We’ve a real gift of a podcast for you this episode, since “gift” was our theme. Of course, we didn’t all stick to the theme – this is Ungagged after all…
In this episode, Red Raiph will be retelling The Raven, Em Dehaney will be talking about Christmas gifts and not always getting what you want, Chuck Hamilton will be reading White Ribbons For Indy, an article written by the Ungagged collective, and later coming back to read his own piece, The Monkey Trap, Ola’s Kool Kitchen will be chatting about how white supremacists on social media fan the flames of hate and misinformation and Richie Venton will be back with the second part of his piece on the 1917 Russian Revolution. Paul Sheridan will be telling us all about the Diggers movement, Damanvir Kaur will be giving us the latest in the Free Jaggi campaign, and George Collins will be talking about the rise and fall of Empires.
The world is full of doom and gloom, and in today’s messed up world, it’s easy to get bogged down in all the things we as a species are getting wrong. But to build a better world, you need a clear idea of what a better world would look like, as well as knowing what needs improvement. So today on Ungagged we will be exploring ideas of how to build utopia.
We’ll be hearing from Fuad Alakbarov on five ways to deal with tax havens, Victoria Pearson on how possible it actually is to build utopia, Richie Venton on the 1917 Russian Revolution, Damanvir Kaur, on the campaign to free Scottish citizen Jagtar Singh from unlawful detention in India, George Collins on the unconstitutional neoliberal landgrab happening in Barbuda. Debra Torrance asks what kind of catastrophe we’do need to kickstart a global revolution of empathy, Chuck Hamilton talks gun control in America, and why he’s unimpressed with Leninism. Red Raiph ponders World Kindness Day, tax avoidance and inequality, Sandra Webster* talks about services for children on the autistic spectrum in Scotland, and the role of kindness in building utopia, Thomas Morris discusses imaginary borders, the nature of Independence, and visiting countries that dont exist, Neil Scott** talks about the proto-utopia torn down in the 80s, Marisa Snider speaks from her perspective as a Native American woman in a STEM field about the need for greater access to the internet on Native reservations, Masta X-Kid talks about the dystopia Trump is creating in Ungagged America, and Derek Stewart Macpherson will be joining us for the final part of his conversations with his daughter, and the result of the Equal Marriage referendum in Australia.
What would your utopia look like? How do we start to build a better world? Think we are all talking utter pish? Get yourself Ungagged and let us know your thoughts in the comments, or on our twitter or Facebook.
Ungagged is a not for profit co-operative, and we rely on the generosity of our listeners. If you’d like to donate us the cost of a newspaper or a cup of coffee, you can do so through PayPal here.
On this episode of Ungagged, introduced by Neil Scott, Chuck Hamilton will be talking us through two revolutions, Russia and Iran, George Collins will be talking about the changing nature of American political humour, Damanvir Kuar will be giving us an update on the hunger striking Baput Surat Singh Khalsa.
Debra Torrance will be talking about the responses to the #MeToo trends, and why the current climate is not at all funny, Derek Stewart Macpherson will be talking Citizenship Games, or how a former hot shot lawyer PM got his arse handed to him in the High Court, and Liz Castro will be joining us from her rooftop in Barcelona for an update from Catalonia.
Flavia Tudoreanu will be talking about the CND, Cllr Graham Campbell will be talking about why the break up of the British State is necessary, and Thomas Morris will be giving us the case for #ThisGuyCan; why our boys deserve a range of male role models to break down toxic expectations boys and young men face.
We will hear from both Teresa Durran and Victoria Pearson on why sexual assault is not a laughing matter. Luckily, with all that doom and gloom, we also have Red Raiph with some things to look forward to!
On this episode of Ungagged, edited by Neil Scott, with assistance from Neil Anderson, we are talking about moving forward and making progress.
We’ll be hearing from Red Raiph on his thoughts on following the 2014 Scottish referendum, and how he moved on following the result, Victoria Pearson will be talking about why we haven’t yet moved on from having the same old dry and dusty debates, and Em Dehaney will be discussing The Handmaid’s Tale, and why it isn’t so far from reality.
