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The Left Hand of Darkness

I emerge once more from the void to regale you all, my dear readers (however few you may be!), with tales of my latest literary conquests! Or, in this case, literary conquest (it turns out it’s hard to find time to read fiction when you’re studying for a preliminary exam for your PhD program at the end of the summer and are working on papers for two conferences at the end of August… eep!).

The aforementioned literary conquest is none other than Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. This is the third LeGuin novel I’ve read, after (relatively) recently finishing The Dispossessed (which I loved) and The Word for World is Forest, which I read a while ago but I still find to me one of the most thought-provoking and evocative works of science fiction I have ever had the pleasure to read.

It was thus with great enthusiasm that I dove into The Left Hand of Darkness… and was immediately disappointed. Not because it was bad – by no means was it a bad novel – but because it felt like work. In my non-writer alternate life (which I am going to pretend is my secondary one, despite it taking up all of my time), I study sociology, which has recently consisted of reading a fair bit of ethnographies. Having been raised by anthropologists, LeGuin is extremely good at evoking the feel of an ethnography in this novel, which is actually framed as a fictional ethnography from the future. She is so good at it, in fact, that it actually felt like I was doing work by reading it. I found it at the beginning to be slow and cumbersome, full of ethnographic conventions and commentary that made me feel like I wasn’t reading for pleasure, but for work (when I was, in theory, reading for pleasure).

As such, it took me a long time to make substantial progress. However, I am extremely glad I did, for this novel was well worth the trudging! Most people I don’t think will have the same trouble I did with the opening of the novel, and so might breeze through it. After the first few chapters, the ethnographic tone became much less prevalent, and I again felt like I was reading a novel, and was utterly drawn into her world.

LeGuin is a master of worldbuilding – or more specifically, of society-building. We can see this in the hyper-capitalist and anarcho-communist societies in The Dispossessed, and in the indigenous and colonial cultures in The Word for World is Forest. Like these other works, the world of The Left Hand of Darkness is explored through a culture clash, and what defines and undermines the differences between these cultures is gender.

The story chronicles the journeys of Genly Ai (who, it is covertly slipped in, is a Terran of African descent), an envoy from the Ekumen, a huge interstellar organization of human-types, as he attempts to bring a newly discovered planet of humanoids, Gethen (or Winter), into this organization. In order to do this, he needs to convince the world that it is ready for this integration with the larger universe, and help ease its transition. He goes down alone in order to learn all he can about the planet and slowly work the planet so that it can accept its place among the stars.

Genly is the audience (or readers), and coming from Terra/Earth, embodies many of the cultural beliefs and assumptions that many humans have about society and norms. On the world of Gethen, there is no distinction between male and female, as Gethenians spend most of their time as sexless humans, and once a month become biologically able to engage in intercourse, and their sex at that time is determined by hormone levels that react to those near them.

LeGuin then explores that a sexless society would look like, through the eyes of a typical, male Terran. There is no gender on Gethen, which makes Genly extremely uncomfortable, and which makes Genly’s gender uncomfortable for Gethenians to deal with. The interaction between these two societies is primarily shown through the friendship of Ai with a Gethenian named Estraven, as they wade through the mess of Gethenian politics and get caught in a bitter struggle between two rival nations. This friendship – and the way it ebbs and flows – is one of the most powerful parts of the book, and ultimately is what kept me reading.

However, what is most thought-provoking is LeGuin’s depiction of a genderless society. Sex is not a constant drive or urge. There is no gender, and so there is no sexism. The philosophy of Gethen is entirely different from that of Earth, religion is entirely different as well, and most interestingly, there is no war.

Despite my slow start, The Left Hand of Darkness is definitely worth reading. I still prefer The Dispossessed and The Word for World is Forest, but it is easy to see why The Left Hand of Darkness is as influential as it is!

