Friday, January 8, 2010

The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness came to me heavy-laden with its own expectations.  It's a book-club-book (of sorts.  Me and a gal had a mini-book-club to get us through the Christmas hiatus) and I always read those in different headspace, somewhere between relax-a-read and scholar-la-study.  And then there's Ursula Le Guin and her mighty bibliography breathing down my neck.  And Darkness brought the Hugo award AND the Nebula award in its carry-on, and all these things tell me that if I don't like it, I will be wrong.  I do not deal well with this kind of pressure.

TLHoD isn't a long one, and much of the beginning is Politics so I spent a good piece of the book Not Getting It and Not Caring.  Science fiction is tricky to get into, because it's always all, I am waiving shifgrethor, and Those two are in the first stages of kemming and if there's too much of this in the beginning (and then ALSO Politics) it gets a little wearing on the mind (ok, fantasy does this too but I am a sucker for dragons and magical swords and shit, so I don't even care).  Also, if you start a story cycle somewheres in the middle, no one is going to explain anything to you, and it is sort of going to be your fault. bad.

So ok.  Genly Ai is an envoy from an interplanetary organization that wants to welcome all peoples into its mighty bosom for the purposes of commerce and such.  So he's on a planet they call 'Winter' (because it is hella cold) trying to convince the various powers-that-be to shack up with said organization.  And then a bunch of political things happen that I didn't really follow and Genly's main political contact is exiled and Genly cuts and runs and somehow ends up in a milder version of a concentration camp.

And this is where the politics get tossed and suddenly it's personal and then HOO DOLLY are you ever in it.  Because the Exiled Political Contact comes to snatch Genly from the camp and then the two of them jaunt over barren frozen wasteland for some 80 days.  It. Is. Epic.  You will either care a lot by the end or have had it up to HERE with the ice and snow, which will affect whether or not the end of the book breaks your heart.  It smashed mine to bits.

And so but also, Le Guin is pretty up-front about using fiction as a thought experiment, to say What if things were thus, and how would that look and what does that say about us now?  Because the inhabitants of Winter are all androgynous, and they only dooo eeet once a month so their society is completely lacking in the sort of gender anxieties and sexual frustrations and La Senza billboards that we take for granted, and what would that look like?  Which...interesting.

And the whole book is interesting in that way, as a What if and a Then what.  I feel like the plot suffered on account of me not having read the first three books in the cycle, and also on my reactionary eye-glazing to anything political or planetary.  I'm going to go ahead and give this book a five for the first half and a nine for the second, averaging out to a seven and a half total, and I will suspend judgement on Le Guin as a species until I have read something less expectation-heavy.

Seven and a half caterpillars.


Amanda said...

I read this book way way back in high school and my friend and I love loved it. It was my first real foray into science fiction (I read Dune shortly after and loved it too). You sort of had to jump into it and trust it would all make sense at some point. I loved the idea that you had to look at thing differently when sex was kind of out of the picture.

But said there are three books before this??!?!?! What?!?! Where!?!! I need to know! I'm off to do some research, thanks!!

Jeane said...

What are the three prior books to it? I haven't heard of them either.

Bibliolatrist said...

Hm. I've wanted to read this but you bring up all the reasons why I probably never will. Glad YOU gave it a try though - thanks for that.

I'm with Amanda on the DUNE love - if you haven't read it, you simply must.

Lisa said...

I have had it with Winter in real life. And ice. And snow. I wouldn't even feel sorry for these guys right now cuz I'm totally living on Winter right now. So maybe in the summer I'll be able to read about Winter and care.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Your tag line? Reading books so we won't have to? I think this would apply in this case. I was smoked out by the early political stuff, which I do not do (at least I don't do it well). You've intrigued me, but not enough to be brave and try to read it.

Jenners said...

My policy on big long fantasy/sci-fi series is wait until they are completely finished before starting and then read in a row. Of course, this requires a huge commitment of time so they would have to be declared worthwhile by people I trust ALOT several times.

What this comment did for you ... I don't know. But nonetheless, there it is.

Bybee said...

The best time of year to read this book is in July or August.

I liked how LeGuin used her anthropology back ground to great effect. Agree with you about the first half of the book vs. the second.

rean said...

Hello, I tagged you in an award/meme thing! Check it out in my blog:

Yay! :D

martine frampton said...

Been reading a bit of scifi recently and love the Earthsea books so may well give this one a go.
thanks for sharing

valentina said...

I was very excited to read this, because I love the Earthsea saga to BITS! and because I was intrigued by the idea, and also because I had read parts of her essays on writing called The language of the Night and thought I would love anything she wrote.
Then I started reading blog reviews about it, and started to feel less and less excited.
But maybe this will help when I actually get to the reading part and discover I actually love it:P

I didn't know there were other parts to read before this, either...