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Old 01-23-2019, 12:13 PM   #91
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FYI, the audiobook of The Left Hand of Darkness is part of the latest Audible sale (members only), $3.95 until January 27.

I am not tempted.
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Old 01-23-2019, 03:35 PM   #92
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Originally Posted by astrangerhere View Post
(It does irk me a little that she went into recovery mode a bit in response to criticism. This sounds much like JK Rowling's insistence after the completion of publication that Dumbledore was gay.)
Rowling's my poster girl for someone who should have shut up about her books long ago.

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Has anyone else read The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas? It's also by LeGuin but is a short story rather than a novel.

I just realised I had a similar experience with it as with The Left Hand of Darkness. It contains a strong central philosophical "what if?" question which I knew before I read it, and it left me feeling like it hadn't explored that question in much more detail.
I hadn't read it, but I bit as my OD library had it and it was short.

I didn't know the premise before reading it. In fact, I'm less inclined to excuse the story than the novel, as I found the story too facile to me. It certainly wasn't nearly as effective as a famous story on a similar theme by a different author a quarter-century earlier.
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Old 01-23-2019, 03:41 PM   #93
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One aspect of the book I did question was why the Gethenians formed strong pair-bonds. This does not seem necessary for their situation, and may actually be contrary to evolutionary drives ... although, as I noted earlier, Le Guin gets to cheat and not need an evolution-safe species, because these were artificially created. And so perhaps it is their innate humanness that makes them inclined to form pair bonds.
The big cheat for me I mentioned above, that siblings were allowed to mate to produce one child, but couldn't vow kemmer and had to separate. I felt as if Le Guin bent her social norms to serve her plot, as it made no sense to me. If there's nothing wrong with what we'd call incest or inbreeding, than why limit it (while allowing kemmer vows for unrelated pairs); if there was a reason to prohibit it, because of biology or eugenics or social structure, why allow it at all? Wouldn't society be better served by having such pairings entirely taboo, instead of one and done, which seems calculated to be very difficult emotionally.
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Old 01-23-2019, 06:50 PM   #94
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I agree it doesn't make sense. The only thing I can think of is that if the relationship continued, you could have a second generation of siblings who wanted to mate and that really could be pushing things too far. This way, there would never be a full sibling for the offspring.

One of the well-known examples of incest over several generations is of course the Egyptian royal family. You would think the Egyptians were smart enough to work out that it really wasn't a good idea, but it seems stopping anyone else getting a foot in the royal door was more important than being fit and healthy. Here's a quick snapshot:

Quote:
Inbreeding within the royal families of ancient Egypt often led to stillbirths, along with defects and genetic disorders. The results of inbreeding certainly may have taken a toll on Tutankhamun himself.

The same DNA tests that identified King Tutankhamun's family also showed that the Boy King had a number of illnesses and disorders, including a deformed foot caused by a degenerative bone disease that forced him to walk with a cane. He also had a cleft palate and a curved spine, and was probably weakened by inflammation and problems with his immune system. King Tut's problems that were related to inbreeding most likely contributed to the boy's death, but were not the immediate cause. On top of everything, he had a badly broken right leg and a bad case of malaria. This, combined with his other underlying health problems, is likely what killed King Tut. The pharaoh did not successfully produce a successor and he was the last of his dynasty.
(From a site called medicalbag.com.)
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Old 01-23-2019, 07:45 PM   #95
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I expect that it's their nature as a high-K species that has encouraged the continuation of pair-bonding.

Pair-bonds in many species appear to be formed for co-parenting and to lessen the burden of courting/mate-finding. It increases the chances of being able to breed during a mating season and having at least two adults around to help raise high-K babies to adulthood. Gethenian biology works against what appear to be the normal alternative for high-K species (having a mostly or completely female group co-raising their children with most males being solitary).

