When I was a kid, just discovering science fiction, I read voraciously through Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke. Then I got to Ursula K. LeGuin and my little head exploded, and a whole new world opened up. Other authors would astound me in a similar way, later–Samuel R. Delaney, Iain M. Banks, especially. But Ursula K. LeGuin was the first one to show me that the world didn’t have to be this way. That you could live how you wanted to live, and everyone else could just get out of the damned way.
I remember in college a friend was assigned The Left Hand of Darkness in a class on feminism and they Just Didn’t Get It. There didn’t seem to be anything so very revolutionary in the book, no radical new ideas. What this friend didn’t understand, of course, is that the greatest trick a social revolutionary can pull off is to outlive the reactionaries. To make the world over so thoroughly that you forget what came before–and the struggle it took to find the new path. LeGuin’s legacy will survive not just in ink but in DNA, all of our DNA. We speak of her inventing “soft sf”, but that belies her achievement. What she did was carve out a space in a boyish genre for richer, more sophisticated voices. By better imagining other worlds, she changed this one.