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Robin Hobb

I recently finished reading the first tree trilogies of Robin Hobb’s Realms of the Elderings world (I have no intention of reading the Rain Wilds Chronicles which follow them, however). I had read the Farseer trilogy, the first of them, a long time ago, and then had to wait in line to read the second trilogy, the Liveship Traders. While waiting for the first book, I moved on and never started reading them again, until about a month ago at the request of one of my brothers. I proceeded to fly through the Liveship Traders and then The Tawny Man trilogies, and now I can put aside that world and move on with my life and past my brother’s nagging.

I have very mixed feelings about Robin Hobb’s writing, and this trilogy of trilogies. The most memorable aspect of every one of the nine books with the characters. Without a doubt, Robin Hobb is a master of character creation and development. Every character was deep, rich, and realistic; you could identify with every single character. At the same time, every single character was also flawed. In the Liveship Traders, I found myself admiring the depth of the characters while simultaneously hating each and every one of them. They were too flawed, and by the end I found I had no sympathy for any of them. While it’s hard to identify with perfect characters, we are also often loathe to associate ourselves with overly imperfect ones, and as a result I spent my time reading the Liveship Traders being infuriated at everyone. However, she wove a very rich tapestry of inter-character relations, in both that trilogy and in the Tawny Man trilogy.

The Tawny Man books were much better than the Liveship Traders. I actually liked almost every single character, and felt that the interplay between them was almost perfect. Interestingly, the narrator of both this trilogy and the first Farseer trilogy, FitzChivalry, evoked two very different responses from me in both sets of books. In the Farseer books, I hated Fitz, and had trouble reading them because I had no sympathy for him. He was whiny and made so many stupid mistakes it frustrated me to no end. In the Tawny Man books, however, I was very sympathetic to him (save for a few cringe-wothy moments), and instead felt as if everyone else was a jerk to him, rather than the other way around.

Her writing style is also magnificent. It flows very well, and she is truly able to immerse the reader in the world she creates. Though the books were often needlessly long, and sometimes nothing of substance happened for whole books (then again, GRRM is even more guilty of this sin), there was never a dull moment, both due to her ability to make the reader want to know what happens to the characters and to her very well-written and flowing prose.

Conversely, she has a bit of trouble with plot and world-creation. The plots were rather simplistic and somewhat predictable, and the world always seemed to me to be only half-imagined. Still, both were good enough to keep me engaged, even if there was a lot of room for improvement.

Would I recommend these books? I’m not sure. While her writing is amazing and characters are deep and real, her pacing can be off and a great deal of her characters are terrible people who I hated. However, she managed to still make me care about most of them (save Kennit at the end of the Liveship Traders, when Robin Hobb slipped into a rape apologist mindset, which infuriated me). I felt for the first two trilogies like I was being dragged along, and I was frustrated by the characters and plot, but at the same time I couldn’t put them down. The last trilogy was much, much better than the previous two, and was worth reading. I’m just not sure if it was good enough to justify the previous two trilogies.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Beneath Underway!

I have decided on my latest project, taking the advice of Becca Weston and Alessandra Hinlo, and it is Beneath, the story of an ex-private investigator turned diplomat on the capital planet of a foreign, powerful alien Empire, struggling to juggle politics, curiosity, and forbidden knowledge. For the rest of March #writemotivation, I will try to write three chapters in Beneath (just the working title, of course). For your reading (dis)pleasure, a small sample of what I’ve done so far is below:

*-*-*

“Bloody hell.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. Bloody, bloody hell.”

The stately being seated beside me raised an eyebrow and turned fully to face me. “You equate our planet with a thoroughly unpleasant place, filled with bodily fluids?”

“What? No, I didn’t say that.”

“You most definitely did. ‘Bloody hell’ were your exact words.”

“And here was me thinking you Juxtani didn’t use the word ‘hell.’ I mean, I knew that your language – Kordic, isn’t it? – is almost exactly the same as English, with a few minor variations. I guess ‘hell’ isn’t one of them.”

“‘Hell’ is merely a word we use for an unpleasant place or situation that causes great pain.”

I chuckled softly to myself. “Huh. Well, in our language, the word means the same thing in common usage, but it derives from one of our religions. In that religion, ‘Hell’ was a place where sinners were sent upon their death. To be punished for eternity.”