We couldn’t let events in Catalonia go unremarked upon, particularly as there seems to be a wall of silence on the issue, so John Andrew Hird will be getting us up to date on the ongoing situation, and we’ll be having a self determination themed poem from Debra Torrance, Catalan to Cambuslang.
We’ll also have Chuck Hamilton talking about the evolving narratives in the bible, Catriona Stevenson discussing her part in the Scottish Independence movement, Joe Solo on the We Shall overcome event, Neil Scott asks where the Independence butterflies have flown off to, and Heiko Khoo tells us all about how Warner Brothers are trying to stop the Karl Marx walking tour from stopping outside Karl Marx’s house.
This time on Ungagged we wanted to talk about Peace People, but we nearly didn’t manage it. The Ungagged team has been plagued with illness and injury and sudden busyness, and we were beginning to think this was the cursed pod. We got there in the end though, and we hope it was worth the wait.
It’s Ungagged’s birthday, and we are so excited to have been going strong for a whole year. We couldn’t do it without the support of our listeners – your downloads, conversation generated from your tweets, facebook comments and comments here, as well as your wonderfully generous donations make Ungagged what it is. It is as much yours as is it ours.
On this “hidden” themed Ungagged we’ll hear from Em Dehaney, on the hidden hate uncovered by Brexit and Trump, Victoria Pearson will be discussing the extraordinary situation unfolding in Rojava, Syria, Chuck Hamilton will be giving us the 4th part of his Meaning of Life series, George Collins will be talking about the hidden culture of indigenous Americans, Debra Torrance will be talking hidden disabilities and hidden agendas, Sarah Mackie will be fact checking Theresa May’s claims about nurse numbers in the NHS, Richie Venton will be chatting about the High Court descision regarding tribunal fees, and Neil Scott will be discussing the rise of the right wing in traditionally left wing online spaces.
Summer and the time is right for dancing in the street… and getting wet.
And protesting the most socially right wing Government since the last one, supported by the bigoted DUP.
Having said that, one small act of resistance at the ballot box has saved many a fox… and perhaps hopefully changed the political landscape.
Podcasting, livestreaming, facebooking, tweeting, instagramming all acts of resistance you have seen and you have taken part in or you have come across online, adds to a narrative of change. Progressive change.
The right mastered the use of the TV – that was too costly for you and I to have our own channels on… that passive screen in which you can do nothing but watch and accept as truth.
The internet is a game changer. A place we can resist with our voices and our thoughts and our disgust at the way the billionaire controlled media reframes what is going on to keep their faces deep in the trough of what our misery produces.
Ungagged is one of those small acts of resistance. Listen and get involved.
We’ll hear from Red Raiph on the night of the long knives…for the Tories, Derek Stewart Macpherson gives us part 4 of his Spin Cycle, Damanvir Kaur discusses the continued political prisoners in India and Chuck Hamilton gives us an American perspective on the UK General election.
On this Pre-Election special, we’ll have Derek Stewart Macpherson with the first part of his Spin Cycle series, John McHarg talking about voter choice, Richie Venton on the choices socialists are facing in this election, and we’ll be hearing from Nick Durie about how this election proves the YES parties have failed to integrate movementism into their political practice.
We’ll have a magical poem called Invocation from Steve McAuliffe,Debra Torrance will be talking politics and football, Fuad Alakbarov will be talking about the election and ex Derry British Army Commander Eric Joyce will be talking about Corbyn, the IRA, Martin Mcguiness, Trident and Iraq.
In this episode, Mark Little will be leading us in 20 seconds of hate, we’ll hear part one of The Meaning of Life according to Chuck Hamilton, Teresa Durran will remind us that seven weeks is a long time in politics, Joe Solo talks about how optistic he is feeling in the run up to this electionRed Raiph reminds you that if you vote Tory, you’re a Tory, Artist Taxi Driver shares his poem on the zombification of Britain, Nick Durie discusses “nationalism” in the UK, and Victoria Pearson asks people to think carefully before throwing the vulnerable people under the Brexit bus.
