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Vol 1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006

Children's Fiction Book Reviews
by Kathy Thomason

The Left Hand of Darkness
by Ursula LeGuin

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Gethen, or Winter, is a planet that has almost year round Arctic conditions. The Ekumen of Worlds is a consortium of worlds who have banded together to exchange not goods, but ideas since the vast distances prohibit trade but the invention of a device called the Ansible, which enables them to transmit data simultaneously. Genly Ai has been sent to Gethen to invite them to join the Ekumen but is unprepared for both the cold and the unique nature of the Gethenians. They are monosexual, undergoing a type of estrus once a month where they morph into either a male or a female, entirely by chance. They are governed by a monarchy, with the king of Karhide, the first country he visits being slightly mad. He is being aided by a counselor of the court Estraven until Estarven is undermined by another counselor and banished, an event that puts Ai in more danger than he realizes.

Ai and Estarven set out on a journey across the frozen planet, meeting some fascinating characters and learning their myths and legends along the way. Le Guin has an incredible talent for making up these myths and making them come to life for the reader. She provides a lot of food for thought as Ai tries to deal with a monosexual society. When this book came out 37 years ago, it was hailed as groundbreaking Science-fiction and it became the standard by which many future writers based their works. Many people who read it are surprised to find that it is not your usual space opera or mindless adventure in space novel, but a deep, philosophical look at the interactions between species.

Urusla Kroeber was born in Berkeley, CA in 1929, the daughter of anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the writer Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi. She attended Radcliffe College and did graduate work at Columbia University. She married Charles A. Le Guin, a historian, in Paris in 1953. They have lived in Portland, Oregan since 1958 and have 3 children and three grandchildren.

The Left Hand of Darkness is considered epoch-making in the field for its radical investigation of gender roles and its moral and literary complexity.

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