domingo, 22 de dezembro de 2013

Fluid Vision

Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness.

Science Fiction still feels like a boy's adventure club, dominated by male voices. The field is skewered towards specific visions of hard science and futuristic adventure. Whether in the grand vistas of space opera or dark dystopias the tone is similar. High adventure, visions of technology underlining ebullient ideas of possible futures or alternate pasts, and two dimensional characters. As an example I need not go no further than Arthur C. Clarke's grand, optimistic technological visions of mankind's future and his absolutely shallow characters, automatons fully servant to the author's vision. Asimov and the the other golden age greats are also guilty of this. Even the huge scope of the Foundation series is based in a narrow technocratic vision conveniently fulfilled by drone-like characters.

Perceptions of fluid sexuality are the most distinguishing marks of The Left Hand Of Darkness. Writing in an era marked by the classic vision of SF, LeGuin's tale must have been felt as deeply disturbing. At the time, the sinuous relation between the human Ai and the androgynous/male/female Estraven gave editors and the conservative writer's guild heart attacks. This fluid post-modern view of human sexuality hadn't appeared before in the genre.

If this is the most striking aspect of this book, possibly the most influential is the one that gives density to the story and which is also a constant in Le Guin's oeuvre: detailed worldbuilding, centered not in a narrow view of technology and society but in a comprehensive vision that takes into account the confluence of history, sociology, anthropology and cultural studies into the vast fictional societies that form the backdrop and define the plot. Spaceships and FTL communication devices are but elements in a wider interwoven galactic civilization.

Ground-breaking at the time, this book relies on depth of characters, unsettling fluidity and a vision of SF that takes into account both hard and soft sciences, helping to redefine this literary genre.


Wray, J. (2013).Ursula K. Le Guin, The Art of Fiction No. 221. The Paris Review, N.º 206. Nova Iorque: The Paris Review.

Jones, J. (2013). Ursula Le Guin, Darkness, Exile, Dispossessed, and Human Sexuality. Amazing Stories, March 13, 2013.

LeFanu, S. (2004). The king is pregnant. Guardian, January 3, 2004. London: Guardian News and Media Limited

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