I don’t know how to really describe this book other than really weird. The general plot is that a representative of a federation of worlds, lands on a planet to convince it to join their federation. That all sounds fine and normal for sci-fi, but the planet (called Winter by the alien envoy) has a population of androgynous people, who once a month go into ‘kemmer’ where they either become male or female. That ends, and it’s back to androgyny.
There’s also lots of political intrigue, trying to understand concepts of honour and deceit and the cold harshness of the planet.
I guess, going by my strict definitions of the test, this book wouldn’t pass – but what happens when there’s only one gender in the book? I think in this sense, as it’s an exploration of androgyny, I can’t really match it against those criteria. It does, like The Dispossessed, have very complex discussions about gender and equality and all those things. So it’s better than a lot of the other books I’ve read that are so completely myopically male-dominated in terms of narrative and themes.
It is miraculously short for the complexities of the book, especially the relationship between the 2 main characters, Genly Ai (the envoy) and Therem Harth rem ir Estraven. They are both victims of political intrigue to a certain extent but both want the same result, the joining of Winter to the Ekumen (the federation of planets).
I think it’s a good read, though a bit tough going at times. It took far longer to read than I thought (given the main story is only about 150 pages). There are a lot of weird alien terms that you have to come to grips with but at least they seem to be relevant and not just there to sound exotic (like shifgrethor).
Given the books I’ve read about first contact, I still think the best one is A Fire Upon the Deep but this book was definitely better than A Mote in God’s Eye. It has lots of complexity which is better than being boring and sexist.
I give it a 4/5 stars (but it is still fucking weird).