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The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4)
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Group Selections > The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (May 2014)

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Outis | 301 comments Seeing that it's now May Day in most of the world, I guess this is an appropriate time to move on from the she-book to the he-book.
Stephanie linked earlier to an afterword to Left Hand which adresses the pronoun issue: http://theliterarylink.com/afterword....
I prefer Ancilliary Justice's she, mainly because its use together with masculine titles sends the right message (as UKL notes). And I agree that masculine titles were the way to go in some cases like King. In other cases, I think UKL used non-gendered synonmys to good effect (for instance "parentland" for Vaterland).

The book being dated, you might be interested in a relatively recent radio program about a stage adaptation of Left Hand in which people opine about the story's contemporary relevance: http://www.opb.org/audio/download/?f=...
It contains among other things a short interview with UKL, Gethenian music including a song based on chapter 2 and an interview with actors who talk about playing genderless characters, read lines based on chapter 1 and so on.
Warning: in case someone hasn't read the book yet, there's technically one spoiler in there (it's a well-known aspect of the plot which was mentionned in last month's thread).

And finally those of you who don't want to re-read Left Hand right now but who haven't read much else by UKL ought to know she has written more about Gethen and Gethenians.
In particular, you might want to check out Coming of Age in Karhide to refresh your memory. I recall it's more explicit than the book about kemmer and related Karhidish social norms. It was published in several collections (such as the excellent The Birthday of the World) but the text is also available online.

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 270 comments Thanks, I wasn't aware she had written other Gethan stories. I'm going to go pick up The Birthday of the World and Other Stories. Are there any others?

Outis | 301 comments That's the only one I remembered that takes place on Gethen... but there's another one WP mentions that was written even earlier than the book (but then revised): Winter's King
There are also stories set elsewhere involving natives of the place.

message 4: by Taylor (last edited May 03, 2014 12:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Taylor (seffietay) Copied from the interwebs:

Gethen appearances in Le Guin's fiction

The main description of the people and culture is "The Left Hand of Darkness". It gives their myths and legends, set amidst the story of a visitor from Earth.

"Winter's King" is a short story written earlier. It tells the story of Argaven, a Gethenian who visits another planet.

"Coming of Age in Karhide" was written 25 or 30 years later. It takes place after the events of " Winter's King". It is mostly about an ordinary Gethenian discovering sex.

Another short story, "The Shobies' Story", has Gethenians as part of a mixed Ekumen expedition to a new planet. Since they are now integrated into the Ekumen, it must take place after the other tales.

This page has a lot of info about the world Le Guin created: http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/...

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 270 comments Thanks! Do you happen to know where to find them?

Taylor (seffietay) I prefer Leckie's use of female pronouns over the male pronouns in Left Hand as well, though my favourite pronouns are from Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time ("Per" as in "person"). I loved this book when I read it, but I think I'll reread it this month for a refresher. It's been a while!

message 7: by Taylor (last edited May 03, 2014 12:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Taylor (seffietay) There seems to be a PDF copy of Coming of Age in Karhide available online, but it is also included in Birthday of the World


The original Winter's King was in an issue of Orbit in 1969, but a revised version (which apparently had different gendered pronouns) was included in The Wind's Twelve Quarters

The Shobie's Story appeared in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea published by Harper Prism in 1994 - edited to add: it also seems to be available online here, but the text is messed up and it may be a total headache to read haha

message 8: by Alexa (last edited May 03, 2014 12:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 270 comments Le Guin was just using the default pronouns for unknown gender, completely typical both then and now. As I gathered from the interview she herself says she wishes she had put more thought into it. Piercy was being deliberately unconventional for her time, by even proposing that we look more closely at gender. And at the time I also loved it! For now, in 2014, when none of Piercy's near-future utopia has come to be (although I haven't re-read it recently), I love the in-your-face attitude of asking, "why can't the default pronoun be female?" I just find it more relevant for our lives today.

