One likes to think the master would have approved. Le Guin never took the easy way; she pushed on every assumption. That meant she could even—a foreign concept in the modern era—change her mind. Earlier this year, PBS released a note-perfect little documentary about Le Guin’s life, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin. There’s old black-and-white footage of a science-fiction meetup, where a middle-aged Le Guin is asked why one of the female characters in Tombs of Atuan, the second Earthsea book, doesn’t exactly “emerge as a liberated woman.” Le Guin responds with moving candor: “The Earthsea books as feminist literature are a total complete bust. From my own archetypes and from my own cultural upbringing, I couldn’t go down deep and come up with a woman wizard. Maybe I’ll learn to eventually, but when I wrote those I couldn’t do it. I wish I could have.”
Tom Cruise (whose effectiveness as a movie star has been one career-long live-die-repeat) and Emily Blunt do normally linear-time things like fall in love and kill aliens over a looping single day.One answer is empowering, and for that we have movies like Black Panther and Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse on this list.
She would indeed learn. Much of Le Guin’s later work unwrites what came before, just as Jemisin would come along to push us further, in the process confronting her own regressions. Thus the genre renews itself, bending toward progress. “Prize juries commonly short-list books by both men and women, but give the award to a man,” Le Guin complained in an essay written at the beginning of this decade. As it comes to a close, she’s finally being proved—for once—wrong. Jemisin won an unprecedented trio of Hugos for a series, Broken Earth, that centered on women wizards: a formidable mother and a fearless daughter, who could control mountains with their minds. Seven of the Hugo Awards for Best Novel in the 2010s, in fact, have gone to women, the most in the history of the prize. The stories reflect the shift, a hyperspace jump to new regions. “What do we learn from women?” Le Guin once asked. “My first huge generalization is that we learn how to be human.”
In The Fifth Season, the first book in Broken Earth and the best book of this decade, the main character has to make a horrific, unbearably human choice. One struggles to imagine a man writing it. Le Guin could have, but she didn’t. There, Jemisin is talking to another one of her literary heroes, Toni Morrison, and her novel Beloved. Morrison, who never exactly wrote science fiction but certainly imbued her stories with flashes of magic, was one of the very few other writers named a living legend by the Library of Congress. Le Guin’s spirit might not be winking down on us from the stars—the stars whose paths she so intricately charted over her singular, guiding career—but she’d twinkle at the cosmic coincidence. Morrison, too, passed away this decade, a year after Le Guin, at the immortal age of 88.
Best Fiction of the Decade:The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin