The King Was Pregnant: Celebrating Ursula K. Le Guin’s Influence on Gender in Science Fiction

Sci-fi author Ursula Le Guin died at age 88 on Monday, she was a pioneer of genre, particularly when it came to representing alternative gender roles. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, published in 1969, is considered to be one of the first books published in the feminist sci-fi genre. In the book, all individuals on the planet Gethen are “ambisexual” meaning they change sex multiple times throughout their lives, this led to Le Guin writing one of the most famous sentences in science fiction history, “the king was pregnant.” Here are some other feminist sci-fi books that were influenced by Le Guin’s literary trailblazing.


Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie (2013)


The first of the Imperial Radch series is set on a planet where people do not distinguish by gender, Leckie conveys this by universally using the pronouns she and her. This sprawling space opera spans many planets and years.


The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch (2017)


The Book of Joan opens with a quote from French novelist Marguerite Duras, “Heterosexuality is dangerous. It tempts you to aim at a perfect duality of desire. It kills the other story options.” This, in a sense, is the thesis of the book which aims to destroy all binaries. In the near future, world wars have turned the Earth into a battleground, and the humans who inhabit it into sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures.


Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2004)


From Margaret Atwood, the acclaimed author of none other than The Handmaid’s Tale, comes the post-apocalyptic tale of Jimmy aka “Snowman” mourning the loss of his best friend Crake and lover, Oryx and dealing with the solitude of (potentially) being the last human on Earth.


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Eldrich (2017)


Louise Eldrich, author of a dozen plus novels ventured into the dystopian thriller realm last fall with Future Home of the Living God.  In this future, evolution has stopped and all pregnant women are imprisoned in hospitals to be studied. We follow Cedar on her journey, a pregnant woman who is trying to hide from authorities.


Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (2018)


In Leni Zumas’ debut novel, in a near-future, abortion is again illegal in America. The novel follows the stories of five women and how they are affected by the newly in place “Personhood Amendment.”


Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)


Octavia Butler is one of the most important voices in feminist sci-fi. After growing up reading sci-fi stories written by predominantly white men, Butler decided her voice was needed. She would wake up at two or three in the morning to write before going to her multiple other jobs which all paid off in the end, she was the first sci-fi writer to receive a MacArthur grant. Kindred is the story of a black women in the 1970s who gets teleported into pre-civil war era South and has a mission to save people.


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)  


Mandel’s novel is a beautiful post-apocalyptic tale that acknowledges the importance of art. The story follows a theatre troupe walking through the post-society Great Lakes region after swine flu has killed a majority of the people on Earth.  The book was nominated for a National Book Award and appeared on many end of the year best book lists.