Tag Archives: Ursula K. Le Guin

The telling

The telling / Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is widely known for things she’s done in the past – The left hand of darkness,

Brief plot summary

Sutty has been assigned as an Observer to a prospective member of the Ekumen. She arrives to discover a world controlled by a massive corporation bent on purging its own past.

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Science fiction, prediction, and satire-ction

It seems like discussions of science fiction among non-fans always end up examining the predictive successes and failures of the genre. This approach strikes me as counterproductive. To be tautological about it, fiction is inherently fictitious. Fiction necessarily abstracts certain aspects of the real world, correctly or not. If fiction was perfectly accurate, it would be real life (à la Simulacra and simulation). Why, then is it so popular to take fiction, especially fiction that is at one additional remove from the “real world” and critique it for what it got “right” or “wrong”? If science fiction was intended to be predictive, it wouldn’t be science fiction. It’d be prophecy.

I realize that this issue has been discussed many times, by better writers than I, but it’s an issue that still continues to come up. I’ve encountered it with patrons, but I’ve also encountered it on Tor of all places.*

*One particular Tor blogger, who happens to be a multi-award winning author, is an especially egregious offender.

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The left hand of darkness

The left hand of darkness /  Ursula K. Le Guin. Originally published 1969.

Here is where things start to get interesting. The left hand of darkness is a classic, winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards and a groundbreaking novel in feminist science fiction. A 1998 Locus reader’s poll put it at number 2, just behind Dune, on the list of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. (Although Ringworld and the Foundation trilogy both made it to the top ten, which calls the accuracy of the entire list into question for me, but that’s a post for another time) Yale professor Harold Bloom even went so far as to include The left hand of darkness in his list of books comprising the Western Canon.

Brief plot description

(spoiler free)

Told in an epistolary format, The left hand of darkness follows Genly Ai, representative of a galaxy-spanning collective called the Ekumen. He arrives on the planet Winter (called Gethen in the local language) in an attempt to convince the locals to join the Ekumen and share their cultural and scientific knowledge with the other worlds in the collective. The inhabitants of Gethen are “ambisexual”, normally without a biological sex except during mating periods, where depending on their surroundings and relationships they develop male or female attributes.

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