TT: Creative Encounter

JANE: Last time I mentioned how fandom can provide connections that never would happen any other way.  I’d like to tell you how my long ago visit to New Zealand led to my meeting a legend once I was home again in New Mexico.

Alan’s Favorite!

ALAN: I never knew that, after I took you to the airport so you could fly home, it would result in you meeting someone famous! Tell me all about it.

JANE: As I’m certain you recall, the co-Guest of Honor that year (along with Roger Zelazny) was Vonda McIntyre.  Vonda proved to be a wonderful person.  She shared her cup of noodle soup with us when Roger felt a little unwell.  When Roger wasn’t up to going touristing, she encouraged me to stop hovering and, instead, go out and see a bit of New Zealand with her and whichever local fan had taken time to serve as a tour guide.

ALAN: That was me! I remember that I took you both to explore Auckland and you were astonished that the traffic lights controlling the crossroad in the city centre went red for all four roads at once so that pedestrians could cross in every direction. I remember that you were a bit nervous about crossing the street diagonally. You’d never done that before…

JANE: I remember that outing.  Other fans took us around on other days.  You guys were so amazingly nice.

Vonda and I stayed in touch after that trip.  When, in, I think 1996, she visited New Mexico with some friends, she got in touch and asked me if I wanted to go to lunch with her.

I agreed with enthusiasm, and told her that, although I didn’t know Albuquerque very well yet (I’d only moved there a few months before), I did know which restaurant the locals said served the best New Mexican style food.   When I knocked at the door of Vonda’s motel room (in a charmingly retro place along Route 66), she greeted me as if we’d seen each other just a few days before.

Then she said: “When I told the friends I’m travelling with that we were going to have lunch at a place that the locals said served the best New Mexican food, they asked if they could come along.”

I agreed, and Vonda said, “Great!  Charles and Ursula’s room is over here…”

And to my astonishment, a few moments later, I discovered I was going to have lunch with Ursula K. Le Guin.

ALAN: In a word, wow! I always wanted to meet Ursula Le Guin. She was high on my list of favourite authors. But sadly, our paths never crossed. What was she like as a lunch guest? I’ve always found that her non-fiction is often quite funny (as well as being erudite and informative) and I’ve always imagined that she would be a warm, chatty and amusing person to have a conversation with. Am I right in that assumption?

JANE: She was so down-to-earth and real that after a while I wasn’t sure I’d heard her name right.  I mean, she looked like pictures I’d seen of The Famous Le Guin, but she wanted to chat about the differences in types of southwestern cooking.  She also wasn’t overly talkative – not at all a showoff.

To put this in perspective, remember, I’d shared a home with another famous writer of her generation: Roger Zelazny.  You’d think I’d be beyond this sort of reaction.  But I wasn’t.  In fact, I was a bit too awed to ask as many questions as I might have done.

After lunch, we went out to a local independent bookstore.  Did she try to be recognized?  Have a fuss made over her?  Sign stock?  Nope.  She just wanted to look at books.  Her husband, Charles, was also very friendly and approachable.  It was a good day.

Which of Ursula Le Guin’s books made her one of your favorite authors?

ALAN: That’s an easy question to answer. The Disposessed is by far and away my favourite of her books. It was some time in the early 1970s and I’d just graduated from university. As a student, I’d been surrounded by political discussion of one sort and another, because that’s what students do. The debate was mostly from a left wing point of view and sometimes it seemed to involve a lot of hair splitting on points of doctrine. I couldn’t make any sense of it and I felt a bit uneasy about the practicality of some the things that were being said. And then The Disposessed turned up in the local bookshop. I’d already read A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness and rather enjoyed them, so I looked forward to reading this new book.

JANE: It’s been a long time since I’ve read The Dispossessed, but I remember it as a story that made me think.

ALAN: It’s definitely that – but it tells a great story as well. Quite simply, it blew me away. For the first time some of the ideas (and ideals) that I’d been grappling with so unsuccessfully started to make sense. It was clear from the book that no society could be perfect – the political and social systems that Le Guin presented in her novel worked, to a certain extent, but they also had their faults and their failures. And that was the missing ingredient that had so puzzled me before. My socialist friends were all so sure that they had the recipe for a perfect society. Le Guin embraced many of their ideas and, in addition, showed me that perfection was impossible. Doctrine can only take you so far. The book has often been described as an ambiguous utopia and I think that’s a perfect way to sum it up.

I just absolutely love that book to bits.

JANE: Those aspects of The Dispossessed are precisely why I think it will always remain worth reading.  So much socially-oriented SF stops at the level of your college-aged discussions – idealistic solutions.  Le Guin encourages a more adult level of discourse, even if it’s far less comforting.

ALAN: What about you? What’s your favourite Le Guin book?

JANE: For me it’s less a book than a process, and a process is difficult to explain in a few words.  Perhaps we can save it for next time.

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2 Responses to “TT: Creative Encounter”

  1. James Mendur Says:

    I never met Ms. Le Guin, but I did see her at a convention once, back in the late 80s. When she WAS in the spotlight, she knew how to command attention with humor and insight.

    Oddly enough, I’m currently rereading “A Wizard of Earthsea.” Because of how much people talked up “The DIspossessed” I was always leery about reading that one. Frank Herbert’s “Dune” was so overly praised by folks that when I got around to reading it, I was expecting more than I got. Once I finish rereading the Earthsea books, maybe I’ll try “The Dispossessed” finally.

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