Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Somewhat recently, I was asked to consider what some of my all-time top novels would be. This is always a difficult proposal as are you looking for entertaining, for thoughtful, for a specific genre? After some deliberation, I went with one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.

It is the story of a human emissary on a lone mission to include the world of Gethen, a frozen, winter world into the growing galactic civilization. The Envoy, Genry Ai, must contend with distrust, fractious politics, and entrenched religions. But the denizens of Gethen are also incredibly odd in their familiarity. They are asexual, and can and do choose their gender. It is conceivable that one Gethenians could have both sired and given birth to children. Genry must separate his gender identity assumptions from his dealings with the Gethenians.

The story also follows Estraven, a Gethenian and prime minister to the Kingdom of Karhide. Estraven gives us the best look into the culture of Gethen through a slowly, but wonderfully revealed backstory. Also, he provides a fascinating look into Le Guin’s conception of a society where gender identity is equal parts fluid and non-existent

On the surface, the book appears to be a thought experiment regarding gender assumptions. In fact, many reviews and analysis of the work focus on this. Yet, as with any good novel, there is so much more to the tale. Le Guin puts forth some fascinating and thought provoking ideas about philosophy, religion, relationships, and much more. The many, compelling layers of this book make it an excellent read and are one for the reasons I occasionally go back to Left Hand of Darkness and reread chapters. In all, I highly recommend giving this book a read.  

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