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This review is from: The Left Hand Of Darkness (Paperback)The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of Winter, an ice-ridden planet populated by androgynous human hybrids, and their first contact with the wider human race. The rest of humanity is represented by Genly Ai, an envoy for the human race whose mission is to persuade the planet to join the community of planets. The story's perspective switches between Ai and Lord Estraven, the prime minister of one of the planet's territories. The first person narrative is interwoven with a collection of myths, documentary records and folk tales.
Ursula LeGuin's novel won the Nebula and Hugo Awards, so it should be good. Unfortunately, I found it a disappointing read.
One problem is that LeGuin has an excessive love of neologism. A typical chapter might involve entering dothe to undertake a Kuseben along the Guthen Bay, through the peditia, while in feasting on pesthry, with nothing more than a Chabe stove for company. LeGuin doesn't take much care to explain the neologisms, so presumably the reader is expected to consult their Karhidian encyclopaedia. Unfortunately, I don`t own one.
One of my favourite novels is A Clockwork Orange, which is full of neologisms. Strangely, they work in A Clockwork Orange, but not in The Left Hand of Darkness. I think this is because Burgess sets out the vocabulary in the first chapters, and then applies them consistently, while LeGuin can't stop introducing new words, no matter how confusing this makes her narrative.
Another problem is that LeGuin is much better at describing places than people. The world is portrayed in great detail, but neither of the two main characters demonstrate much emotional depth or personal development. Genly Ai, stranded far from home, deprived of simple comforts and looked upon as either a genetic freak or a fraud, displays an extraordinary insensitivity to his human condition. I wanted to understand his hopes and fears, but he seemed a very limited character. I felt that the there was no emotional core to the story.
What would the world be like without gender? Winter is dominated by two civilizations, a western-style monarchy and a soviet-style totalitarian regime. Plus ca change.