by Ursula Le Guin
This was the second of two sci-fi books I chose to read because some geezer in The Guardian said non sci-fi fans might like them. The first one I read, The Sparrow (reviewed below) was fucking shithouse. This one was fucking great!A cracker of a read.
Written in 1969 but set way in the future, Earth is one of 80 or so human-species' dwelling planets that belong to 'The Ekumen' which is similar to Star Trek's federation, and this Ekumen has sent a sole envoy to the cold and icy planet of Gethen to invite them to be the next planet on the team. Though all Ekumen planets, including Earth, have evolved from human ancestors on some planet called Haim, they have all evolved slightly differently on their own worlds. In the case of Gethen, they're ambisexual. A gender only surfaces when they screw and it can go either way, so a Gethenian could be a mother to one child and a father to another.
My friend AC Fanta expressed a fear that it would be some post-modern feminist rant about gender, but it wasn't at all. 'Gender' was of course discussed, but the discussion was never preachy, academic, political or feminist. It was just a thing (the best bits was when the King of one of the nations heard that all the other planets had gendered humans and referred to all of them as 'perverts', and most brilliantly, though we sort of approximated all the Gethens as men (because they were Kings and Prime-Ministers and so on) there was sexual tension between the (male) envoy and the main Gethenian character). But all of this gender stuff never once interfered with the excitement of the story itself. There was political intrigue as to which nation of Gethen would be the first to accept the fanciful notion of beings from another planet, there was a great trek, some escapes, some torture... it had all the excitement of a classic yarn and the gender stuff was just icing on the cake.
I give it a B-plus.