Neil Scott will be giving us a short reprieve from the election by talking about the red Elvis, Debra Torrance talks Scelection scelectrix and playground politics, Steve McAuliiffe gives us a #fakenews Conservative party political broadcast, Eric Joyce draws parallels between May’s brexit mandate and Scotland’s independence mandate, George Collins discusses his part in the struggle, Simone Charlesworth talks about staying engaged in politics, despite voter fatigue, and why the Scots are the most political aware country in the UK, Mara Leverkuhn talks about the importance of nagging with people outside of your echo chamber, Derek Stewart Macpherson gives us the Hitchhikers Guide to Local Elections, and we have an Independence Live interview with Roza Salih and Euan Girvan.
On this episode of Ungagged, presented by Neil Scott, we’ll hear from Chuck Hamilton, on how we sold our revolution for a pair of trainers, Em Dehaney, talking about how she has never been to America, but America is in her, George Collins, and Eileen Eddy of Radio KRFP talking about cultural and political imperialism.
Red Raiph asks just what exactly happened to that Big Onion, Debra Torrance casts her mind back to the 80s and finds that we’ve not come along very far. Simone Charlesworth makes her debut on Ungagged, jumping in at the deep end with a brief history of Sarin, and Steve McAuliffe presents his poem America First.
In this episode of Ungagged we are joined by guest speaker Priya, who volunteers at Umbrella Lane in to tell us about the current laws in the UK regarding sex work, and why she thinks the Nordic model is dangerous.
* CORRECTION: In her piece “Don’t Be A Twitter Lemming, Think For Yourself”, Victoria states that Iain Allinson currently earns £27k per annum. The correct figure is in fact approx £36k. V would like to apologise for the mistake, and thank Mr Allinson for pointing it out and clarifying the figure.
On this International Womens Day special of Ungagged, we’ll hear from Amber Daniels on the progress of women’s rights, and why International Women’s Day is still needed, Ruth Hopkins with a #NoDAPL update, Debra Torrance with a Dear John letter, and Ruth McAteer on women finding their voices.
Nick Durie will be speaking about women in community groups, Red Raiph will discuss racism, Victoria Pearson will talk about the different struggles we face under the current system and some of the forgotten women from history. Mara Leverkuhn will be discussing what she sees as the problems of feminism, and the struggle we should really be focusing on, Eric Joyce will talk about women in the media, and Steve McAuliffe will share his poem An End to Time and Motion.
We’ll be hearing from new contributor Teresa Durran with a piece on the Icelandic strikes in 1975 and how they link to women’s marches today, as well as special guest speakers Daniellé Dash, on trying to achieve your dream, Em Dehaney on how feminism is not a dirty word, Zareen Taj, secretary of Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh talking about uniting communities, and about the toxicity of Prevent, and Natalie Washington on the journey to becoming yourself, and how everyone has an equal right to be wrong.
The theme for our first podcast of 2017 is Hope and, as usual, the Ungagged team have come up with a vast array of different interpretations.
In this episode Max Newland reminds us that the tide always goes out before a tsunami, Debra Torrance talks about the hopeful start to 2017 in Scotland, and Andrew McPake asks what the real aims of unionism in regards to Scotland are and we have an update from Ruth Hopkins.
Joe Solo talks about the erosion of hope through the politics of despair, Chuck Hamilton reminds us that white + poor does not = bigot, Matt Geraghty discusses hope in hopeless times and Victoria Pearson urges us to fight to regain our home ground in Hope is a Revolutionary Act.
In this bumper festive episode, Roy Møller interviews Stiff Little Fingers singer Jake Burns, Chuck Hamilton talks about what Jesus would be like were he around today, Red Raiph treats us to anite afor chrismas (Scottish style), and Victoria Pearson fixes the rip in the fabric of space-time to restore normality before 2017.
