Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's Actually Ambidextrous

Ursula K. Le Guin  – which I always thought an unnecessarily long moniker on her part, considering that she's easily the most famous Le Guin on the planet – is the uncontested queen of science fiction, though given her gender politics she might prefer a more neutral honorific. Shall we go with "democratically elected literary dictator for life"? I doubt she'd be any happier with that title, but I'm sure she'd concede once I convinced her of its necessity for the greater good, for if there are any more empathic, more humanely insightful authors writing in the genre I remain blissfully unaware of their existence.

The Left Hand of Darkness is as exemplary a piece of Le Guin's style and philosophy as she's ever written, and probably the best introduction anyone could find to her work this side of the Earthsea saga (which is admittedly a bit more of an investment and more appropriate for the most hardcore fantasy enthusiasts). Harold Bloom famously wrote of the book that "Le Guin, more than Tolkien, has raised fantasy into high literature, for our time," which is exactly the kind of hyperbolic yet essentially right-spirited praise I would have heaped upon the work myself had I read it at the time of its publication (1969, twenty years prior to the formation of my zygote) without the benefit of hindsight to reveal how dated some aspects of the novel would one day appear in comparison with Tolkien's timeless masterpiece. Still, Left Hand is certainly more worthy of the "high lit" label than 99.999...% of the crap masquerading as science fiction (most of it published under the Tor and Bantam labels, of course), and you know a woman's doing damn fine work as an author when even as blatant a misogynist as Bloom recognizes her craft.

I wish I could give it the analysis it deserves at present, but due to my massive backlog of pending critiques (specifically of works not forty-three years old) I'm going to have to summarize it with nothing but Twitter hashtags until a full review at a later date: #GenderBender #FirstContact #AlienSurvivalSaga #LikeNothingYou'veEverRead.

Arbitrary Numerical Score: 9/10

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