The Left Hand of Darkness

I just finished reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, a science fiction of astonishing brilliance. We follow the exploits of Genly Ai, an envoy from a federation of human worlds who is attempting to bring Gethen into that federation. Gethenians, unlike all the other peoples of human space, are biologically bisexual—that is, they are neither male nor female, but enter one phase or another when they enter kemmer, or a kind of human heat.

We explore the customs and culture of a neuter society, the dance of politics between conflicting sides, the strange circumstances of a world in an ice age, and a strange pecking order system. The society has never known wars, because everyone's the same. There is no sexism (there's only one gender, after all) and no dualist mentality that colors a great many ideas in our culture.

The characters are rich, believable if strange, and have serious flaws. Genly befriends Estraven, the Prime Minister of Karhide, and follows him into exile, becomes outlawed himself, and learns loyalty from his Gethenian friend. The social politics are somewhat obscure and fuzzy, but the grand adventure of the story is compelling and well-envisioned.

My grade: B.


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