Matt Geraghty talks the joyless joy of commercialmas, Mara Leverkuhn discusses the Snoopers Charter, we hear from Beinn Irbhinn with a message from Kazakhstan, and John McHarg tells us the true story of the time he ended up in a jail cell in San Phillips, Mexico.
On this equality themed episode we have Debra Torrance speaking about the iniquity of lack of action on tax avoiders and the punitive measures on the sick and disabled, Julie Bindel talking about surrogacy, Amber Daniels discussing gender inequality and a confession from Victoria Pearson.
In this episode Debra Torrance talks about what emancipation means to her, Matt Geraghty asks if democracy in the UK and USA is a punch in the face or a kick in the shins, and Ruth McAteer speaks about independence for disabled people.
With Victoria Pearson talking about remembrance, Red Raiph on Halloween, and Matt Carr from One Day Without Us talking about the planned day of action on February 20th in protest of the dangerous rhetoric surrounding the migration debate.
Only got 5 mins for a coffee break? No problem! Check out our 2 minute interview with…Sharon Martin
Name: Sharon Martin
Come fae: Clarkston in Glasgow Southside
What do you do: Singer/Songwriter
Fav Colour: Green because of the beautiful green rolling hills and landscape of Scotland.
Favourite Politician: I have to say my mucker Hannah Bardell MP…or else she’d skelp me! Ha. Seriously though, I know how passionate Hannah is about her job and her constituency. She genuinely cares and wants to make a fundamental, positive difference in the lives of others. Her heart on her sleeve. She is passionate about women’s rights too which is something we very much have in common. I also like Alison Thewliss and Ash Denham. Both intelligent, hard working women standing up for those without a voice.
Fav political moment: The end of the television debate where Nicola, Leeann and Natalie group hugged as Farage and Milliband stood there like a pair of spare parts. Total mutual respect and Girl Power.
Worst political moment: The vote recently to take away the free school meals was upsetting but I won’t rant too much…Jamie Oliver’s response sums up my feelings also. You don’t take from the kids, no matter how much you think it’s saving. They are the future.
Favourite meal: My mum makes the best soup in the world so a bowl of that with crusty bread and I’m sorted.
Song to get up and going: Little Bird, Annie Lennox
Superhero power: Mind control would be good. I’d get everyone behaving themselves 😉
Jason Travis is the father of three wonderful children and lives in Manchester but has also lived in Southampton, Oxford, Newport, Southampton Wales and Ethiopia.
A teacher who has also been a teacher trainer and a head teacher, Jason is also well travelled in Africa and Asia and has been actively involved in union campaigns, anti racism and various political projects.
Jason occasionally also finds time to go for walks or cycle rides in the countryside around Manchester or on the canal paths and disused railway lines of the city landscape and has run several times in 10k races and once in the London marathon where he beat the defending champion…
(not as impressive as it sounds as he withdrew meaning finishing even if in over five hours counts or so Jason likes to claim).
When he has some downtime, not east fitting gull time work around parenting three children and fairly obsessive political argumentations online, Jason likes to watch films, read literature and cook (though this can translate into being slumped out on the sofa waking up at 3 am wondering what actually happened in that film he fell asleep to).
A politically minded, rebellious, socialist (with severe anarchist leanings), anti-austerity, republican, and mystic, Jason is a popular science enthusiast, lover of mathematics and philosophy and self-confessed geek. He can spend hours talking about the meaning of life, whilst perusing second hand bookshops punctuated with cafe stops but all too often these days is dragged off by his children’s chants of, “This is boring!” to visits to parks or children’s play areas.
Jason likes a good debate and a good night out. Once he takes on a cause, he will fight with all his might.
