10 December 2016

The Novel to Gift: A Review of The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

The after-school playground hour is one of mindless observations intermixed with moments of delightful correspondence. While many a conversation trips over the trappings of parenthood some wind down the science fiction path to life. Although the majority of my friends have little proclivity to explore the genre, there are a few like-minded space odyssey aficionados at my kid's school. Okay, there are two.

Recent months, an updated version of the chain mail has been circulating through social media: send a book to a stranger, in return receive a plethora of new titles in the mail. Smitten, my SF friend (one of the two) was discussing the merits of joining, questioning what book to gift. Intrigued, speculations rose: a novel could not be too popular, nor too polarizing, somewhat enlightening, and most definitely captivating. Making my way home, my wee one in tow, my head swam with book gifting possibilities.

A book snob who rarely branches beyond my personal havens of science fiction, and mysteries, the probability of me participating in a book exchange is zero. Further hindering the issue is my two year library-only policy that has curbed all notions of ownership. While I would love to read 50 new titles, the thrill of them arriving by mail is slightly daunting. Simply unable to release reading control to a group of strangers, I began to formulate a list of books that any SF geek would be jubilant in receiving, whittling down the list to one.


Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is acclaimed as one of the best science fiction novels written, and while it may seem slightly antiquated under the microscope of 2016 with its androgynous, feminist perspective, in 1970 it was a landmark release. 

Genly Ai, an envoy of Ekumen, a loose confederacy of planets has been sent to Gethem (Winter) to negotiate a peaceful allegiance. Accustomed to the utopian 'Gene Roddenbary' vision of planet federations, Winter's fractioned nations with varying degrees of governmental representations, surprisingly feels modern in its accurateness. Seeped in ethnocentricity's, the social consciences is brutally unaware of their small role in the universe. Genly Ai struggles to lobby his way to a seemingly random King's ear to discover after a year of hardship that not only is his mission but his life is in jeopardy. A fugitive, lost on a planet whose entire cultural identity opposes his very sense of self, Genly Ai must negotiate his way through a myriad of physical and social adversities, relying upon someone he most certainly should not trust.   

The Left Hand of Darkness is an extraneous reading experience. Woven from two opposing perspectives, the reader's complete emersion is necessary. Thankfully, Ursula K. Le Guin is one of a few writers whose creative control concurrently questions social norms while offering an engaging page turner. This is a dense book, deep with layered world-building, taking on a legendary status within the science fiction literary world. The Left Hand of Darkness  is science fiction at it's very best.