Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

I dropped by Skhye Moncrief's blog today because she has yet another cool research book suggestion, Kinship and Gender.

It made me think of Ursula K. LeGuin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness. I commented on that on Skhye's blog, but I couldn't say much in a comment. And the book deserves a bit more.

The way genres cross today within books, we should dare navigate from our familiar aisles in the bookstore and explore the less familiar areas. If you like world-building and emotional stories, then The Left Hand of Darkness is a good candidate for a change.

It's a classical sci-fi novel in the best tradition, combining a wonderful, well-told story, strong characters, emotional scenes, and a deep philosophical subtext that is raised through storytelling and character development.

The Left Hand of Darkness is about the clash of cultures, about misunderstanding and intolerance, but also about friendship, love, and discovery. It is about honor, fidelity, and devotion. It is, ultimately, about the victory of what is essentially human within us, once the veneer of civilization is stripped away, and cultural bounds are made irrelevant by the demands of a struggle for sheer survival.

It is also about gender identity and how we perceive ourselves -- or don't -- through the eyes of an alien people whose physical gender is not as visible, or as determined, as ours.

It is also a love story, although not in the traditional sense. But then, it is science-fiction, and sci-fi readers do expect something "untraditional" in their tales. It is, however, powerful and compelling, emotional, and it will make you think and feel for the charactes for a long time after you turn the last page.

From Barnes and Noble, a short synopsis: In The Left Hand of Darkness, an Earth ambassador, Genly Ai, is sent to the planet of Gethen, whose inhabitants are androgynous. Through his relationship with a native, Estraven, Ai gains understanding both of the consequences of his fixed sexual orientation and of Gethenian life. As in many of her works, Le Guin incorporates a social message in her science fiction tale.

1 comment:

Skhye said...

I haven't read this particular book of LeGuin's, but I highly encourage anyone trying to tackle worldbuilding to read something of hers. There's always the National Geographic series TABOO to turn to in a pinch if you need a quick refresher on kinship or gender. Then again, I'm probably just biased because of all the anthropologists on the show!!!