The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin [These notes were made in 1984:]. This is a considerably more accomplished book than any of Zimmer Bradley's, and tho' it inspired The World Wreckers, it is unquestionably the better treatment of the notion of hermaphroditic aliens. The narrator is not human, but Hainish, a humanoid with telepathic capabilities. His opposite number, Estevan, is a nobleman - no, I suppose nobleperson - who refuses to fall in with his country's narrow and xenophobic view of this first alien visitor to their world. The plot is political and complicated, but it culminates in a long and memorable journey across an ice wasteland, during which they discover each other through culture-clash. And no, for the prurient-minded, although Estevan goes into his sexual phase ("kemmer"), they don't crawl between the sheets; but, as in so many of these sf/fantasy novels, the intimacy achieved through telepathic contact seems in some way to stand in for sexual intimacy. There is depth and care in the construction of this alternate culture (including enticing pieces of mythology) and the two main characters are satisfyingly far from cardboard.