Monday, September 27, 2010

The Hugos: The Left Hand of Darkness

Many of you may find this hard to believe, but it happened forty years ago, before sexism was eradicated...

Ursula K. Le Guin was the first woman to win a Hugo for best novel. It was in 1970, for 'The Left Hand of Darkness'.  Amusingly enough, it is chock full of ideas about gender, culture and politics in a sci-fi setting.

It is the year 4870 on the planet Gethen, where the humans have no sex. 
Yup, a whole culture of 'It's Pat' from Saturday Night Live.  Shudder now, both at the idea of THAT and the fact that Gethen is deep in an Ice Age.  Chilly!

Enter Genly Ai of planet Earth, an ordinary sort of dude with a wang and everything.  He hopes to convince the isolated world to join the advanced planets of the Ekumen, an interstellar community with a great cellphone plan.  Their ansible device allows instant calls up to 170 light years away.  But even if Genly succeeds in convincing them to join the larger society they won't visit much: they live in one of those dull, plodding Newtonian physics universes where nothing can go faster than the speed of light.  BAHRING!!!

The redoubtable Le Guin presents a well-realized fictional world with its own language, myth, social structure, incomprehensible customs, and what-have-you.  The physiology of the Gethen people was the only thing I remember as particularly interesting, but then, I am a pervert.
For a few days each month, their sexless bodies flip a hormone coin and they pair up to mate fervently.  Any individual can be both a father or a mother at different periods of their lives.

There's really not much sex in it for a book about gender.  Nor does it have much in the way of a satisfying conclusion, just some random thoughts about stuff.  It's got political intrigue and man vs the elements, though.  It didn't resonate very well with me.  I gave it 2 stars out of 5 on goodreads, proving only that the Hugos went downhill once they let GIRLS start winning them.

(I'm SO kidding!  This author wrote 'A Wizard of Earthsea' which I LOVED as a kid, and 'The Lathe of Heaven' which I LOVED a couple months ago.  Either of THEM would get a Hugo from the Mike's House of Not-Really-Having-Any-Hugos-To-Give-You.  Sorry.)

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