A family quarrel: #LoveHain

‘Das Eismeer’ (1823-4) by Caspar David Friedrich

The Left Hand of Darkness
by Ursula Le Guin.
Orbit Books, 1992 (1969).

Karhide is not a nation but a family quarrel. Early on in Le Guin’s famous speculative novel Estraven characterises his home nation as a place of potentially internecine conflict, but it proves to be universally applicable on the planet Gethen as Genly Ai, the Envoy from the Ekumen, discovers, to his cost.

Genly’s task as Envoy is to encourage first the rulers of Karhide, and then of Orgoreyn, to consider joining the Ekumen – a kind of United Nations of many worlds – for mutual benefit; but he has to contend with in-fighting, with claims that it’s all a hoax, even with his own imprisonment.

And then there’s the question of trust: he tries to be as open as possible, to persuade the powers that be of his own peaceable intentions, but as time goes on he doesn’t know who to put his faith in. On a chilly planet justifiably known as Winter he has, paradoxically, to judge whether he’s going from a frying pan into a fire.

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