Crow and Kin

I’m elevating a thread of comments from an earlier unrelated post because I like the ideas we had.

The background is one of my favourite science-fiction trivia facts. Ursula Le Guin and Philip K Dick both went to the same high school at the same time: Berkeley High School in the late 1940s. They didn’t know each other but it is still fascinating to think that these two hyper-influential writers, with quite different styles were teenagers in the same place at the same time. For me, they are also both of my ‘golden age of science fiction is when you are 12’ authors.

That led me to make this comment:

I still believe somebody should write a Stranger Things like story about Ursula Le Guin and Philip K Dick solving weird mysteries at the high school they both went to

Here are the replies that followed:

LurkertypeEdit And yet they didn’t meet till after they’d both become SF writers! Which makes sense — there were about 2200 people in my high school and over 600 in my graduating class alone, so there were a lot of them I never met. But Ursula and Phil solving supernatural stuff would make an excellent story.

Rick MoenEditUrsula Le Guin and Philip K Dick Ursula Le Guin and Philip K Dick solving weird mysteries at the high school they both went to
“They solve crime!”
This is officially my favourite thing of the day.

Ursula’s last name at the time was Kroeber. Phil’s middle name was Kindred.
“Who’re you?”
“My name’s Ursula, but . . . call me Crow. Who’re you?”
“I . . . go by . . . Horselover? God, no. Kin. Call me Kin.”
“No, Kin.”
Series title: “Crow and Kin Solve What’s Hidden.”
End-of-series finale: Either amnesia is induced, or . . . better yet, the last adventure involves critical time-travel that changes their own timelines – we see the same scene where they first met, but instead of meeting, they simply pass one another by, and go on to have lives where their adventures never happened, because the big bad that necessitated them was removed from the timeline. Melancholy music plays. Camera pulls up and away from the school showing the students milling about.

And of course, the series premiere would be called “True Names”: They witness someone or someones being magically compelled by their true names, so of course they have to use obscured names.

Oh nice — a psychological warfare research team at the nearby university, using a telepathic student they keep in a basement to make everything harmonious on campus. The Ones Who Walk Away from Berkeley.
Also the Dean is dedicated to a plan to restore the Roman Empire

So it was fighting evil and then the timeline change that drove Phil to drug abuse and madness. Looking too deep into the abyss and all. Reverberated into our timeline even.
The universe decided making Ursula a woman who dared to write SF in the 20th century was enough punishment. But she still yearned for things unseen and knew the dangers of magic to teenage boys.
This would be really good.

camestrosfelaptonEdit Philip K Dick as a prototype for Ged as a teen? I like it.

Urs… er, Crow’s father was the big-deal anthropology professor/museum director at Berkeley at the time, and her mother was a psychologist, anthropologist, and author in her own right*, so they’re the supportive adults who help Crow and Kin get access to things teens wouldn’t be able to get. Like mystical museum artifacts, ancient tomes, psychological tactics.
And the final bittersweet episode must be called “Changing Planes”. Probably one called “The Unreal and the Real”.
*And her maiden name was Kracaw!!!

It’s amazing what’s online nowadays:
Ursula Kroeber was a senior in Spring 1947:
Phil Dick’s picture is not there, but his name appears at the end of the senior picture pages under “Camera Shy”. (As a minor aside, the first name “Dick” was surprisingly popular at the time (or in the late twenties or so when it was first given), including what would now at least raise an eyebrow, “Dick Hammer” and “Dick Ready”)
Also noted from browsing WikiP pages:
1) J. Robert Oppenheimer visited with the Kroebers. The character of Shevek from The Dispossessed was apparently based on him.
2) Oppenheimer was at UC Berkeley from 1929 (the year Ursula was born) until 1943 (when he left to head the Manhattan project)
3) Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit in 1933, and read the Bhagavad Gita
4) In 1945, when Ursula (and Philip) were sophomores in the high school, Oppenheimer oversaw the detonation of the first nuclear explosion, and verses from the Bhagavad Gita came to mind.
I am not sure how all of the above could be worked in, but it really really ought to be.

