Always Coming Home discussion

15 views
Fiction > The Hainish Cycle

Comments Showing 1-31 of 31 (31 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Here's a topic for discussion about UKL's Hainish Cycle.

These books broke my preconceptions about what science fiction can be.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Good! It worked!


message 3: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
The Left Hand of Darkness was my favorite of these. The whole story of Genly Ai and Estraven on the ice was so sparse and wonderful, and has stuck with me through the years. I've probably read this one five or six times.

One thing that struck me is that she mentioned Estraven's precise calculations of the food and supplies they would need, which you could see as either housewifely or scientific as you preferred. It made me realize how many things that we think of as girly things are just the same as things we think of as manly things depending on who is doing them, or what field they fall under.

I'm an engineer and I design and build things. Well, mostly I design them and make drawings, then someone else builds them, but then I inspect what they've done, and later on when the things ship out to the mills or plants they're meant for, I go and oversee their installation, and start them up. Pressing the "on" switch for the first time is always a bit dicey, you see, so they want it to be me who does it, in case it explodes or something, then it will be definitely my fault. =) Anyway, when later I learned to knit and made forays into sewing, I realized that it's just exactly like engineering, except done in more malleable materials. Instead of steel and wire and so on it uses cloth and yarn. The properties are a bit different but the process is identical. I love the designing and building parts just the same.

So this was a good insight about gender, and of course the book was written long ago when our ideas about gender were a lot more fixed and less fluid than today. But it turns out that almost everything that's traditionally considered as women's work is very much like something else that's traditionally considered men's work so there really is no difference. I found this out during the whole course of my life when I was told over and over that girls don't do that, girls can't do that, and then I just went on and did whatever it was they can't do and showed that they could so do it after all.

UKL being a rare woman among male SF writers back in the day was quite a pioneer in the same way. One of the most fascinating things about this book to me is the insight it gives us into our strongly-gendered society.


message 4: by Mir (new)

Mir | 31 comments One thing that struck me is that she mentioned Estraven's precise calculations of the food and supplies they would need, which you could see as either housewifely or scientific as you preferred. It made me realize how many things that we think of as girly things are just the same as things we think of as manly things depending on who is doing them, or what field they fall under.


I was at a conference where one presenter was analyzing this book, but he was not as insightful as you.


message 5: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Wow, thanks Miriam! I guess different things strike different people, or something.

But I usually do wait to read any Introductions, Forewords, or whatever until after I've read the book, so I can form my own opinion unspoiled. And then a lot of times when I read it later I feel like the person who wrote the introduction missed the whole point, don't you? I guess that's because there are as many different books as there are readers, and we all sort of take away something different depending on our interests and experiences.


message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments I second Miriam's comment. Really, Tatiana, that is a beautiful insight and wonderfully tied into your own life experience.

I was struck by the concept of love with gender out of the equation. I don't know if I can articulate this right, as I'm not even sure I understood it, but ... I got the impression that LeGuin was saying that gender ... I guess, placed boundaries (?) on the ability of two humans to love deeply, and when gender is removed, two humans could achieve a sort of brotherly love, for lack of a better term, that is deeper than anything we could experience in a society built upon gender norms. Does that make any sense? If not, feel free to say so :)

I also loved one of the interludes--well, I loved all of the interludes--but I'm thinking of the one written by the first-down team that talks about all the ways in which we take gender for granted and how fundamentally different the Gethenian society is absent notions of gender.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I've thought it would be interesting to read LHOD with Estraven's pronouns switched in Genly's point of view.


message 8: by Tatiana (last edited Feb 27, 2011 09:10PM) (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Thanks, Ian! I do get what you mean about brotherly love, or deep platonic love, or whatever you want to call it. I think Genly and Estraven had that, and maybe we in our strongly gendered society don't have much chance of finding it. Perhaps soldiers in combat together or others who go through extreme hardships together can find something of the sort, too. I don't know.

Sho, I read something in which UKL said she felt she took the easy way out by using he, him, his always for Estraven, and wouldn't do it the same way again. I bet she'd like to see a version with the pronouns switched.


message 9: by Robert (new)

Robert (flagon_dragon) | 49 comments Alternating them would be more interesting to me.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I don't disagree.


message 11: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
What we need is a set of neuter pronouns. 'It' implies nonpersonhood, so really doesn't work well. 'They', 'them', 'their', when used for a singular person with gender unspecified is probably the closest thing we have in English. It sounds informal to our ears now, but at least not totally unfamiliar or ad hoc, like 's/he', 'her/im' and other invented usages. I think it wouldn't jar too much, or upset the flow. That would be my solution, I think, if I wrote an SF book with ungendered people today.


message 12: by Mir (new)

Mir | 31 comments I read one sf book (I think by Diane Duane) where the aliens had several genders indicated by variant spelling (eg, "hir").


message 13: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
That's a good point about aliens with multiple genders. What did Octavia Butler do about the Ooloi in her Xenogenesis books? I think she copped out and used "he", "him", "his", didn't she?


message 14: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I started rereading The Left Hand of Darkness while waiting for my copy of Always Coming Home to arrive. I absolutely love all the legends and history of the planet Gethen that we get along the way. The idea of shifgrethor is wonderful.