Beings capable of thinking about and adjusting their behaviour as a group may be able to adjust their culture so that pair-bonding is less advantageous but as long as desiring a pair-bond doesn't actually decrease the chances of having grandchildren there will be no reason for the desire to disappear.
It seemed to me that, since their basic child rearing unit is the hearth where "the clan looked after its own; nobody and everybody was responsible for [the children]"; and that all social interactions appear to be group based (even their sexually driven interactions required a certain minimum community size to be sure of having multiple people in kemmer at the same time); and that sexual coupling was largely a matter of chance (who was in kemmer at the same time); that there were good reasons for pair-bonding to have disappeared from this society.
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Old 01-23-2019, 08:06 PM   #96
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The big cheat for me I mentioned above, that siblings were allowed to mate to produce one child, but couldn't vow kemmer and had to separate. I felt as if Le Guin bent her social norms to serve her plot, as it made no sense to me. If there's nothing wrong with what we'd call incest or inbreeding, than why limit it (while allowing kemmer vows for unrelated pairs); if there was a reason to prohibit it, because of biology or eugenics or social structure, why allow it at all? Wouldn't society be better served by having such pairings entirely taboo, instead of one and done, which seems calculated to be very difficult emotionally.
It's only difficult emotionally in a pair-bonding situation. If pair-bonding wasn't the norm then a single child here and a single child there, all raised together in the hearth, wouldn't have the same emotional impact. So I wondered whether this complexity over incest was a hang over from Le Guin wondering into (what seems to me to be) the more natural group environment for this society. She then decided she needed pair-bonding to show the parallels she wanted and we end up with some parts not making sense.

Or it could have happened more organically in the reverse: perhaps Le Guin started by assuming pair-bonding but various premises began to bend the thought experiment into a more naturally group environment, from which the incest variation might have evolved.

Either way, we do seem to be left with some things that don't fit as well as they could.
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Old 01-27-2019, 08:24 PM   #97
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I was finally able to finish this last week but am just now able to comment and read through the thread in a little more detail.

I think most things have been adequately covered so don't really have much to add at this late point.

The one thing that we didn't really discuss, and as stuartjmz said it was not subtle, was the patriotism aspect. Estraven's work towards getting Gethen to join the Ekumen, not just Karhide, versus the "love of country" and all that goes with that.

Some quotes:
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I forgot what a king is, forgot that the king in his own eyes is Karhide, forgot what patriotism is and that he is, of necessity, the perfect patriot. "Let me ask you this, Mr. Ai: do you know, by your own experience, what patriotism is?" "No," I said..."I don't think I do. If by patriotism you don't mean the love of one's homeland, for that I do know." "No, I don't mean love when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grow in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year. We've followed our road too far. And you, who come from a world that outgrew nations centuries ago, who hardly know what I'm talking about, who show us the new road--" He broke off.
And from near the end:
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And I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend's voice arises, and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry. Where does it go wrong?
Before that, but more illustrative of what stuck out to me, and answering the question that Estraven just posed:
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"Hate Orgoreyn? No, how should I? How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't make a virtue of it, or a profession....
That last line seems to be where people tend to go wrong these days. [Extreme] patriotism has become either a virtue or, all too often, a profession, or at least a criteria.
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Old 01-28-2019, 02:38 AM   #98
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The story does present a neatly blended view of patriotism. Estraven would have preferred that its own country be the one to embrace the benefits of joining the Ekumen, but wanted more to benefit its planet as a whole, and so was willing to become a traitor to that end.

But who could deny the king, insane or not, to insist that Estraven is a traitor to its country? This is not a civilian choosing one side or another, this is the "King's Ear", one of the trusted inner circle! One expects one's enemies to be sneaky and underhanded, but one expects one's friends to be open and honest, at least with yourself. (It is the personally felt nature of betrayal that I think has led to such harsh penalties for traitors - in real history and in this story.)

In the words of Martin Luther King (The Trumpet of Conscience (1967) - is that right? I don't have a copy to check.):
Quote:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends
This wasn't just silence, this was flat out betrayal!

And what was Estraven's betrayal for? The unproven benefits of joining a coalition so far away that physical interactions are all but impossibly constrained by time. Estraven thinks it is worth it, but why is its opinion better than that of Tibe or the King?