It would explain PKD’s long-term delusion that reality isn’t what it seems to be. Somewhere subconsciously, he remembers there was another timeline (though he gets it all wrong as to what it was). Probably something happened that also led to his stonking giant amphetamine habit and other drugs. Also this explains “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”.
AND, his twin sister who died shortly after birth (who he’s buried next to; his parents put both their names on the tombstone at the time, very spooky) has to figure in somewhere, because missing twins, there but for the grace of God, the tombstone, is also perfect. Maybe one of the artifacts from the museum brings her spirit along to help Crow and Kin?
PKD is the inspiration for both Ged and the nameless child of Omelas — the kid who sacrifices much for the greater good.
Work in the atom bomb and the fact that they were in high school at the end of the war, too.
Probably the adventure involves dragons or something like them.

Principal: “What have you two to say for yourself? What were you doing in the school’s hidden basement at 6AM?
Kin; At three-thirty AM on the night of 5 June 1992, the top telepath in the Sol System fell off the map
Principal: Enough of that. Ursula, perhaps you can explain more clearly?
Ursula: Call me Crow. I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child…that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

Lots of delicious ideas there. I really like the idea of Dick being a model for how Ged is portrayed in A Wizard of Earthsea in the early part of the book when he has arrived at Roke (up to the disastrous summoning): an arrogant weirdo, clever and talented but out-of-place. Le Guin literally met Oppenheimer and I wonder if there’s some of him in how she shapes the older Ged in the Farthest Shore? Also, the Berkley University campus is just right there. And the underlying mystery? Definitely links to other realities and in particular Lathe of Heaven – Le Guin’s overtly Dickian novel. Dick’s paranoid studies of reality and self point to layers of mystery. Both Le Guin and Dick had interests in science and mysticism (Taoism for Le Guin and Gnosticism for Dick).


79 responses to “Crow and Kin”

      • There’s no way in hell I’m volunteering to draw such a thing, but if I were going to throw yet another ridiculously ambitious project I’ll never finish onto my list, that would be the one.

        Someone I both do and don’t wish would do it: Zak Sally. I wish he would because he’s a really interesting but not very prolific artist and writer who’s very into PKD, and I don’t know what his take is on UKLG but I’d bet it’d be a thoughtful one. But I wish he wouldn’t because he’s been trying to do a biography of PKD in comic form for years, and everything I’ve seen of it has been 1000 times more promising than the very by-the-numbers PKD comic biography that recently came out from NBM, so I’d like him to be able to get back to his project.


      • I also like imagining what Carla Speed McNeil would do with something like this. While she’s mostly known for SF/F and is a huge genre nerd, she’s also done interesting mundane work and is especially good IMO at capturing teenagers. Not a west coaster though.


  1. Repeating a bit of dialogue I wrote for this piece (modified somewhat)

    Principal: “What have you two to say for yourself? What were you doing in the school’s hidden basement at 6AM?

    Kin; At three-thirty AM on the night of 5 June 1992, the top telepath in the Sol System fell off the map

    Principal: Enough of that. Ursula, perhaps you can explain more clearly?

    Ursula: Call me Crow. I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child…that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is great and I have nothing of real value to add, but:

    1. The other consequence for Phil later in life is that he ends up with a fixed idea that dark-haired girls (whom he will forever think of as “girls” regardless of their age) have mystical wisdom.

    2. Ironically Tim Powers, despite being pretty good at writing secret-history fiction that involves writers, is the person least likely or willing to write this one.

    Liked by 3 people

      • YMMV, my intention wasn’t to start a debate over whether you love his books, I just meant that this kind of material is something he loves in general (and he’s used writers as characters at least twice, for the Byron-related stuff), but that he’d be way too personally close to it in this case. Dick was a personal friend and Powers, while he’s neither (IMO) overly reverent nor overly critical of him, clearly dislikes public discussions of Dick’s mental health issues. I’m sure it would be a touchy subject for me too if I were in his shoes.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Powers would hate it (hmmm, he’s got an interesting last name) but his complaining would be more PR.

