Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Left Hand Of Darkness Is A Good Book

Why you should read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness is a classic work of Science Fiction. In the novel Genly Ai, a human emissary from the Ekumen, an intersteller coalition of affiliated humanoid worlds, is sent to the planet Gethen, also known as Winter. Genly's mission is to convince the natives of Gethen to join the Ekumen and begin to share in the broader culture of humanity. But Genly's mission is challenged by the inhospitable, frozen world of Gethen and the alien, inscrutable nature of its inhabitants. The humans of Gethen have no gender, and a biology that carries the potential for both reproductive sexes. The Gethenian normally are functionally sexless, but as part of a monthly cycle enter the state of Kemmer where they become sexually receptive and temporarily express the sexual characteristics of either a female or male. Genly's mission also runs afoul of tension between Gethen nation states and forces Genly to entrust his mission and life to the enigmatic Estraven.

The Left Hand of Darkness is an absolute masterwork of Science Fiction. As much as the novel revolves around a gripping tale of political intrigue and survivalism, the true engine of the novel is a thought experiment about what a genderless society would look like. So much of our society focuses on the differences between men and women, from the way products are marketed, to career expectations, to the way sexuality is policed to, well just about everything. By focusing on the ambisexual Gethenian species, The Left Hand of Darkness explores how society might work if the vast majority experienced gender and sexuality in the same manner and the gender barriers in our society just didn't exist. The results of the novel's thought experiment are interesting and, in a way that demonstrates tremendous intellectual maturity, are really believable and possessed. (This is a novel that could be "Isn't this crazy!" and is instead rigorous and honest.) My point here is, for all of its beauty and tension, this is a really, really smart novel.

I would recommend The Left Hand of Darkness to any Science Fiction fan. This is classic, canon Sci-fi that everyone keen on the genre really ought to read. If you're like me and have an interest in touring the essential classic works of Sci-fi, than The Left Hand of Darkness is an absolutely necessary read. Go read it.

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