I'm playing devil's advocate here, because those of us that are sci-fi enthusiasts are naturally inclined to greet the idea of alien contact in a positive manner. (If asked to become Dr Who's companion we'd jump at the chance - can we bring the kids? ) But it's a mistake to think that our own opinions are the only ones possible, and if others are possible then they just might represent a better outcome overall.

Yes, there are lots of quotes (and quite a bit of history) that paint patriotism in a bad light. (One of my favourites I posted here.) But in any given instance there is often another way to view the situation, depending entirely on your political leanings.

I think Le Guin did a neat job here of presenting a betrayal, and seeing it punished, so that the reader is left to view the betrayal in almost any light. The story presents the dilemma but does not directly judge the outcome.
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Old 01-28-2019, 08:46 AM   #99
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The last two posts have given me much food for thought and I'm still rolling them around in my mind.

One thought I'm taking away from them is that at times, societies need martyrs. That's an overtly and probably overly religious term to use, but I think it applies. I can't remember if matyrology was an element of Yomeshta, but it wouldn't have been part of Handara.

We tend to call them activists and we need them. Early activists act presumably without the entire expectation that they'll see the desired change in their time, but that they'll be part of the process. Martyrs are a little different, going for the quick change, risking everything and if not seeking martyrdom, are at least comfortable with it. I didn't really pick up on Estraven's explicit martyrdom; I let it go as a death wish. Ultimately, however, I think he wanted to die for a cause.

Pulling one example from history (in part, because I'm reading a series of books where the hero is based on him), there's Claus von Stauffenberg. He might have been the agent of timely change; it's one of the big "what-ifs." Certainly a patriot, he acted on his patriotism in a way that would be all or nothing. As we all know, the winners decide the labels and von Stauffenberg, like Estraven, engaged in a great betrayal in the immediate term.

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I think Le Guin did a neat job here of presenting a betrayal, and seeing it punished, so that the reader is left to view the betrayal in almost any light. The story presents the dilemma but does not directly judge the outcome.
I love this.

I'm going to add an aside about The People Who Walk Away from Omelas because a significant flaw in that, I thought, is that the choices were presented as an either/or; stay or go. No martyrs in Omelas!
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Old 01-28-2019, 06:09 PM   #100
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Genly certainly thought that Estraven died for a cause. In speaking to the king, he said:
Quote:
He loved his country very dearly, sir, but he did not serve it, or you. He served the master I serve.
The Ekumen? said Argaven, startled.
No. Mankind.
And a little later in saying that he had betrayed Estraven by bringing down the ship before his banishment was ended:
Quote:
I could not throw away what he had died for, by insisting on the condition.
One person’s treason is another’s loyalty to the greater good.
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Old 01-28-2019, 08:26 PM   #101
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As I've said, I know nothing at all about the genre, so I'm sure that Left Hand represented a seismic shift and that many other works reflect its influence, but I'm clueless.
In high school I was starting to read a lot of science fiction, and I joined the Science Fiction Book Club (Doubleday) as I was starting college. The first monthly selection I received was The Left Hand of Darkness, and it was quite a shock to me at that time . I'd been reading Heinlein, Asimov, Blish and the like. In the same year - 1969 - Samuel R. Delany's Nova came out, and these novels represented something different in sci-fi; the posibility of something more than space opera.

It's noteworthy that Ursula Le Guin was openly female; the few female sci-fi writers then widely published used ambigious names or initials (Andre Norton, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett). Science fiction was then something of a boys club; (and still is).

In The Left Hand of Darkness, you have a book written by a woman - eek; presenting a world of sexually ambigious humans - The Horror! When I was in grade school and high school, society was at that time extremely hostile to the concept of gender ambiguity. The costume bar was possibly more rigid than the colour bar. Women were still fighting to get out of dresses. I can remember my sisters' clothing. They had pants that had zippers at the back and were referred to as "slacks", never trousers. They had shirts that buttoned at the back and could only be referred to as blouses. At my high school the dress code specified dresses or skirts for girls; they only time they were allowed to wear pants to school was during blizzards, and then they still had to change to skirts as soon as they entered the building. Every little detail denied the possibility of anything other than a rigid separation of gender.