        The real objections, of course, would be from Crow and Kin’s children.

        But what an amazing Netflix (or other) mini-series it would be! You’d have to use period settings, costumes, etc. but they did it on “Agent Carter” so no biggie. CGI and whatever they use for the virtual sets on Mandalorian would cover a lot, plus the late 40’s are recent enough that there’s plenty of architecture, costumes, and props still around. Lots of the buildings on the UC Berkeley campus date from before that. Maybe some on the high school, I don’t know (Go Fightin’ Yellowjackets! Ooh, an evil swarm of yellowjackets would be a great minor boss.)

        Also there are cats because she loved cats and they’re mystical.

        BTW, the title is “Crow and Kin”. Ursula gets first billing now we’re in the 21st Century, and being raised by anthropologists, she heard about mythical things from youth. Also a pun in that her kin would give her access to esoteric knowledge, nifty artifacts, and the rare library books. The anthropology administrative building is named for her father, because he founded the department.

        Liked by 2 people

      • @Lurkertype, yeah, “Crow and Kin” is definitely better and I can think of at least three more reasons for that. 1. If you have two words and one of them is slightly more common than the other, put that one first so the phrase ends on a slightly more mysterious/intriguing note. 2. Even if the pun on “kin” didn’t actually have meaning for the character as you pointed out it does, it would still be good to let it act like a pun, because a reader first naturally assumes “the crow’s relatives” and then gets a follow-up moment of “aha, that’s another person”. 3. “Kin and Crow” is a little harder to say.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Re: cats, I think none of the cats would have visible wings, but at least once someone should be confused by finding a cat way up in a tall place a cat couldn’t feasibly get to.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry, about Powers again, I forgot to say that the other reason I thought of him was simply that it’s California. He’s basically from southern CA which is a much different deal, and I think possibly his only use of the SF Bay Area and Marin was in Earthquake Weather, where it was kind of perfunctory (basically just some basic stuff about the Winchester House, plus the pretty funny idea that Napa Valley is involved in a magical war between French wine cultists and Robert Mondavi)— but Berkeley immediately post WWII plus the involvement of a huge institution like UC is such a great opportunity to bring in all kinds of local detail, and I’m sure what’s been mentioned so far has only scratched the surface. So you would definitely want someone to be involved who’s from here, or has roots here, and has an obsessive historical interest. I don’t count, I’m an east coast transplant, not sure about Lurkertype.


      • @Eli: those were the same reasons I think it’s “Crow and Kin”.

        There would be sooo many bloggers, tweeters, etc. covering C&K. Mundanes, even. Tumblr would be full of C&K memes. Big wars between shippers and no-romo.

        They are NOT romantic. They’re not each other’s type, very different backgrounds, and they’re too busy fighting Evil while dealing with high school and the immediate post-war situation. Commuting between high school — always fraught — and all the spooky stuff.

        Maybe Oppy can make a cameo appearance. Get some respected character actor in to do one flashback scene or Crow and Kin phone him, which was a very big deal and expensive back then.

        Of course, making their way through some dark labyrinth shows up in “Tombs of Atuan”. They don’t argue and she’s not a blonde who thinks she’s serving a god, but it’s still a very evocative image.

        Kin: How did that cat get up there? Looks impossible.
        Crow: Maybe it has wings?
        Kin: (shrugs) We’ve seen stranger things.

        Amusing break (even if you don’t get the double reference) in some tense part.

        There’s a giant eye in the sky at some point too, to stick in Kin’s subconscious.

        Liked by 2 people

      • @Eli: no, I’m a transplant too, but I’ve lived here almost twice as long as all the other places combined. I pass for native perfectly well.

        Powers is strictly a Southern California guy, and of course north and south are completely different states in zeitgeist and even vocabulary/accent.