On this episode we’ll be hearing from Red Raiph, talking about our theme “sure but they can afford to smoke”, Catriona Stevenson discussing state propaganda, and how it rewrites the horrors of the past and places the blame on the most vulnerable in society, Debra Torrance talking about the anatomy of a conspiracy, and Joe Solo, talking about how the Tories fool working class people.
Paul Sheridan will be discussing how easy it is to punch down and blame people living in poverty for their own predicament, we’ll have Julie, aka Politicaiicious, talking about toxic elements in political movements, Sandra Webster asks how we can afford a royal family under Tory austerity, and, to commemorate 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement, we’ll have drama from Neil Scott, with his piece Grainne’s Soldier, read by Andrea Irwin.
Ungagged is a not for profit collective of volunteers, and we rely on the generosity of our listeners to meet hosting and advertising costs, as well as help us fund the campaigns on our news page. If you’d like to donate us the cost of a newspaper or a cup of coffee to help keep us going, you can do so through PayPal here.
Rufio G is a Grime MC originally hailing from a clash background, but he hasn’t just focused on Grime, he has also stepped outside the genre performing with DJs on DnB, Dubstep, Electro and Hip hop sets.
His official debut E.P “Different Breed” is out now on itunes, spotify, deezer etc.
All about feelings and screaming, Little Fists have been described as “melodic guitar, sad lyrics, suddenly loud shouting and screaming…. For fans of Modest Mouse, Explosions In The Sky, Where’s Hollywood?”
Hands Of Blue is an electronic music duo from Denver, Colorado formed in June of 2016 by Gina Anderson and Ender Chadwick. Stylistically landing somewhere between Grimes and Portishead, their synthpop songs touch upon feminism, sexual empowerment, and mental health struggles. Their name is derived from the short-lived science fiction series ‘Firefly’
Currently in-studio, HOB plans to release their first album and begin playing live shows early 2017.
Gina and Ender have previously teamed up on other musical projects, and are excited to share their newest incarnation.
Last week a 78-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder after a suspected burglar was stabbed to death. The man, Richard Osborn-Brooks, discovered two intruders in his home South-East London in the early hours of the morning. One of the intruders was armed with a screwdriver and forced Mr Osborn Brooks into his kitchen where a struggle ensued and the intruder was stabbed. He was taken to hospital but was pronounced dead several hours later. The police, faced with a dead body and a man admitting to stabbing him, not surprisingly arrested Mr Osborn-Brooks on suspicion of murder.
This provoked a furious backlash in the tabloid press and some sections of the public. The Sun declared Mr Osborn-Brooks to be a hero and a GoFundMe page raising thousands of pounds for his legal defence was set up, one excited supporter on Facebook even declared that Mr Osborn-Brooks “deserves a medal” for his actions.
Within 48 hours, the police investigated the circumstances of the death and released a statement saying that Mr Osborn-Brooks would face no charges. You would think the tabloids would be happy with this turn of events as the police seemingly agreed with them that, given the circumstances of having his home invaded and being physically attacked, Mr Osborn-Brooks response was justified even if that caused the death of the intruder. However the tabloid press fury was undiminished declaring that Mr Osborn-Brooks should never have been arrested in the first place.
This was a tragic event, the elderly man and his wife suffered the trauma of having their home invaded and now he has to live with the guilt of having taken a life. We may not feel much sympathy for a man who sought to terrorise two pensioners but there will be a family mourning him.
The right wing press love to write stories about how the legal system and the courts are bias towards the criminal as part of their endless quest to terrify people, and by dropping the charges in this case the police undermined that narrative.
The legal position in these situations is that you can use reasonable force to protect yourself. As a general rule, the more extreme the circumstances and the fear felt, the more force you can lawfully use in self-defence. You are given greater protection under the law if force is used to protect yourself or others when dealing with a burglar. England’s Crown Prosecution Service says if you act in reasonable self-defence and the intruder dies you will still have acted lawfully. What is it that the right wing press find objectionable in that position? Do we really want to give free pass to someone who tortures an alleged burglar to death?