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 270 comments Thanks for doing all that research! I've read all of those at different times, but I never read them as the "Gethan stories." Which I definitely now want to do!

Taylor (seffietay) I haven't read any of those shorts yet but I will now! I love how Le Guin creates a world and writes several stories that take place in it, even if those stories are generally unrelated.

I also really warmed up to the use of female pronouns as the default after Ancillary Justice. It's refreshing for sure, though I still think it implies a gender that may not be accurate when characters are truly meant to be androgynous. I'm going to try to read all the male pronouns as female in my reread of left hand and see what happens haha

Taylor (seffietay) It should probably also be noted for anyone new to UKL that The Left Hand of Darkness is a stand alone novel, but it is included in the series of "Hainish Cycle" novels

Rocannon's World, 1966
Planet of Exile, 1966
City of Illusions, 1967
The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969 (Hugo Award and Nebula Award)
The Dispossessed, 1974 (Nebula Award; Hugo Award; Locus Award)
The Word for World is Forest, 1976 (Hugo Award, best novella)
Four Ways to Forgiveness, 1995 (Four Stories of the Ekumen)
The Telling, 2000 (Locus SF Award; Endeavour Award)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 270 comments And for anyone who HATES to jump into a series in the middle I just want to say that this is one of the most loosely connected books imaginable. The connection basically consists of, "I am a visitor from another civilization, here to check out this new planet and civilization." A visiting anthropologist. And that is about all the back-story there is.

Outis | 301 comments There are more connections than that, but I agree they're limited to non-essential parts of back-story. For instance in Left Hand, the main character mentions that he doesn't know how to explain the deal with "the Ennemy". Readers of the previous book would know what he's talking about.
And it's only about 50% "I am a visitor from another civilization". You forgot "I'm oppressed by the social strictures of my backwards civilization". :-) Yeah, not all that varied...

Because on top of the novel-length stuff mentionned above, there are many short stories which are part of the same "cycle". I recall Birthday of the World is mostly (but not completely) Hainish for instance.

If you can't find the text of any UKL story such as The Shobies Story, chances are I could locate it (PM me). But usually, they're easy enough to find thanks to the author's popularity. That one was nominated to an award for instance.

Taylor (seffietay) Because I'm an annoying overachiever, I'm going to start with Rocannon's World and read up to Left Hand. If anyone else wants to talk about these books too I'm here!

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 270 comments Oh, I can so totally identify with that! And then are you going to include the related short stories? I need an OCD's suggested reading list!

Outis | 301 comments It seems a shame to read only the early UKL.
It's kind of sad that Left Hand and Earthsea are the books she's best known for.

I said nothing about the content of the book so far because I hoped the people who had voted for it in the poll would drop by.
But since all we're talking about here are the other Hainish stories and no one else has shown up, I'll talk about what bothered me when I re-read Left Hand. I hadn't read it in a very long time and I had totally forgotten some things.


So my question to the group is: what do you think the author was up to (if anything) by choosing that bigoted voice not only for the Envoy but also for the Investigator?
I can see the Dune influence and I can also rationalize internally why the Ekumen would have selected such an incompetent bigot as Envoy considering the other ways in which they set him up to fail... but what about the Investigator's report?
I'm thinking not only about the "animal" nonsense but about the "appalling experience" stuff. Just read the report again if that doesn't ring a bell. As far as I can see, that was unnecessary.
Last time I read the book, I probably filed all that without much thought under "old author, bigoted author" (yes, I know...). But today I'm not satisfied either by UKL's date of birth or by the book's publication date as explanations for all the bigotry.

message 17: by Taylor (last edited May 20, 2014 09:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Taylor (seffietay) I've finished Rocannon's World and Planet of Exile, and have moved on to City of Illusions. THEN I'll re-read Left Hand because it has been a while and I can't even drudge up enough memories to answer your question, Outis. I'll hopefully get them finished soon then I'll jump in.