“Sinners. I take that to mean someone who violated accepted codes of conduct?”

I shrugged. “I guess. The accepted codes of conduct I was referring to were that of said religion, of course.”

“Religion. An odd concept. Belief in a higher power, with no evidence as to its existence. How… quaint.”

I rolled my eyes and leaned back in my seat. It was a very comfortable seat, with soft, plush, grey cushions all around me. “Yes. Quite. Quaint. And your Juxtani religion is different because you have proof that your gods exist.”

“Gods do not exist in the sense that you refer to them, Sana Hicks. They are merely beings like us, just with immense… power, and knowledge. Your species’ continued belief in these nonexistent gods is interesting.”

“You know what,” I said, nettled at my companion’s condescending manner, turning my head to look at him square in the face. He was very light-skinned, and looked exactly like a Human. His hair was a dark brown, almost bordering on black, and hung down slightly past his shoulders. Two shorter lengths of braided hair framed his face, with jewels and other glittery objects littering them. Like a magpie. He wore his thin, oiled mustache well, and his hand-length beard was waxed so heavily that it didn’t move at all.

“Not all Humans believe in gods,” I continued, curbing the annoyance in my voice, reminding myself that I was representing my entire species here. No pressure. “We’re not all the exact same person. We don’t share a common personality. We are all different. I am sure the same is true of you Elfviyat.”

“To an extent. Your Human race contains much more individual variation that ours does. We… discourage deviation.”

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Dance with Dragons

I finished it, finally. It was an interesting book, and did have some surprising twists at the end. My major gripe with it is that the first three-quarters of the book seemed to be set-up and filler – nothing important really happened until the very end, and I struggled to make it to the ending (which was very exciting, I will admit). My second half of the gripe was that he was killing his characters’ personalities; I was terribly frustrated by Daenerys and Jon, and I wanted to strange Tyrion. All of their catchphrases really got on my nerves – “You know nothing, Jon snow,” “The queen of rabbits must wear her floppy ears,” “Where do whores go? *twang*,” “I am noone.” The only good catchphrase were all of Reek’s – though saying “Reek, reek, it rhymes with wreak” always set me chuckling. In all, Reek’s insanity was very, very well done, and he had all of my favorite chapters. I also found myself liking Victarion and Moqorro quite a lot, and am eagerly awaiting Aeron’s reappearance – my favorite character.

All in all, it was worth the read – but barely. The Winds of Winter should have more action in it. I hope.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Princess of Disks

ThothRider-Waite

Princess of Disks: The Strong, Pregnant Woman

The Princess (Page in the Rider-Waite tradition) of Disks is the card representing the personality that arises from the Earthy part of Earth. It symbolizes the kind of person who represents the Earth of Earth; the most stubborn, materialistic, practical person you’ve ever met. She also represents the end of the cycle, and the start of the new; while the Knight of Wands represents the person who goes out and creates things in the world, the Princess of Disks is the person who gives Birth to the Knight. She is the soon-to-be-mother; the pregnant woman. She represents the Potential of life, and Ultimate Womanhood. She is the force that stands behind the force of Creation, who Carries the Future with her. She is also Strong and Beautiful, in both human and Earthy terms, making her also Sublime. She is on the Brink of Transformation. She represents the ability of the Earth to give birth to new life (while the Queen of Disks represents the Earth’s ability to care for this life).

She is also extremely Stubborn and Thoughtful, able to survive by applying her Practicality, and doing anything to protect the future that she holds in her womb. She will not take needless risks, and can move mountains to get her way, and will not let anything stand between her and what she needs.

The Rider-Waite art shows a young man looking at a Pentacle in his hands, as if considering what he can do with it. Similar signs of potential and growth surround him in the green grass and trees in the distance, as well as sublime mountains in the background. The Thoth illustration shows a woman with horns (signifying fertility) looking down at her swollen stomach (indicating pregnancy), while cradling a flowering Disk with a Yin-Yang (symbol of balance and completion) in one hand. In her other is a spear, pointed at the ground, and it looks as if it has just been used. Power flows out from it, and she stands upon what is either a rock or a slain beast. She will use her spear to defend her unborn child, and will let nothing get in her way. Behind her, trees grow larger like the child in her womb does.

