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
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
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is everything I could ever want a sci-fi space travel story to be. This will be a short review because that sentence about sums it up. It’s fun, features interesting and well-developed characters, is well written, and even manages to develop romantic inter-species relationships without ever being cheesy or cringe-y or uncomfortable to read. I absolutely loved everything about it!
I saw this in other reviews and then almost immediately noticed it myself when I started reading, but The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is driven almost entirely by character development while the plot is kind of a background device. There are events that motivate the characters and give the narrative direction, but for the most part, you’re reading to learn about the individuals on the ship: how they ended up there, what their home worlds are like, and how their relationships with each other grow and evolve. As the Wayfarer (the crew’s ship) stops at different planets and space stations on its travels, you get to meet all kinds of different species with fascinating histories. If you’re worried that a 400-page novel driven almost exclusively by character development sounds boring, don’t be. It’s insanely fun while still addressing serious topics, never drags, and reflects open-minded feminist thinking (it’s awesome reading a book where you can almost forget gender stereotyping even exists!!).
Links: Becky Chambers .com | Goodreads | Amazon
You’ll like this book if you like: Character-driven plots, Space Opera, Sci-Fi, Space travel plots, Alien sex
As a lover of science-fiction, I’ve been looking forward to reading Octavia Butler, a black woman and powerful voice in science-fiction, for this blog and in general. I chose to start with Dawn for no particular reason, and with little idea of what to expect from it.
There’s more than one way to make a novel engaging and interesting to a reader. The intrigue found in Dawn is in the vastness of the imagination required to envision this future, and Butler’s ability to connect this strange, imagined future with the world as we know it today. I turn the page because the things Butler comes up with and the detail to which they’re thought through is fascinating. It’s fascinating and thought-provoking, but its not the type of novel I fall in love with.
With that said, Dawn is a powerful novel. It forces you to question what makes us human, what is central to our humanity. Is it what we look like, who we love, how we reproduce? Is it in part our capacity for violence? Our ability to lie and deceive and therefore distrust? The intelligent alien species in Dawn, the Oankali, say that humans are defined by two incompatible traits that lead to our destruction: we are intelligent and we are hierarchical, an analysis that is hard to argue with.
Butler’s writing style is straightforward and non-emotional. I would almost be inclined to compare it to science writing in how matter-of-fact it is, but it is much more than that. She has a way of explaining things both artfully and exceptionally clearly. Phrases like “strangely gentle chaos” capture a scene perfectly. While Dawn was a book that took me awhile to get through because I never became fully absorbed in it, it is also a book I doubt I’ll ever forget. It’s creative and imaginative and powerful, and I intend to pick up another Octavia Butler novel for this blog in the future.
Links: Octavia Butler .org | Goodreads | Amazon
You’ll like this book if you like: True science fiction, un-emotional writing style, biological sciences, dystopian futures