US fantasy fiction author Ursula Le Guin dies at 88

Writer was best known for her Earthsea series in which an apprentice sorcerer fights against evil powers

Author Ursula Le Guin is seen in a 1972 photo. Le Guin, the award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer who explored feminist themes and was best known for her Earthsea books, died peacefully Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Portland, Oregon, according to a brief family statement posted to her verified Twitter account. She was 88. (The Oregonian via AP)
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US fantasy author Ursula Le Guin, one of the most famous female science fiction writers in history, has died, her family announced on Tuesday. She was 88.

Le Guin became best known for her Earthsea series, which she began in the late 1960s, in which an apprentice sorcerer fights against the powers of evil, decades before Harry Potter did the same.

As well as novels, she also wrote children's books, short stories, poetry and essays.

“The family of Ursula Le Guin is deeply saddened to announce her peaceful death yesterday afternoon,” read a statement on her Twitter account.

Best-selling American crime writer Stephen King said she was “one of the greats”, in his own tribute on Twitter.

“Not just a science fiction writer; a literary icon. Godspeed into the galaxy,” he wrote.

Educated at Radcliffe College, Massachusetts, and New York’s Columbia University, Le Guin was a Fulbright Fellow in 1953 and an expert in anthropology. Her father Alfred Louis Kroeber was an ethnologist known for his work on Native Americans.

She published her first novel, Rocannon’s World, in 1966. But she first found success with the publication in 1969 of The Left Hand of Darkness, which won a string of prizes and became a science fiction classic.

The novel, the beginning of the Hainish Cycle, which contains six other titles, broke with the sclerotic patterns of science fiction’s golden age.

The planet on which The Left Hand of Darkness is based is little different from the Earth, except for its glacial climate, but the beings who populate it are radically different: they have only one sex and assume in turn masculine and feminine roles.

In the book she posed questions about sexual identity, and questions what social rules, culture and inner life such a society might give rise to.

“I tend to avoid fiction about dysfunctional urban middle-class people written in the present tense. This makes it hard to find a new novel, sometimes,” she once said.

In her stories of galactic societies, Le Guin – who said she was influenced by anarchist and Taoist thinking – sought to prove there is no total and permanent solution, either in theology, politics or human science.

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next,” Le Guin said.

She was born on October 21, 1929 in Berkeley, California and later settled in Portland, Oregon in the northwestern United States.

She married historian Charles Le Guin, and the couple have three children.