      • @Lurkertype: Yeah, to be clear, I didn’t mean to make this all about Tim Powers and I don’t think he’d be likely do a great job with this material, both because he’s a southern CA guy and also because writing young people is not so much his thing. Just that he clearly digs west coast history in general, and that due to the period and the UC angle and Oppenheimer, this would’ve been a somewhat more promising angle for him to try to approach the Bay Area from as opposed to what he actually did do in Earthquake Weather. I’m sure there are northern CA writers who have done interesting secret-history stuff that’s set here, I just haven’t read any of them although I guess Our Lady of Darkness sort of counts.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Speaking of Our Lady of Darkness, I don’t know if he still does this but a guy named Don Herron made a whole career of literary-themed San Francisco walking tours— focusing mostly on Dashiell Hammett, but shortly after I moved here in 2003 he decided to do a Fritz Leiber one. I had read that book but hadn’t actually seen any of the locations in it before, so it was pretty cool to encounter them for the first time accompanied by his recaps of the events and of various colorful Leiber stories. Corona Heights was pretty much exactly as I had pictured. In the downtown tour though, I was pretty confused to see that Lotta’s Fountain was this little thing, because I had misread that scene and thought someone fell entirely into the fountain.

        Also, slightly more on-topic: recently the grindhouse-ish 1970 Anton LaVey documentary Satanis: The Devil’s Mass got re-released, and I got briefly excited thinking maybe Leiber would show up in it, since he hung out with LaVey to some degree. Alas no (and they really could’ve used someone with his feel for drama, the ritual scenes are interminable). But, in the Crow and Kin period LaVey would also be a teenager kicking around northern California, having recently dropped out of high school in Mill Valley, allegedly to join the circus (almost certainly bullshit like most of his stories about himself) and then getting some music gigs. It might be pretty funny for him to show up in a supernatural story as just a random aimless dude—slightly older than our heroes, sort of the equivalent of one of the creepier burnout kids in Freaks and Geeks—who at that point had no interest in the occult at all.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry— LaVey was actually slightly younger than both Crow and Kin, but I believe it’s correct that he did drop out of school in 1946 or 47. (This is what I get for commenting on blogs that don’t have an edit function; I’ll call it a day now)


      • Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so oblique. Powers’ fiction has not disappointed me, as I have been quite fond of several of his novels. Which is why it was very disappointing to discover that he is anti-choice.

        That aside, I think your dark-haired girl idea is very good.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Meh, I’ve read 4 of Powers’ last 4 novels, and I would say that they’re all just “okay”. My first Powers was Salvage and Demolition, which just blew me away, and everything I’ve read since then doesn’t come close to being as good. 😦

          Liked by 1 person

          • The last one I read by Powers was Medusa’s Web. It seemed it should have played to his strengths, but it flopped for me. But I love most of his work.


    • @Eli (orig. comment): Phil wouldn’t be wrong about Ursula. She grew into a pretty wise woman who knew a lot of mystical stuff, even in our universe.

      This whole experience would, of course, build on his childhood/adolescent anxiety disorder and general inborn tendencies in any universe.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The ending HAS to be what @Owlmirror said. Because it’s appropriate to the story, to the stories both of them wrote in our timeline, and it’s a good ending.

    The first episode, “True Names”, begins with text saying “UKLG and PKD, both famous SF writers, went to the same high school at the same time but never met…” and then the next line fades in “… in our universe.”

    That sets the tone and idea right away, and makes the finale come full circle, which is perfect.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m fixated on the idea that the lost twin is a consequence of the alternate timeline. But I don’t know how you make that work without either making her another title character or telegraphing that she’s the sacrificial lamb. Or is there a version where Jane Charlotte Dick is the one who goes to school and solves mysteries with Ursula Kroeber?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m uncomfortable with the idea of the alternate twin being the sacrifice. Just morally. And also, as you say, telegraphing the ending and adding another character. She can be a supernatural guide.

      Another universe from ours gets “Crow and Char Solve What’s Hidden”. It’s good too!


