Left Hand of Darkness & Changes

For those Harry Dresden fans – Changes – by Jim Butcher has hit the streets, the library and arrived at my APO box courtesy of amazon.com. Take an interesting plot twist involving the return of Susan, add in the White Council plus a pending “peace proposal” from the Red Court (give us a break – trust a vampire? I mean, really…..) and it is Harry and gang against the world as he knows it

Any thing more than that would involve serious spoilers. Even though each book stands alone and Butcher is relevant but sparing with his back story, I would really recommend reading this series in order. The books just keep getting better.

Now – back to the re-read of Sci Fi Classics ¬†(and thanks to Ruth for the nagging) the partial list of which includes – iRobot and the Foundation Trilogy by Asimov, Cities in Flight by Blish, Waystation by Simak, Dune by Herbert, Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein, Rendezvous¬†with Rama by Clark, More than Human by Sturgeon plus todays –

The Left Hand of Darkness – by Ursula le Guin. (FantasticFiction Link here). Published in 1969 (university time, before medical school; long before marriage and children) the story is set in a far future universe where mankind and others are far flung across the galaxy and loosely organized into the Concordance. Newly discovered worlds are sent a single Envoy who establishes a toehold by peaceful means.

Genly Ai is posted to Winter, by himself with just his wits, an ansible and belief system which undergo transformation during his time. For Winter, you see, is populated by hermaphrodites and provides a challenge to deep seated assumptions and prejudices. A population that can and does change genders over the years and dependant on social situations beyond the understanding of a short term visitor.

Hailed at the time and discussed for years after, The Left Hand of Darkness is considered a key work in the genre as it explores both society and the role of the individual against the backdrop of other than traditional belief systems.

I read it when it first came out, finding it fascinating. Unlike other SciFi of the time which portrayed strange looking creatures with otherwise US/UK mores, language, and behavior, Le Guin created a society that challenges those beliefs while maintaining a complexity and internal consistency.

40 years later, this Hugo and Nebula winner still stands the test of time. Because it is person and society centric rather that hard technology dependant, it has aged well. The questions raised – how to initiate first contact, how to understand new societies and cultures, are as relevant today as then.

Superficially, the roles of women in western society may have changed drastically in the last four decades. But have we really evolved? Do we still want to know if someone is “a man or a woman”? Isn’t that the first question asked of parents about their newborn?

And are we not all a bit uncomfortable when we can not identify the gender of an individual by their first name? Needing that little bit of knowledge to carefully slot one into our own privately constructed pigeon holes of roles?

At the end, a book that makes me think as well as being a good read is certainly worth putting in my classics pile and recommending it to you.

In this case,

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2 Responses to Left Hand of Darkness & Changes

  1. AlisonH says:

    What stuck with me all these years from her series was the character who knew for sure that someone else was from his race when he got up the courage to ask him, do you like music? Or does it make you want to moan and shriek and go insane? When the other shuddered in horror, the first knew he’d found a kindred soul.

  2. Ruth says:

    Gah! Adding yet another title to me TBR (to be read) list.

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