The Left Hand of Darkness is one of those science fiction classics I hadn’t ever read. And it’s really good and I’m an idiot for not having read it until now, blah blah blah get all that stuff out of the way.
The protagonist of the book is not quite an ambassador from an interstellar consortium of humans. He is the only one on this planet called Winter. He’s there to ask the planet to join them. He’s not there with a fleet of ships, just by himself so that he can be a curiosity instead of a threat. That’s the idea at least.
The planet is interesting for its sexual dynamics. They’re human but strangely modified sometime deep in the past, so out of their 26 day months they are mostly androgynous. When they go into kemmer (which is sort of like estrous) their sexual characteristics come out, randomly male or female. This non-attachment to their gender is the fundamental strangeness of the people. Otherwise we see two nations: one is a monarchy led by an insane king. The other is a civilized Kafkan bureaucracy. Everywhere is cold. The last third of the book takes place on a thousand-mile hike across glaciers.
It was a beautifully sad book. It’s about friendship and gender and the complete blindness a person has when dealing with the foreign. The language is a bit interesting for a book dealing with gender so strongly. The masculine pronoun is used for all the androgynes because the neutral would have had too strange of connotations, says the narrator.
I believe it won a Hugo and that there are more books in the same universe, which I will now slowly read.