In a reading, this card asks you to examine the role that people with this personality play in your life. Do you know anyone who has lots of potential, and seems to hold the key to the future? Who is strong, beautiful, and doesn’t take any nonsense from others? Reversed, this personality’s energy is twisted or hidden somehow; their potential could be hidden somehow, or perhaps this potential is not a positive thing for the future.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Court Card Equivalencies

I was just reading Pyraeus‘ articles on Court Cards, and quickly noticed that the website equates Princes from the Thoth deck with Kings from the Rider-Waite. I was struck by this, as making that connection had never occurred to me, and as I thought about it, some of it made sense – and some of it did not. Certainly I had noticed that many of the Knight Cards across the two decks shared similar meanings – and even names – but I still felt like something was not quite right about the match-ups. After some pondering, I came to the conclusion that the two court card systems are really so completely different as to not really allow for good comparison. The Rider-Waite court cards – to me, at least – seemed to focus on the Wisdom of the Kings, the Competence of the Queens, the Activity of the Knights, and the Enthusiasm of the Pages. The Thoth system emphasizes the Kabbalistic and elemental system of the court cards, taking different aspects of each element to assign personalities to the cards. The Rider-Waite cards, then, to me always seemed to represents different aspects of their suit, but in a vastly different way when compared to the way the Thoth deck does it.

As such, for my Tarot Challenge, I will continue to do it as I have been (I only have one more Court Card left, anyway), but say now that the two systems really cannot be compared in any way.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Prince of Disks

ThothRider-Waite

Prince of Disks: The Ponderous, Unstoppable Problem-Solver

The Prince of Disks (Knight in the Rider-Waite tradition) is the card representing the personality that arises from the Airy part of Earth. He is the abstract and principled aspects of practicality and steadiness. As such, he is a little bit of a contradiction; he represents the two sides of the dichotomy of Air and Earth coming together in one being.

As such, the Prince of Disks excels in Practical Knowledge, and Lacks Emotions. He is prone to slow, Ponderous movement and is also Meditative. He has both the mental force of Swords and the physical force of Disks, and so quickly can become Unstoppable. He thinks things through before doing them, and so is Thoughtful, and also Ingenious, able to apply to apply his ideas to the real world and Solve Problems. He is TrustworthySolid, and Dependable. He is actually very Energetic, but only when he becomes driven to be so, a process which takes a long time; he is Slow to Anger, but when angry is Fierce. He is also Slow to Change is Mind and a Slow Learner, but he still does learn, and Grows slowly and steadily. He is a hard and Steady Worker, and a Competent Manager; he can apply his ideas to reality when he needs to, though he does not excel at it like the Princess of Swords does.

The Rider-Waite art shows a knight, halted and carefully inspecting a Pentacle held in his hand. This card mirrors closely the Thoth deck’s Knight of Wands, and indeed even shares the same name, and has many of the same meanings. His horse represents the idea of powerful movement, and his heavy armour some degree of caution. The Thoth illustration shows a naked man holding a disk riding s chariot pulled by a fearsome-looking oxen of some kind. The chariot (and the ox) looks very heavy, and its motion is the very definition of what this card stands for; slow to get going, but impossible to stop and very difficult to change direction once it gets going. He is surrounded by symbols of plants; emphasizing the diea of slow but steady growth, as well as stability and dependability (the stable build of the chariot also reinforces these ideals).

In a reading, this card asks you to examine the role that people with this personality play in your life. Do you know anyone who thinks slowly, but once set on a task will complete it at any cost, and woe to any that try to change his mind? Anyone who can solve any problem given enough time? Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden or blocked; perhaps they are not quite unstoppable, or they may put on a show of bravado about how they can do anything and no one can stop them, but back down at the first sign of strong opposition.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 
 
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