Science Fiction Planets Ursula K. Le Guin's Gethen or Winter

About the planet Gethen or Winter described in the book The Left Hand of Darkness by science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin.



Location: Somewhere in the galaxy, 17 light-years from Ollul; Ollul is one of the 83 worlds belonging to the Ekumen, a loose organization of planets settled by humans. (The original settlers came from Hain; Terra is one of the members of the Ekumen.)

Discoverer: A team of investigators came to Gethen about 40 years prior to the time of the story; the first extended visitor and representative is Genly Ai, whose duty it is to convince the various nations of Gethen to join their fellow humans in the Ekumen.

Book: The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Description: Gethen is a planet of ice and snow; the summer and spring seasons are just bearable by Earth standards, the winter and fall fiercely cold and inhospitable. The planet is divided into several major competing nations and many minor ones; the technological level of the natives has reached the stage where radio, motor vehicles, and sonic guns, among other developments, are common. But Karhide, with its monarchical system of government, resists the intrusion of Ai. Part of the difference between Genly Ai and the natives is sexual; the humans of Winter are neuter most of the time, but periodically enter kemmer, during which time they develop either male or female sexual organs. No one can predict which will actually appear during the cycle, so a native of Gethen may be both father and mother during its lifetime. Thus, the Gethenians regard Ai as a pervert, a freak continually in heat. Furthermore, the Gethenian political system is complex, and Ai is caught among various factions struggling for political supremacy. In the end, Genly Ai wins. Karhide and the other Gethenian nations will join the Ekumen, one, but only at the cost of a life--the life of Ai's dearest friend.

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