In general, I remember really liking Left Hand. However, I've become a much more critical reader of late so a re-read would probably be beneficial.

message 18: by Outis (last edited May 20, 2014 10:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Outis | 301 comments I wonder where are the people who voted for the book though.

And if you can tell me what would be the right word to use instead of "bigot" while you're at it, I'd be grateful. It's not quite "chauvinist" either.
I used "bigot" because it necessarily has a broader meaning but I wish I knew how better to describe the close-mindedness of the Ekumen staff in Left Hand.

I'd be interested in what people think about City of Illusions by the way. I don't think it's all that good as such (and neither does the author) but I actually loved it, warts and all.

Adelaide Blair Outis wrote: "I wonder where are the people who voted for the book though."

The month is not over yet.

Taylor (seffietay) I'm almost done the Birthday of the World audiobook and it is fantastic. Coming of Age in Karhide is a closer look at the life and times of the people of Gethen and revolves largely around a young Gethenian going into kemmer for the first time. The stories in this collection are all strong and definitely draw on Le Guin's familiarity with anthropology; the stories develop the societies that she has created in a very anthropological way. All stories contain strong elements of feminism, as well as in depth ideas about gender. I felt the gender neutral people of Gethen were explained a but better than in the original Left Hand. The stories are also very sexual, though in a fairly clinical way (like a scientist making notes on the sexual habits of a species, which I suppose is what Le Guin was going for). Excellent collection.

Outis | 301 comments I'm glad you liked it.
I had nominated the Four Ways collection instead for a group read because it's more coherent and has arguably even more "elements of feminism, as well as in depth ideas about gender". Or perhaps I should say instead that it's more political. The title of one of the stories is a bit of a giveaway.
But The Matter of Seggri (included in Birthday) for instance would also definitely be worthy material for this group. If you know anything like it written by someone other than UKL, do tell.

Taylor (seffietay) I don't know of any other author writing the same kind of science fiction as UKL, but certainly if anyone else knows of someone please speak up! I really enjoyed City of Illusions. Really really. I think it's one of my new favourites!

message 23: by Adelaide (last edited May 24, 2014 02:11PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Adelaide Blair This is one of those books where I appreciate its place in the history of sci fi, but I don't care for it very much. Mostly because Genly Ai is so annoying. Not because he's clueless and closed-minded - Le Guin writes him that way on purpose because he needs room to grow, but because he is constantly deriding the feminine he sees in the Genthians. Every time he sees a quality in them he does not like, he labels it "feminine." Drives me crazy.

Taylor (seffietay) I am about to reread it now, and Adelaide I'll keep an eye out for what you've mentioned. As I said before, my initial read was pretty superficial and I think I'll get more out of it a second time around.

Adelaide Blair I had not read this in about 20+ years, and my remembrance was pretty positive. Its take on gender was pretty mind-blowing for me when I was younger. I didn't care for it much this time around, but who knows how I'll view it 20 years from now.

Kathleen (kathlil) | 30 comments Greatly enjoyed rereading this, it's been 20 years or more! Yes, it's somewhat dated, but the plot and the character development are great, UKL, as always, writes divinely. I see a theme running through the last 3 books: traveling through a very cold climate! Anyone else catch that? I need to read her other Hainish cyle books to catch up and refresh my memory.

Outis | 301 comments Adelaide wrote: "The month is not over yet."
Please excuse my impatience. Outside of this group which is fairly new, I haven't done "group reads" and so I don't know what to expect really.

Stephanie wrote: "I don't know of any other author writing the same kind of science fiction as UKL, but certainly if anyone else knows of someone please speak up!"
I did mention a couple of successful stories which have a distinctly Hainish flavour in the Intro thread. But they're nothing like The Matter of Seggri.
She's inspired a number of authors.

"I really enjoyed City of Illusions."
While its female charcters don't exactly shine, I think it's noteworthy in feminist SF history for being one of the first books to combine not only genre tropes and pro-life villains but also an explicit critique of a fantasy pro-life ideology. For all I know it's even the very first book. Did someone else get there first? Tepper perhaps?

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