January 24th, 2014

iron throne

Ai Was Right! (2; 1:1)

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin.

Across the ice caps
& around the equator
your shadow follows.

So this is part of the same cycle-- the Hainish Cycle-- as The Dispossessed, but it was written earlier. The events of The Dispossessed predate The Left Hand of Darkness but that is really academic. Like Iain Bank's Culture novels, they can be picked up in any order, I think. What do I know, though; I've only read two. I wasn't as blown away by Left Hand as I was by The Dispossessed, but that because of a couple of different factors. First, being written earlier means that her craft has time to develop; not just her skill as a writer, but her development as a writer. The big for instance: The Dispossessed takes a lot of progressive stances on gender for granted, with the main "thinking" & brooding being done on the subject of hierarchies & anarchies. The Left Hand of Darkness on the other hand (puns) is about gender. The Gethians are hermaphrodites-- humans, but altered genetically-- who develop into either male or female during their monthly cycle. The book is about an Envoy, sent from the Ekumen-- the benevolent, mystical space government-- to the Game of Thrones-y world of Winter, of Geth. The Dispossessed had a capitalist dystopia & a communist dystopia-- or really a corporate state versus a police state-- & The Left Hand of Darkness has a similar dualism, the feudal decentral kingdom & the faceless organized bureaucracy. Most of the story is personal, is a bridging of a non-gendered cultural landscape & a navigation of alien social mores & psychology. I'm definitely going to read another one of the Hainish cycle soon; probably interspaced with a M.A.R. Barker re-read (Geth & Tékumel share traits in common, if you ignore the weather). Part of what makes Le Guin's work so great, though, is that they aren't a polemic, & even when she's exploring issues of gender & freedom, she doesn't neglect the story. Mortaring in the keystones of arches with blood, religious schisms, white ice grass, arts of meditation that increase strength-- adrenaline?-- all wrapped around a central act that resembles nothing so much as Cherry-Garrard's diary. Like a reviewer said on the back of The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin has a habit of laying out Chekhov's Gun, but without letting you notice it is a gun. Chekhov's unassuming details. Things that happen in the story have a purpose, they wrap back around. It is pretty impressive. This was a gift from Libby, along with two other female SF authors, who I think you can expect to hear about some time this year.