This is one of the half dozen best books that I have ever read on SF (along with books like those by Darko Suvin, Tom Moylan, Brian Aldiss, Scott Bukatman, and Fredric Jameson), so the lack of previous reviews for this superb book is inexplicable. There are so many reasons to read this book. Increasingly over the past several decades questions of gender have more and more pressing. Even in the years prior to the publication of THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS issues of gender arose even in books that did not consciously address it. No attentive reader of Robert Heinlein could miss the homosocial assumptions undergirding Heinlein's world (even a nonfeminist would have to confess that Heinlein is, to coin a phrase, a sexist porcine). But gender is a more subtle issue than Heinlein's crudities. It is present as an issue even when it is apparently absent. Attebery does as good a job of teasing out the various issues raised by gender as one could wish.
The book does not contained a sustained argument, but instead is a string of tightly connected essays dealing with one or another aspect of gender. And what wonderful essays they are! I value these essays both for the brilliant insights each one shows about SF as a whole but for the in depth discussion of the more specific issue addressed by that particular essay. They proceed roughly in chronological order of the SF being discussed. For instance, the first two essays deal with proto-SF works of the 19th century and many of the SF stories that came out of the pulp era, especially those produced under the editorship of John W. Campbell. Subsequent essays deal with Campbell's obsession with "super men," which most definitely excluded women, and what Attebery terms "wonder women," focusing in the latter especially on the writings of one of my favorite pulp age writers, C. L. Moore. One of my favorite essays explored utopias based upon the exclusion of one gender in favor of the other. Most collections of essays usually have a few that are of less interest than others, but I was impressed by the consistent excellence of these essays.
Like any good book, this one caused me to add a substantial number of new titles to my ever-expanding list of books that I would like to read. But what Attebery had to say both on SF in general and the function of gender coding within it in particular will certainly inform all of my future SF reading. Certainly it is a book that anyone interested in the academic study of SF (though as Attebery quite correctly points out, there are many SF fans who most decidedly do not want to study the genre academically) will want to read and study. As I said, this is without question one of the finest studies of SF published in the past couple of decades.