Charting a Course For Gethen

For me to review The Left Hand of Darkness at this point in time would be futile; what else could be said about it? It won its Hugo and Nebula Awards for good reason – by positing the world of Gethen, a place whose otherwise human-like inhabitants have no inherent sexual dimorphism, instead entering the state of “kemmer” during their monthly cycle, at which point any individual could potentially end up expressing any reproductive role. (So, for instance, you could impregnate a friend one month and then fall pregnant the next.)

This wasn’t Le Guin’s initial seed idea for the book – she wanted to depict a world where war was unknown, which prompted her to posit all sorts of other social structures and shifts, and eventually she decided that the way to go was to depict a world where gender isn’t a thing and sexuality is not a hallmark of identity so much as an expression of what happens to float your boat this month.

The end result isn’t perfect, and she would admit as much – particularly taking onboard criticisms that she chose to use the term “he” for all the Gethen (though it does mean she could say stuff like “The King was pregnant” to shake up readers’ preconceptions) – but in the midst of the New Wave of Science Fiction it really helped open up the door for other authors to consider such subjects in an SF context (or to use SF as a basis for their porn, but eh, not everything has to be high philosophy).

Continue reading “Charting a Course For Gethen”

Dick On Dick

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve loved Dick. Like many of my generation, my first exposure to Dick was through a film, which made me curious enough to seek to experience Dick first-hand for myself. Having sampled my first few Dicks, I was soon hooked; my Dick collection, though not complete (a lot of the lesser mainstream Dicks have yet to grace my shelves) is still expansive, and I would say that it features the best Dicks available to the public.

But here, thanks to the efforts of Pamela Jackson, Jonathan Lethem and a team of assistants, is a Dick which is a bit much for me to cope with. It is a monster Dick. In sheer girth it’s about seven or eight times larger than most Dicks, and three times larger even than most omnibus Dicks. As far as the actual experience of it goes, it’s a little bit of an ordeal; Dicks are known for being an acquired taste to begin with, but there is much about this one which is quite hard to swallow. As it goes through its repetitive motions, there’s no building to a satisfying thematic climax; you just slog on and on, taking more and more in until you have to take a break. Only those with a ravenous appetite for Dick should even think about taking this on; it speaks a lot for the editors’ love of Dick that they were able to derive this Dick from its source, which is apparently around ten times as long.

Continue reading “Dick On Dick”

If Anglophones Were Civilised They Would Read Angélica Gorodischer

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

In the discussion following Dan’s article on race in fantasy fiction, it was pointed out that we don’t seem to get much in the way of translations of SF beyond the English-speaking world. While cultural myopia probably bears much of the blame, I believe there are other factors at play. There’s the economic reasons, of course – why spend the money on translating someone’s work on top of the effort of getting the rights to their work when there’s always another English-speaking mug who thinks that he or she is Tolkien? Then there is the inherent difficulty of translating SF and fantasy – how to translate one particular made-up word such that it makes sense in another context?

Of course, some authors are of sufficient stature that you can’t not translate them. Stanislaw Lem’s fiction has been praised within the English-speaking world for years. But there’s certainly not enough effort being made to translate the best of the world’s SF into English, and we anglophones are suffering for it. It is completely unjust that of all of Angélica Gorodischer’s work, only Kalpa Imperial has been translated. Then again, maybe the translation of great fiction requires a translator of comparable talent to the author. As you have probably noticed to the illustration to the right, Kalpa Imperial was translated by none other than Ursula le Guin. (Incidentally, my copy claims that she wrote the Bartimaeus Trilogy, which as far as I am aware is wrong – although John Stroud should probably take it as a compliment.)

Continue reading “If Anglophones Were Civilised They Would Read Angélica Gorodischer”