April 10th, 2004


Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

[Left Hand of Darkness cover]Ursula K. Le Guin won the Hugo and Nebula awards for this book. I would have voted for it as well. Most excellent book. In the book she creates a cold world (Gethen, a.k.a. Winter) populated by hermaphroditic humans. Subtly, she explored the effect of sex on the interaction between people. Gethenians are primarily neuter. Once a month they go into heat. During that time, they can become either a male or female. During their lifetime, an inhabitant may become both the mother and father of numerous children. The apt line from the book is The King is pregnant!

Le Guin tells the story from the point of view of the Envoy, Genly Ai. Genly is the first contact for this world. He represents the Ekumen of worlds, which hopes to add Gethen to its cooperative. First, he must convince the Gethen nation of Karhide. Palace intrigue sets him back, and his second attempt is with Orgoreyn. Factional fighting there prevents also Genly from convincing a Gethen nation to join the Ekumen. He is jailed.

The second main character is Estraven. He is the Prime Minister of Karhide. Unable to convince the King to join the Ekumen, he loses out and is exiled from Karhide as a traitor on pain of death. Rescued and living in Orgoreyn, he attempts to get the councillors of that nation to join when Genly attempts there. After Genly is jailed, Estraven helps him escape and they begin a daring trek across hundreds of miles of glacier to return to Karhide.

And thus I will end my plot synopsis, so as to not spoil it for anyone. The novel works on many different levels. As an adventure story. As a political treatise. As a study of the influence of gender. The characters are well conceived. The world is well-designed, with enough detail to make it interesting but not so much detail that suspending disbelief becomes difficult. The story is well-paced and about the right length. I ended it wanting more but not feeling like I had been short-changed.

I may attempt to pick up some more books of hers in this particular series.


Michael P. Kube-McDowell, Emprise

[Emprise cover]I read Michael P. Kube-McDowell's Emprise years ago, but somehow managed to lose my copy of the book. Originally published as a mass market paperback, ibooks has printed a trade paperback edition which I picked up at the U bookstore last month. The short version of the story is it is a post-apocalyptic tale of first contact with aliens. Or, more appropriately, the preparations for first contact. Actual contact doesn't happen until the last chapter of the book. This is more appropriately the tale of how earth readies itself from a state of revulsion for all things scientific (why post-apocalyptic people always seem to disdain science is beyond me) into something ready to meet aliens. Partially a tale of political intrigue and partially a tale of science (fiction) reborn. It's a decent story, but if stories such as Brin's Postman or King's The Stand don't appeal to you, this one won't either. I don't mean the writing style, as Kube-McDowell's writing style is much different than either of those author's styles. However, the genre is familiar. Except for the aliens whose message Earth has heard and which prompts an attempted revival. Not many tales of the apocalypse include aliens who come across Earth well afterward. Usually if aliens are included they are the cause of the apocalypse. In this story, the apocalypse is a source of shame (on humanity's behalf) for those preparing to welcome and meet the aliens.