  5. As an alum of the nearby university (and fond memories of my time in Berkeley), I wholly endorse this. (Beyond my time at Berkeley, I grew up in EXTREME Northern California and now I live in the Sacramento area, so I’m not a native either.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Also, Crow and Kin could get on a ferry and take a whole bunch of buses or streetcars (not shown) to get to Sutro Baths, which were still kind of standing, plus you can’t beat the camera obscura at the Cliff House and you could film it in the real thing. Something weird can show up that nobody but them can see.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fabulous idea.
    About their photos: UKLG seems to have been one of the people whose pictures “always looked like that”.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The universe reset to a more mundane one also happened in the last episode of “Twin Peaks” (the one on cable), and this thing is very Lynchian too. Another homage, except we know that up front whereas nobody knew how Twin Peaks was going to end… 17 years later.

    Also, there’s a spot in San Francisco called Twin Peaks, so there’s another shout-out; maybe they look at them while on the bus/tram in the Cliff House camera obscura episode. They sit in almost the exact center of town, which has to be mystical. They even get occasional snow! Also are their own biome. Can’t remember if they’re in “Our Lady of Darkness”, but I think so?

    But “Twin Peaks” ended slightly before it began*, so we’ll never know what Agent Cooper and the gang were up to, unlike how we know the rest of Ursula and Phil’s lives.

    Also there were no flying cats, dragons, teen sleuths, major universities, famous professors…

    *Spoiler: Coop keeps Laura Palmer from being murdered, escorts her home safely.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Not that I’ve been thinking about this all the time, or anything…

    But they give *each other* their use-names, because that’s the way of use-names.

    They realize their true names are dangerous from their first seeing the evilness.

    At first they think of using the English translations of their names, but both nope out of that because:

    1. That’s just translations of their names, which is basically the same as their names; too much power.

    2. Horselover and Little Bear sound like

    Ursula: “a bad Western”
    (she knows about Native Americans from her parents’ work)

    Phil: “Or a Tarzan movie. Me Horselover, you Little Bear.”
    (They laugh, because of course they’ve both read the books, which they consider superior. They’ve already established they both love SF and want to write, because they both knew that by this time.)

    They’re both thinking when a bird goes CAW outside.

    Phil: Crow! Goes with Kroeber. And their feathers are black and shiny, like your hair.
    (Both are embarrassed, because they just met and saw weirdness and he didn’t mean to sound flirty)
    Ursula: So what’s your middle name?
    Phil: Um. Kindred.
    Ursula: Kindred… Kin. Crow and Kin. That’s good. It’s short too, in case we have to call out in a crisis.
    Phil: Yeah, much quicker to scream “Look out, Crow!” (He sighs). But I don’t actually have a lot of kin.
    Ursula: Oh?
    Phil: My parents split up. And my twin sister died when we were 6 weeks old. My name’s carved right beside hers on the tombstone.
    Ursula: That’s… a bit disquieting, but practical I suppose.
    Phil: (shrugs)
    Ursula: Kin and Crow.
    Phil: No, Crow and Kin sounds better. And you know more about this… (waves in general) stuff.
    Ursula: Crow and Kin it is, then.
    (she holds out her hand and they shake on it, solemnly, sealing the partnership)

    Continuing on the Phil/Ged parallel, in this story, his dead twin is his Shadow ,although not evil. But she does follow them for at least one episode and helps out, since being non-corporeal, there are things she can do that they can’t.

    It also fits into the Jungian duality ideas which Ursula would be familiar with from her mom’s psychology work. And the yin/yang of the Tao which she studied later, and maybe even the idea of a person who’s both male and female, like in LHoD.


    This idea is obviously true. Owlmirror sensed it first, then I tuned in, now we all know about it. But it can never be fully written since then the whole world would know all and ruin the universe split and the destroying-of-evil.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. BUT!

