The Left Hand of Darkness
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now – and kept waiting for the moment when I’d actually feel inspired to make it better. I’m starting to lose faith that said moment will ever come – so here it goes. I wish I could say it’s one of the worst things I’ve written…but I doubt it. Anyways, I just felt the introduction (disclaimer?) was needed.
It seems to me that this is a story more about personal alienation and the endless search for a kindred spirit than the exploration of new worlds and realities. Genly Ai, the Terran envoy finds his yang in Estraven, the supposed traitor of Karhide on the planet Gethen (or Winter, as it’s more commonly – and self-explanatorily – known in this universe). But I have to say, this may have been a better story at the hands of someone else – since it looks like Ms. LeGuin wants the best of both worlds (the emotional touch and the curiosities of a new world) and can’t really gear anything up to 100%. She is so precise, so economical in her use of language that she ends up being cold, clinical, calculated and distant and all this keeps you at arm’s length from her characters. It’s all interesting in theory, but there’s very little (or no) emotional investment – and I think I’ve said this before when I read The Dispossessed. What she does great is set up this alien world, a place whose inhabitants are humanoid, but lacking in any sexual characteristics (or desires) except for a few days in the month when they are in kemmer and start to exhibit what we’d consider ‘normal’ gender identities and all this, of course, changes the psychological foundation of the society. Quite possibly, the most visible effect is that Winter has never known war. It feels like that premise opens up so many possibilities, yet very few are actually fructified because we spend about 100 pages in a snow desert, following Estraven & Ai, now runaways, as they try to make their way back to safety…and that’s where my issues with the emotional connection come in.
I did end up liking it though, in an unenthusiastic sort of way…and I kept being followed by this idea that the Ekumen is a lot like the Spacing Guild of Dune – so I may not be done with the Hainish Cycle just yet. 😀