the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘Culture

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

published in 1969

where I got it: purchased new

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I was intimidated to read this book. I doubted my ability to “get it”. What if I read and said “ok, that’s nice”? What if I didn’t understand the author’s intent? Endless doubts and what if’s. At my local book club a few months ago, instead of having us all read the same book, the club organizer put a stack of Hugo winners on the table and told us all to pick one.  I grabbed The Left Hand of Darkness off the table.  Doubt can go screw itself.

 

The big idea in The Left Hand of Darkness is how would culture and society be different if there was no gender? Unique among the planets that support human life, the people of Gethen have no fixed gender – they are neither male nor female, and have the ability to both father a child and give birth to a child. These people have never heard the phrase “traditional gender roles” and sexism and gender bias don’t exist in their culture. In their language, the pronouns “he” and “his”, simply mean “person”, and titles and offices that sound male to our ears are inclusive. This book is full of “he” and “his”, but there is only one male character in this book.

 

Genly Ai, Envoy of the Ekumen, has travelled to Gethen to invite the planet to become a part of the Ekumen, which is an interstellar trade federation of sorts.  He has now been residing in the kingdom of Karhide for over a year, and he will stay until the planetary leaders voice their wish to join the Ekumen, or until they tell him to go away (them killing him might also happen). Genly is in some ways incredibly patient, but in other ways impatient.  Not only does he not in anyway understand the local politics, but he also struggles with the idea that his hosts are not men and not women, but potentially either, and always showing traits of both femininity and masculinity, often at the same time.  In return, they view him as a sexual deviant, a genetic freak.

 

Gethen isn’t just a planet of no fixed gender, it’s also a planet that is actively trying to kill you.  Nicknamed “Winter”,  this is a place of never ending ice and snow, with a narrow band near the equator that can support life. No large mammals, no birds, no apex predators.  LeGuin does magic with how the planet shapes the society and culture of the Gethenians – no birds to be curious about means no interest in airplanes,  no large animals to eat means many meals and snacks during the day and strict rules of socializing that revolve around eating. On a planet where frostbite can kill, hospitality towards the stranger is the norm. On a planet where the populace appears to have no fear or distrust of the “other”, there are plenty of arguments, but there has never been an all out war between Karhide and their bureaucratic neighboring country Orgoreyn. Sprinkled through the novel are interim short chapters that include both local folklore and  helpful commentary from anthropologists who visited before Genly.

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Player of Games (a Culture novel) by Iain M. Banks

published in 2008

where I got it: library

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A story about a guy playing a game? Something like an overcomplicated chess tournament? sounds boring, doesn’t it? Well, this is Iain Banks, he doesn’t do boring. And Azad is far more than overcomplicated chess.  Azad is quite literally the game of a lifetime.

Subtle and darkly funny are descriptors that come to mind when I think of Player of Games. It’s central conceit sounds ridiculous at first: Win a board game, become Emperor.  But as I’m coming to learn, with Iain Banks nothing is simple, and nothing is ever as it seems.

thanks to a little case of blackmail, Jernau Gurgeh finds it might be best to leave the Orbital for a while. It’s with nearly perfect timing that he receives an invitation to learn a new game far from home. And not just any game, but the game that an entire empire was named for, a game whose winners shape the future of the worlds on which it is played. A famed game player, Gergeh has a record of winning nearly every game he sits down to play, and an uncanny ability to quickly learn new systems and rules. If any Culture citizen is capable of even understanding the complex game of Azad, it’s him.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.