So the book represented something of at least a tremor, although I think that we still have a very long way to go for a seismic shift. It says something for the sci-fi community of the time that the book did win both major sci-fi awards; in some ways the 60's were more intellectually open than the times we have gone through since.
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Old 02-05-2019, 09:19 AM   #102
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In high school I was starting to read a lot of science fiction, and I joined the Science Fiction Book Club (Doubleday) as I was starting college. The first monthly selection I received was The Left Hand of Darkness, and it was quite a shock to me at that time . I'd been reading Heinlein, Asimov, Blish and the like. In the same year - 1969 - Samuel R. Delany's Nova came out, and these novels represented something different in sci-fi; the posibility of something more than space opera.

It's noteworthy that Ursula Le Guin was openly female; the few female sci-fi writers then widely published used ambigious names or initials (Andre Norton, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett). Science fiction was then something of a boys club; (and still is).

In The Left Hand of Darkness, you have a book written by a woman - eek; presenting a world of sexually ambigious humans - The Horror! When I was in grade school and high school, society was at that time extremely hostile to the concept of gender ambiguity. The costume bar was possibly more rigid than the colour bar. Women were still fighting to get out of dresses. I can remember my sisters' clothing. They had pants that had zippers at the back and were referred to as "slacks", never trousers. They had shirts that buttoned at the back and could only be referred to as blouses. At my high school the dress code specified dresses or skirts for girls; they only time they were allowed to wear pants to school was during blizzards, and then they still had to change to skirts as soon as they entered the building. Every little detail denied the possibility of anything other than a rigid separation of gender.

So the book represented something of at least a tremor, although I think that we still have a very long way to go for a seismic shift. It says something for the sci-fi community of the time that the book did win both major sci-fi awards; in some ways the 60's were more intellectually open than the times we have gone through since.
The school in which I taught also made skirts mandatory for girls though during the winter they were allowed to wear cords. Further, the girls’ uniforms had to be purchased from a particular store(increasing the cost of the uniform), whereas boys could simply wear dark trousers with a white shirt, and dark sweater which could be purchased anywhere they liked.

Your “boys club” remark is so telling! There have been some excellent women writing science fiction, such as Connie Willis, C. j. Cherryh and Mercedes Lackey but there still seems to be a heavy bias towards male authors which is even more pronounced in the field of Fantasy.

BTW here is an interesting article about Ursula LeGuin:

https://www.neh.gov/article/ursula-k...creator-worlds

Last edited by fantasyfan; 02-05-2019 at 09:30 AM.
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Old 02-05-2019, 12:45 PM   #103
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Your “boys club” remark is so telling! There have been some excellent women writing science fiction, such as Connie Willis, C. j. Cherryh and Mercedes Lackey but there still seems to be a heavy bias towards male authors which is even more pronounced in the field of Fantasy.[/url]
I gather you mean bias by traditional publishers in favour of male authors when selecting books for publication? If so, though I haven't seen actual statistics, I have little difficulty in believing it. It is not of course a problem with KDP.

If you mean bias by others, that is a more complex issue.
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Old 02-12-2019, 12:08 PM   #104
Ralph Sir Edward
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Having read the thread (and the book twice in the past), I must disagree that The Left Hand Of Darkness was a "ground breaking" work. A major, (and superior writer) covered most of these topics in a S/F novel in 1959!

The book - Venus Plus X

The Author - Theodore Sturgeon.

A bit clunky? Yes, but no more so that Le Guin's work. The difference was the times it was released in. . .
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Old 02-12-2019, 03:31 PM   #105
fantasyfan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by darryl View Post
I gather you mean bias by traditional publishers in favour of male authors when selecting books for publication? If so, though I haven't seen actual statistics, I have little difficulty in believing it. It is not of course a problem with KDP.

If you mean bias by others, that is a more complex issue.
I was referring to the “bias by traditional publishers”. Though, like yourself I haven’t seen any statistics to prove that.
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