A crime was committed, a man lost his life, the police looked into the circumstances and found this elderly man was justified in using deadly force to protect himself. For once the system worked – don’t let the right wing press tell you otherwise.
David was born in Rutherglen Maternity Hospital in Glasgow in 1982 and spent most of his life in Cambuslang. He never left Glasgow but in 1995 Glasgow left him when local authority reorganisation rezoned Rutherglen & Cambuslang into the newly created South Lanarkshire.
David has always been political, one of his earliest political memories is being woken up by his Nana the morning after the 1987 UK General Election and being heartbroken to hear Labour had lost. At Primary School when he received homework that required him to use the word “witch” in a sentence he wrote “Maggie Thatcher is a witch”. Such was the political atmosphere of the time instead of receiving a reprimand from his teacher he received a gold star.
At 18, David joined the Scottish Socialist Party eventually becoming Secretary of the Rutherglen, Cambuslang & Blantyre branch. In 2009 he travelled on a SSP delegation to Cuba as guests of the Cuban Communist Party. He have also been actively involved with the pro Independence movement having been involved with both “Yes Rutherglen” and a founding member of “Yes Blantyre”. In 2015 he resigned from the SSP in protest at their affiliation with RISE. His intention to step back from politics lasted a year when he joined the Scottish Green Party in the wake of the UK’s vote on Brexit. David is currently CoConvenor of the South Lanarkshire Greens.
After studying Immunology & Microbiology at Strathclyde University he changed career direction and has spent most of his career working in Social Care. From 2008-2014 David worked with Turning Point Scotland, with individuals with a history of homelessness and addiction and still retain an interest in these issues. David also has an interest in Carer issues, being a carer for his mother in 2013 after the death of my stepfather in the Clutha Disaster. David currently lives in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire with his mother, Margaret, his wife Caroline and their two daughters Molly & Megan.
Some of David’s other interests in no particular order are, Celtic Football Club, Lamb Tikka, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pro Wrestling, Game of Thrones, vodka, The Roman Empire, The Rocky Horror Show and stand-up comedy
I bonded with my dad over science fiction. I’d read everything of any interest in the kids’ library and I was still a few years too young to join the adult one, so I started looking a little more closely at what he was bringing home. There were a lot of yellow jackets. He could borrow half a dozen at a time, so he did, and I was curious. So he started letting me have some. Anthologies of short stories at first then, once I was on the hook, the hard stuff – novels. I loved the ideas. He was your classical sci-fi enthusiast – young in the 40s and 50s, an engineer, an amateur futurist. When I was four he kept me up to witness the moon landing, while he assembled an Airfix model of the lunar module. I didn’t really get the momentousness of the occasion at the time, but later I was glad to have the memory.
Anyway, one day he came in and handed me a paperback, saying only, “I think you’ll like this,” and walked off. Now when I’d first started reading sci-fi he’d pointed out a few basics. All those yellow jackets, for instance, were from a certain publisher who we can’t mention who published almost exclusively sci-fi and fantasy. And if something had won a Hugo or a Nebula Award, it might well be pretty good. If you don’t know what those are, they’re a bit like the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Is it the Golden Globes? Whichever one is by popular vote anyway. The Hugo is voted by fans, the Nebula by other writers. Occasionally they agree. This novel had been nominated for both. It was The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin, and he was right – I liked it a lot. It was the best thing I had read, and it began what will be, for me, a lifelong relationship.
It’s an odd thing to describe, though I’ve seen quite a few attempts, the relationship you have with a writer. Entirely one-sided, nonetheless profound, a relationship entirely of the mind. They needn’t even be alive when you encounter them, but some are, and some are there in person for 40 years, and then they go, and you feel as if you’ve lost an old friend. That happened to me when I heard of the passing of Ursula Le Guin in January. And what a friend I lost! For a purely intellectual relationship, she brought an awful lot to the table, and she drew on all of it in her work. I don’t know how to even begin to approach that body of work, and the sheer scope of her knowledge and her imagination, except the way I did first time round.