I feel a bit like Genly Ai here on planet earth because it seems as though the natives have a number of concepts I just am not getting so far. Oh, well, I guess I'll do my best and eventually may get the hang of things. I sometimes wish I could board a NAFAL ship to the nearest inhabited system then turn around and come back and start again with a new generation of earthlings.


message 15: by Robert (new)

Robert (flagon_dragon) | 49 comments So which customs do you not understand?


message 16: by Tatiana (last edited Mar 06, 2011 01:51AM) (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
It's something to do with shifgrethor, I think, or something like it. Can you really help me out? That would be awesome! People are mostly a cipher to me, though I seemingly understand machines better than most, or rather, it seems perfectly plain to me, but others go wide-eyed and act amazed when I can see what's going wrong with machines and how to put them right. Also, cats and children I communicate with easily. Adult humans, hardly at all. They leave many things unspoken, it seems, that I'm not hearing, and simultaneously they seem to read unspoken messages from me that I'm not sending. I need some sort of detailed description in words of this unspoken language, perhaps. But how can things be said in words that can't be said in words? I'm searching for a key to this code. They say ask and it shall be answered, so I'm asking.


message 17: by Robert (new)

Robert (flagon_dragon) | 49 comments Perhaps you need a book on body language.


message 18: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Possibly so.


message 19: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I like how she alternates chapters between time, advancing the story, things going forward, and stasis, the legends and myths from history and the reports of the previous observers, which deepens our understanding of the societies, the religions, and the planet as a whole. It makes a satisfying method of travel through the story. The myths and stories are essentially exposition, yet they're interesting for their own sake as stories. We get a lot of exposition quite painlessly that way.


message 20: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Diana, that would be great! If I could just google each person's manual that I know, I could understand them better. My little brother used to talk about his daughter Sarah's maintenance schedules when she was little. He was like, "have you seen the maintenance schedules on those things?" about babies. I was like "yeah, feed and burp every two hours, sounds rough," but not having a manual at all can be harder, can't it?


message 21: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
In The Left Hand of Darkness, Estraven's quality of readiness, of never being hasty or hurried, but always being ready for whatever comes, I would love to learn that quality.


message 22: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Some great stuff in chapter 15. First, about the pesthry pelts, furs of a fox-size animal they had trapped in the forest: "The fur was so soft and deep that you could not be certain when your hand began to feel it." Such a great way to put that!

Then when Ai said it hardly seemed worth it for stew, Estraven "gave him a brief dark stare and said 'we need protein.' And tossed away the pelts where overnight the russy, the fierce little rat snakes would devour them and the entrails and the bones, and lick clean the bloody snow."

That phrase "lick clean the bloody snow" is pure poetry. I can say it over and over. The poetry of her sentences gives her writing a weight, an importance, that can't be faked, I think. She's a marvelous writer!


message 23: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments "That phrase "lick clean the bloody snow" is pure poetry. I can say it over and over. The poetry of her sentences gives her writing a weight, an importance, that can't be faked, I think. She's a marvelous writer! "

I agree with all that except I don't think I could say the word "lick" over and over. It would make me feel dirty. Or like licking something, which is not exactly the most sanitary way to touch things.


message 24: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Tatiana wrote: "In The Left Hand of Darkness, Estraven's quality of readiness, of never being hasty or hurried, but always being ready for whatever comes, I would love to learn that quality."

Ditto, bigtime. I've gone to a series of classes given my a priest at our parrish about centering prayer (essentially meditation with a Christian theme); I'm trying to put that to use slowing myself down and making myself more balanced. It's not so easy.


message 25: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I wanted to say something about the very end of this chapter, too. The image she paints is one of the unforgettable ones from this book. Estraven and Genly had been struggling for days to get onto the Gobrin ice sheet between two erupting volcanoes in a life-and-death attempt to make it across the continent to Karhide. They finally found a path, but their margin for survival was cut ribbon-thin. I'll just quote the last paragraph.

It had not rained, here on these north-facing slopes. Snow-fields stretched down from the pass into the valleys of moraine. We stowed the wheels, uncapped the sledge-runners, put on our skis, and took off -- down, north, onward, into that silent vastness of fire and ice that said in enormous letters of black and white DEATH, DEATH, written right across a continent. The sledge pulled like a feather, and we laughed with joy.


message 26: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Last of all, I want to note that the book doesn't seem the least bit dated to me, even though it was written more than 40 years ago.


message 27: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Diana, I found that Amazon could send books to the UK fairly quickly (two weeks) and fairly cheaply, a few years back. I wonder if that's true of continental Europe as well. Have you tried ordering books in English online from the US version of Amazon?

If that doesn't work, I might can put you together a Care package of UKL books in English somehow. Let me know the ones you need most.


message 28: by Una (new)

Una I love "The Left Hand of Darkness" too! I only discovered it this spring and am reading it for the third time now. (I love it so much that I made a geeky quiz on it.) I'm glad I found this group because the discussion here is so insightful. Maybe later I'll contribute some actual thoughts here, but for now it seems I'm just in a state of joy that you can't earn or keep...


message 29: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Ah, Una, such a poetic description of your state. It made me joyful just to read it! Welcome, welcome, welcome! Your thoughts and impressions are much anticipated!


message 30: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Oh, I forgot I came into this thread to plug Four Ways to Forgiveness which is four different stories set in the same solar system around the same time frame. They concern slavery. UKL's insight into what slavery must be like is astonishing to me. How does she do that? It's so real that you just know that it's dead right. And yet how can UKL have understood these things, given her life experience? She's just a wizard, or a prophet, or, or... an artist, I guess, huh?

I sometimes worry that she's quietly experienced some real anguish and horror in her life. Otherwise how could her insight be so deep? How could her stories be so exactly true to such experience in the lives of her characters?

Ursula, if you read this, I just want to say that I love you. And I'm sorry for all the pain you must have gone through to be able to write like this. But I'm glad for the stories you've given me. They have fed my spirit all my life.


message 31: by Una (new)

Una Tatiana wrote: "Ah, Una, such a poetic description of your state. It made me joyful just to read it! Welcome, welcome, welcome! Your thoughts and impressions are much anticipated!"

I must confess that the poetic part about joy is stolen/quoted from "Left Hand of Darkness". But still. :)


back to top