    We could get away with Andrew’s film noir teenage crime-fighters ideas, though. Make it a cartoon like that show he mentioned, then the in-jokes and zany bits can happen non-sequitur-y-like. Budget also not as important, so they could travel far afield. Dragons could fly them to other places, cats could be winged, androids could dream of electric sheep. The electric sheep could be a running gag — literally running through the school halls.

    Phil could dress and talk like Deckard in Blade Runner (and narrate), and Ursula would always talk like a character in one of her stories. Their boss just wants to know what the heck happened, but Phil’s always throwing in long-winded similes (“it was as X as a Y on a Z”) and Ursula’s always phrasing things like a folk tale. But dammit, they get the job done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • (And Culp could be in that one, as the sporty guy, along with a guest appearance by Coburn, who’s there on summer vacation or something)


  10. @frasersherman: Yeah, I saw the “Strange Days at Black Hole High” a few times. Good stuff.


  11. I’m not getting any more scenes.

    Something must have plugged the leak between parallel universes.

    I’d still like to see Andrew’s cartoon version.

    “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was on ebook sale yesterday. (Twilight Zone music)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A bit of semi-relevant research I wanted to put somewhere…

    Ursula had 3 brothers; 1 full brother and 2 half-step-brothers from her mother’s previous marriage. Her full brother, Karl, was only a few years older than her, and also went to the high school, and appears in the yearbook: (3 times; this is just one of the hits)
    He’s also in the previous yearbook, since there was a theatrical performance where he was part of the crew, listed therein.

    I haven’t tracked down Theodore or Clifton yet.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I also was wondering if Ursula’s parents were publishing anything that could be mined for story material. There’s a lot to parse, but I was particularly struck by this 1945 paper by her father:

    The Ancient Oikoumene as an Historic Culture Aggregate [JSTOR access might be obtainable from your local library system]

    Those familiar with Ursula’s Hainish stories will of course be aware that she called one of the later galactic polities the Ekumen, derived from that Greek term. I just thought it was interesting that she could well have first seen the term in her father’s anthropological writings.

    Quoting from the paper a bit:

    The Greeks gave the name Oikoumenê, ‘the inhabited,’ to their supposed total habitable world stretching from the Pillars of Hercules to the Indians and the Seres. Since centuries, of course, this term has proved no longer to correspond to its original extent of meaning. But the tract referred to by the Greeks does still correspond to a great historic unit, to a frame within which a particular combination of processes happened to achieve certain unique results. Especially, the forces at work there managed to achieve the most important forms of civilization as yet produced by mankind. The old name Oikoumenê, with a partial shift of meaning from the ‘range of mankind’ to ‘range of man’s most developed cultures,’ thus remains a convenient designation for an interwoven set of happenings and products which are significant equally for the culture historian and the theoretical anthropologist.

    I can’t think of any way to fit this in to the Crow-and-Kin storyline, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hah I actually have this on my Kindle already. I went through a phase of buying books about crows and raptors. I haven’t gotten to this one yet, but I’ll read it eventually…

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I have a much longer post I want to make (I wonder how long comments stay open? I know really old posts are closed), but for now, two things I found out while looking for something else:

    1)There used to be a radio station in the SF Bay area with the call letters KROW. And it was at least sometimes received in Berkeley, because a newspapers_com archive for the Berkeley Daily Gazette has a page with program listings for KROW. But reception might have been weaker before 1947, when a new tower for the broadcaster was built.

    2) I found an interview with UKLG where she praised PKD’s work:

    LE GUIN: The means I gave the foretellers for foretelling the future actually came from reading some stuff about schizophrenia. Some people think that schizophrenics may be slightly displaced in time, which is perhaps a little mystical for most psychologists to swallow, but it seems to work sometimes. And so I threw in a couple of schizophrenics among the foretellers and tried to play with that idea. Philip K. Dick plays with it, you know, in a marvelous book called Martian Time-Slip. And if you want to know—I hope you don’t know—what it’s like to be mad from inside, read that book. Because he knows, and he puts it down, and he brings you out the other side. I think he’s one of our best SF writers, and one of the best American novelists.

    Liked by 2 people

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