I read The Left Hand of Darkness quickly after finishing The Dispossessed because of how much I loved the latter. I’m picky with my science fiction, and The Dispossessed is the first work of science fiction that I’ve truly loved on every level since reading Dune a few years ago. And so, I couldn’t help myself from immediately following up with Le Guin’s most well-known work. As expected, it did not disappoint. While I preferred The Dispossessed to The Left Hand of Darkness, its very possible this is the case simply because I read it first. There’s something about the first book you read by an author you come to love that makes it a little extra special. But if The Left Hand of Darkness does take second place, it’s an extremely close second.
Again, I found myself astounded by Le Guin’s genius. To write a book like The Left Hand of Darkness requires a multi-faceted genius: it requires the mind of an anthropologist, a scientist, and a philosopher all-in-one. If that isn’t enough, Le Guin’s writing is top-notch. It’s elegant, natural, well-paced, and scattered with beautiful sentences such as the following:
“We creep infinitesimally northward through the dirty chaos of a world in the process of making itself.”
Some beautiful writing tends to be, while still enjoyable, a bit pretentious. There is nothing pretentious in Le Guin’s words. Just beautiful writing and a beautifully told story working together to make the reader think about their world in a whole new way. And that is what science fiction, at its best, is meant to do.
Links: Ursula K. Le Guin .com| Goodreads | Amazon
I came away from Everfair with a huge amount of respect for Nisi Shawl as a writer. Everfair is a novel that must have required extremely extensive research and planning, but even more than that, I was impressed with Shawl’s ability to balance viewpoints. No character’s point-of-view was ignored, overlooked, or presented any less seriously than any other, and there were a lot of different viewpoints. Everfair, set mostly in the Congo at the turn of the 20th century, does an incredible job of demonstrating why race relations and gender relations continue to be so hard to navigate, even by those who are trying their very best to be good, and by all accounts are good. It demonstrates how easy it is to, as a white person, male or female, forget the extent of your privilege and hurt or ignore or invalidate people of color. It reminded me how important it is to constantly question the way I treat others, to always be willing to accept I’m wrong, to always be willing to change, and that when it comes to the rights of people of color, the only voices we should trust are theirs.
The novel is split into two parts. The first part is the story of the colonists of Everfair fighting with the indigenous people of the Congo to end King Leopold III’s cruel reign over the Congo. The second part deals with what happens after King Leopold III is defeated. With their common enemy dealt with and WWI taking shape, how do the white colonists and the indigenous population live harmoniously in one country both feel they hold claim to? It’s this second part of Everfair that truly blew me away. Shawl deals with numerous complicated questions of right and wrong, and handles these difficult questions gracefully and insightfully. The novel is also a powerfully feminist one. There are many important and central characters in Everfair, but the main protagonist is a woman who throughout the novel greatly inspired me. She is realistic in her flaws but also realistic in her strengths and that believability is what made her character and her story so powerful to me. Everfair presents a fictional, alternative history, but one that offers a lot to learn from.
Links: Nisi Shawl .com | Goodreads | Amazon
The Dispossessed has reminded me what science fiction is capable of. Published in 1974, I’m amazed by its timelessness. It could have been written yesterday. It could be written 50 years from now. And I think this is something that many of the best works of science fiction have in common. It tackles ideas that, no matter what technology is or isn’t present, are relevant to humanity as a whole. I’m clearly behind on Ursula K. Le Guin. I’m sure the whole literary world already knows she’s a genius, so there’s nothing more for me to do but reiterate that fact. She is a true genius and an astounding writer. In The Dispossessed, she made me think new things, and see old things in new ways. There were countless paragraphs I read two or three times over because one time wasn’t nearly enough time to process.
The story starts off a little slow, but that’s only because you’re thrust into the middle of the plot on the first page. It takes a little adjusting, but once you get used to the structure, it adds a lot to the way you’re able to experience the novel. There’s two separate timelines that Le Guin alternates between. The first chapter takes place in the protagonists current situation, then the next takes place in his past, and so on. This structure works really well to emphasize how the main character grows and changes because you’re learning about his life as a child and young adult alongside his present life. And when, at the end of the novel, you learn the extent of the sacrifices he made for the pursuit of knowledge and for his people, it hits you more powerfully because of this structure. If you like science fiction, if you don’t like science fiction, it doesn’t matter. The Dispossessed is a must read and will make you reevaluate how you see the world, government, capitalism, education, and your own personal priorities.
Links: Ursula K Le Guin .com| Goodreads | Amazon