When I read that first novel, set in her beloved Portland against the backdrop of majestic Mount Hood (those who have read the book will be chuckling now, others will have to read it to find out why), first she lured me in with a delicious, juicy sci-fi and philosophical what if – what if you dreamed, and your dreams became reality, but nobody else realised what was happening, only you? I mean, how good is that? What would you do? People would think you were mad if you told them. Then she introduced a character, not a hero, not a sci-fi stereotype, but a real, ordinary but nuanced character, George Orr (thought to be a reference to Orwell), who has this power and is terrified by it. He can’t stand the responsibility of determining reality, regulated only by his subconscious. He begins to dread sleep, and becomes addicted to ‘uppers’ in an attempt to avoid it. As a result of this he is caught using an illegally obtained prescription and sent to compulsory psychiatric evaluation.
We now meet his psychiatrist, the well-meaning but grandiose Dr Haber. He has a particular interest in sleep and dreaming, and using a combination of hypnosis and a machine of his own invention, designed to augment dreaming, he puts George under and directs him what to dream. Over the course of a few sessions he comes to the stunning realisation that Orr is telling the truth, that his dreams really do change reality, and begins to attempt to use him to remake the world as he, Haber, thinks it should be. This is probably the point where I should say, “Spoilers!” and discretely draw a veil over any further discussion of the plot. So lets see, she’s given me a great sci-fi idea, characters I care about, oh and did I mention that she writes beautifully? In prose that was at once sparse and sparkling she opened the doors of literature to me, far more than anything I ever read at school did.
But it doesn’t stop there. As I began to look for her work and discover it, I could not fail to be impressed by the sheer scope of her knowledge and understanding. The child of two anthropologists, she assimilated psychology, political theory and Taoism, studied French and Italian Renaissance literature, understood environmental truths, before they became inconvenient, or even fashionable, and she used all of it to craft fascinating, challenging novels which imagined an array of possible human societies, such as an androgynous one, in ‘The Left Hand of Darkness,’ and an anarchist one in ‘The Dispossessed,’ as well as exquisite short stories like those in ‘The Wind’s Twelve Quarters’ (don’t ask me where that title comes from, I assume it just sounded good, it has no obvious connection to the stories, of which there are seventeen). This she opens with the tragically beautiful ‘Semley’s Necklace.’
Before I talk about that however there is something I have to explain. Ursula Le Guin wrote both science fiction and fantasy. The readers of these genres form two discreet groups, although there is some overlap. I will mostly be talking about her science fiction, but I cannot fail to mention her acclaimed Earthsea Trilogy and associated works. A Wizard of Earthsea, published in 1968, was the first of three books exploring the life of Ged, a young wizard. Spoiler alert: Ged grows and matures into an adult, starting with his attendance at a secretive school for wizards, where he is scarred on the face by a dark power (which he discovers is inextricably linked to him), and that he subsequently defeats. Sound familiar at all? There are words for that. Ugly words. But ugly words are not what Le Guin did. She said only that J.K. Rowling should have been “more gracious about her predecessors”.
She herself was more than gracious about her own predecessors, but never less than original in her vision. Being pigeon-holed as a ‘genre writer’ meant that for much of her career she lacked the recognition by the mainstream literary establishment that she so richly deserved. It was only in recent years that this began to change. She was awarded the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (presented by Neil Gaiman, whose many literary accomplishments include an honourable mention from me for slipping a relatively arcane Le Guin reference seamlessly into an episode of Doctor Who), and in 2017 that she was finally voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The genre itself has been more forthcoming, and she has won many Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards, far more than is practical to list. Let me just mention that she was only the second ever writer to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards for the same novel, with The Left Hand of Darkness in 1970 (behind Frank Herbert for Dune), and was the first of only five writers in history to achieve that feat twice, in 1975, when she won for The Dispossessed (ahead of Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama/The Fountains of Paradise). Asimov only managed it once.
