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. So...my 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.