Sunday Souçons #20

Posted 16th April 2023 by Sia in Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews, Sunday Soupçons / 2 Comments

soupçon/ˈsuːpsɒn,ˈsuːpsɒ̃/ noun
1. a very small quantity of something; a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor

Sunday Soupçons is where I scribble mini-reviews for books I don’t have the brainspace/eloquence/smarts to write about in depth – or if I just don’t have anything interesting to say beyond I LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO!

Two books with superficial similarities that got very different ratings from me!

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Genres: Sci Fi
Representation: Nonbinary 'aliens', incl one PoV character
PoV: 1st-person, past-tense, dual PoVs

Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction—winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A lone human ambassador is sent to Winter, an alien world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants can change their gender whenever they choose. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters...

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

Frankly? I hated this book. So much. After hearing it described as this mindblowing scifi exploration of gender my entire life, it was a complete fail. Not only is the ‘gender stuff’ relegated to background worldbuilding and the occasional overly-pretentious, quasi-philosophical one-liner, the actual story itself is unbelievably boring. Which is kind of impressive in and of itself, I guess, because it takes work to make First Contact boring.

And this is a First Contact story; First Contact and what I guess we can call political intrigue, with a great big dollop of survivalist fiction to wrap it up. (The planet is called Winter and is exactly as cold and icy as you’d expect.) It’s not a case of the messaging not having aged well or anything; this simply isn’t a book about gender, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why everyone seems to think it is. Even Le Guin herself said it wasn’t about gender, in her essay ‘Is Gender Necessary?’, published in 1976. (Over 10 years later she changed her mind and said gender was a central theme in The Left Hand of Darkness. I don’t know what to make of that change of positions, honestly.) I’ve also seen it pitched as a love story; a few editions of the book even describe it that way in the blurb, which I think is hugely misleading. It’s technically accurate, but not in any way a reader going looking for a love story would expect or is likely to enjoy.

Regardless, I think it’s very clear that I do not get on with Le Guin’s fiction. I didn’t enjoy Wizard of Earthsea, and the only reason I didn’t DNF Left Hand was that reading aloud from it every night helped both me and the hubby pass out when we had trouble sleeping. From where I’m standing, Guin’s prose is just really fucking bad; repetitive, simultaneously bland and overblown, sometimes so periphrastic that it’s impenetrable. And gods, so incredibly pretentious. The story of Left Hand isn’t that complicated (or interesting); if it hadn’t been written so strangely, it could have been told in half as many pages as it actually was.

I’m not someone who thinks a story should fit into as few pages as possible. It’s just that, in this particular case, fewer pages would have meant a shorter time spent suffering through this book.

Tuyo (Tuyo, #1) by Rachel Neumeier
Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy
PoV: 1st-person, past-tense

Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice -- a tuyo -- to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined.

Ryo's captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same?

Now for a very different book that also features a land of endless ice and snow, and a central platonic relationship! I enjoyed this immensely, and really loved how worldbuilding that initially looked a bit simplistic (on one side of the river is the winter country, on the other is summer) gradually revealed itself to be deep and intricate and rich.

I think it says most of what you need to know when I tell you that I picked Tuyo up, intending to just check out the first few pages to see where to place it on my tbr…and next thing I know, it’s fifteen minutes to midnight and I’ve finished the whole thing!

If someone had tried to pitch the premise to me, I wouldn’t have been interested – hence it taking me three years to pick up, despite my being a long-time fan of Neumeier’s. But Tuyo swallowed me whole. The way it was told, the characters and the twistiness of the plot, made a story that I wouldn’t have expected to interest me completely entrancing. And I continue to absolutely adore how Neumeier writes friendship and respect.

Although would it really hurt if just once, one of these deep same-sex relationships turned into queer love? Sigh.

I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series!

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2 responses to “Sunday Souçons #20

  1. Margaret

    Thank you so much. I shouldn’t need the affirmation, but always felt a bit bad, and like there was something wrong with me, for just not enjoying those iconic Le Guin books. And similar experience with Tuyo. It was a suggestion from Amazon that I really didn’t expect to finish, but I loved the relationship development and the culture7world building. Now I’m working my way through all Neumeier’s books.

    • Sia

      You’re welcome! I’ve often felt the same, re LeGuin – it always seems like EVERYONE loves her books…

      ! So glad you loved Tuyo! 😀 RE Neumeier, my favourites of hers are the House of Shadows duology and her Floating Islands books. I’d love to hear which become your faves, when you’ve read more of her stuff!

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