# 3 – The Left Hand of Darkness

Why: I realized science fiction can be great literature. 

My mother read Harlequin romance novels; she literally read them by the sackful. I often wondered why my mother so sophisticated in her other tastes wasted time reading such rubbish but my panache for science fiction then wasn’t any better. The sci-fi I remember reading as a boy was silly or absurd. They were jolly good fun but I wouldn’t put them on the same figurative shelf as ‘great literature”. Indeed I was a bit embarrassed to reveal to others I was reading such.  Later in college I attended a small senior level course on ‘great literature”. The reading list was the following:

The Iliad

The Odyssey

Don Quixote 

Huckleberry Finn

Watership Down

and 

The Left hand of darkness. 

I’m not joking. 

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote science fiction but she was first and foremost a novelist. Early in her career she was told not to waste time writing science fiction as no one would take her or her work seriously. The Left Hand of Darkness is science-fiction but it is first and foremost fiction and very good fiction at that*  The novel gets us asking questions about who we are and what consequences come from dividing people into masculine or feminine – and what does society do with the ones who don’t fit well into custom and convention. Have you ever ate cheap and quick ethnic cuisine only to taste later in life ‘properly made’ and realize how good it can be?  After tasting the well-made stuff you want more of the same. That is how I felt about sci-fi after reading TLHOD. 

I still read schlocky sci-fi space-age shooter-ups but I prefer the good stuff no rubbish. Thanks to Ms. LeGuin and her masterpiece I learned good literature exists in the many genres ‘outside the classics”.

 

 

*The plot: a representative (cis-male) from The Ecumenical league of planets is sent to a planet to get them to join them. The inhabits of Gethan are unique as they are the only sapient humanoids in the universe who are sexless most of the time. Once a month they enter into a sexual cycle called ‘kemmer’ in which they become physically male or female. A person can be a mother of children and the father of others. The book explores gender roles and what it is like for the protagonist to experience a society that does not see one as male or female but merely as a person. It is a TGR and I recommend it.