Ursula K Le Guin is the very definition of a legend. So many of us found our way to speculative fiction through her works, while others only realised later that the tropes we so loved – considered cliched now – were fresh and new when Le Guin brought them to life.

When we think of speculative fiction’s history as a boy’s club, there are always a few exceptions, Le Guin being one. And she paved the way for many female speculative fiction writers to be respected while tackling serious issues such as equality and violence against women.

Worlds of Exile and Illusion contains three of Le Guin’s earliest novels – Rocannon’s WorldPlanet of Exile, and City of Illusions – and make up the first part of her Hainish cycle. While these works are not her most well-known, nor, objectively, her best, it is important that we reflect on an author’s early work and their journey to becoming one of the greatest of all. This new edition from Tor Essentials features an introduction by Amal El-Mohtar, who kindly joins us to discuss Le Guin, from her early work to her lasting legacy.

Mentioned in this episode:

  • Travel Light and Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison
  • Crossroads and Coins: Naomi Mitchison’s “Travel Light” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • The Memory Theatre by Karin Tidbeck
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • The Earthsea Quartet, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, The Hainish Cycle, The Wave and the Mind by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. Mckillip
  • Star Trek… (you knew it was coming)

Amal El-Mohtar is an award-winning writer of fiction, poetry, and criticism. Her stories and poems have appeared in magazines including Tor.comFireside FictionLightspeed, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Apex, Stone Telling, and Mythic Delirium; anthologies including The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories (2017), The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (2016), Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories (2014), and The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (2011)and in her own collection, The Honey Month (2010).

Her articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, NPR Books and on Tor.com. She became the Otherworldly columnist at the New York Times in February 2018 and she is the co-author, with Max Gladstone, of the award-winning novella, This Is How You Lose the Time War.