rigid structure it appeared. Hmn. Interesting insight into the tricks of this master of disguise.

Sadly, I never quite achieved an eye-to-eye with him, and our visit was done.

Maybe next time.

We left him to his unimaginable thoughts.

Thank you, Jenn.

My Role Model Committee

For me, no one role model could ever be enough. You need different ones for different undertakings. Hence my committee.

The first is personal, my grandmother,  Mary Catherine Foster Stahls. Born only 15 years after the end of the civil war (she was more the age of a great grandmother for me) she saw nearly ninety years of the most rapid change in history. Though she never held a “job” she could do anything.

Margaret Brent Conjectural drawing  Edwin Tunis, ca. 1934

Margaret Brent
Edwin Tunis, ca. 1934

Grow anything. Sew, quilt, or reupholster anything. Repair anything. Build — or oversee the building of — almost anything. In my memory’s eye she usually holds a hammer.

For feminism, the lady is Margaret Brent, first feminist and first woman to ask for the right to vote in the western hemisphere. That was in Maryland (where she was the governor’s attorney) in1648, 40 years after the founding of Jamestown. They said no.

For courage, Sojourner Truth. Fearless. Best-known conductor on the underground railroad. A judge, demanding proof that she was a woman, once ordered her to show her breasts in court. She stood tall, and proud, and with great dignity opened her dress and showed him.

Barbara Jordan, for oratory and for legal scholarship. She should have been the first woman on the Supreme Court.

Kate Chopin The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice  must have strong wings.

Kate Chopin
The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.

Kate Hepburn, for talent, style, and sheer guts. The woman knew who the hell she was.

Sally Ride. First American woman in space.

Kate Chopin, for courage in authorship. It isn’t true, though commonly believed in Louisiana, that all available copies of her novel The Awakening were collected and burned in New Orleans sometime around 1900. However, as “[one of the] first American authors to write truthfully about women’s hidden lives,” her book was widely condemned, called morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable. Willa Cather said it was “trite and sordid.” It has been removed from more than one library’s shelves and

Grandma Moses  (Anna Mary Robertson) on her 88th birthday.

Grandma Moses
(Anna Mary Robertson)
on her 88th birthday.

challenged even in recent years. Yet today the book is available world wide, in translations including Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, and Galician. And a new one out soon in Turkish.

Ursula LeGuin, for insight, excellence, productivity, and durability.

And finally, as a role model for late-blooming artists of every discipline, my patron saint, Grandma Moses.

So, who’s on your Role Model Committee?


Margaret Brent Image.  Information sources here and here.

Kate Chopin image. Information sources here and here.

Grandma Moses Image