I mention those names because when you look to place Le Guin in the sci fi pantheon, it’s way up there you need to be looking. For my money she is the best of them. They were great storytellers, but none had her psychological or political depth. They didn’t move me, and challenge me, and delight me the way that she did. She loved to challenge assumptions, not only within the genre, but in literature more generally, and in society as a whole. Her beautifully crafted prose always had a sharp sociological edge. She consciously set off to question the norms of fantasy and science fiction, especially in terms of race and gender. She was outspoken, for instance, about the “colour scheme” of her Earthsea series. She wrote:
“I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now.
She kept to this approach in her work from then on, not only in her Earthsea books, but also in her ‘Hainish Cycle’ works (so most of her sci-fi including those books already discussed). You’ll notice white characters are the exception rather than the rule. I was going to say her ‘hard’ sci-fi works, but in the course of research for this tribute it’s come to my attention that not everyone has the same definition of hard sci-fi as me, and here I must bring my dad in again. I read somewhere that there were those who felt that works like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed were not what they considered hard sci-fi because they concentrated too much on characterisation and sociological analysis. In other words, too much about people, culture and society, not enough space ship battles. My dad had a different definition of hard sci-fi, and I’ve always followed that one. It is that in order to be considered ‘hard,’ sci-fi writing must rest on actual science, and not speculation or easy cop-outs.
So for my dad, the fact that Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle books were premised on an Einsteinian universe where faster than light travel is not possible put them firmly in the hard sci-fi category. Writers who relied on unexplained, wishful-thinking props such as warp drive (looking at you Star Trek) to circumvent Relativity could make no such claim (and yes, I know, there is some theory to support it. These days. There wasn’t when they made it up). All of which brings me back to the opening story of The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, one of the finest anthologies of short stories ever published. Because there are narrative problems with an Einsteinian universe which must be addressed. Le Guin decides to meet them head on and make them integral to the plot in the story Semley’s Necklace. Semley, a member of a society which has fallen back to a pre-technological state, seeks a priceless, fabled family heirloom. She learns that it is in the possession of another culture with whom hers shares a planet, but which is a hi-tech, spacefaring society.
On hearing her request they deny knowledge of it, so she turns to a third group, the Gdemiar, who manufactured the necklace. They agree that she may reclaim the artefact, which is in a museum. On a space station. Light years away. She insists on journeying with them to recover the necklace, despite their attempts to explain the problems of Relativity this entails. She experiences the journey as ‘only one long night’ but when she returns nine years have passed, her husband is dead and her daughter is grown up. To those used to the cop outs, this comes as something of a shock. It was certainly a surprise to the 12 or 13 year old me. The rest of the anthology lived up to the promise of that opening tale, and finished with three absolute gems – a story from the perspective of a tree (the name of which I’ve borrowed for this tribute), ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,’ a timeless moral conundrum that many of us on the left find defining, and a poignant prequel to her novel ‘The Dispossessed’ in which we meet Laia Asieo Odo, the semi-mythical theoretician whose writings underpin the anarcho-syndicalist society of Anarres, on the last day of her life, ‘The Day Before the Revolution.’
As Odo, or Laia as she thinks of herself, reminisces about her life we get to know a character who is achingly human, and at the same time a true revolutionary, throughout her life dedicated entirely to her people, often to her own detriment. It’s an exquisitely beautiful portrayal, and it demonstrates what is incomparable about Le Guin. It relies on a comprehensive knowledge of political theory, revolutionary movements, sociology, psychology, and a deep understanding of the human condition. Only a highly empathic polymath could have written it, and that’s a surprisingly rare combination. She was my introduction to most of those subjects. If you’re political, if you think about society, about how it is and how it might be, if you question what others take for granted, then I can assure you, Ursula Le Guin is the science fiction writer for you. She was the one who walked away from Omelas, she has shown us the direction of the road, but she has left us the day before the revolution. She has not left us empty handed though, so get down to your local library and make a friend for life.