Read The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness is a science fiction novel by U.S. writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Published in 1969, it became immensely popular, and established Le Guin’s status as a major author of science fiction.[6] The novel is set in the fictional Hainish universe as part of the Hainish Cycle, a series of novels and short stories by Le Guin, which she introduced in the 1964 short story “The Dowry of Angyar”. It was fourth in sequence of writing among the Hainish novels, preceded by City of Illusions, and followed by The Word for World Is Forest.[3]

The novel follows the story of Genly Ai, a human native of Terra, who is sent to the planet of Gethen as an envoy of the Ekumen, a loose confederation of planets. Ai’s mission is to persuade the nations of Gethen to join the Ekumen, but he is stymied by a lack of understanding of their culture. Individuals on Gethen are ambisexual, with no fixed sex; this has a strong influence on the culture of the planet, and creates a barrier of understanding for Ai.

I was inspired by a lecture from Kim Stanley Robinson to read more of Ursula K. Le Guin.  What I found intriguing was the discussion of another culture as a way of appreciating your own.

Marginalia

Introduction by Ursula K. Le Guin

This book is not extrapolative. If you like you can read it, and a lot of other science fiction, as a thought-experiment.

Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.

Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist’s business is lying.

In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find – if it’s a good novel – that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it’s very hard to say just what we learned, how we were changed.

The Left-Hand of Darkness

“You don’t see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling?” “No—” “To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.” (Page: 57)

The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” (Page: 58)

There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. In fact the whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed, on Winter. (Page: 77)

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness. (Page: 126)

After all he is no more an oddity, a sexual freak, than I am; up here on the Ice each of us is singular, isolate, I as cut off from those like me, from my society and its rules, as he from his. There is no world full of other Gethenians here to explain and support my existence. We are equals at last, equal, alien, alone. He did not laugh, of course. Rather he spoke with a gentleness that I did not know was in him. After a while he too came to speak of isolation, of loneliness.(Page: 194)

Light is the left hand of darkness and darkness the right hand of light. Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way. (Page: 195)

Liked Time Travelers Should Be a Lot More Worried About Viruses (WIRED)

One of the biggest threats would be viruses, an issue that’s seldom tackled in science fiction. “The problem with time travel is that if you went back in time, you would probably wipe out the whole population then, and they would probably kill you within months with viruses that you have no immunity to,” Carrier says. “So note to time travel authors: You have to come up with a universal immunity so that the time traveler who goes back is not bringing viruses that everybody is not immune to, and is immune to viruses that his body has never encountered.”

Liked The Realism of Our Times: Kim Stanley Robinson on How Science Fiction Works | Public Books,The Realism of Our Times: Kim Stanley Robinson on How Science Fiction Works (Public Books)

The way I’ve been putting it over the last few years is that science fiction works by a double action. This is maybe another way of talking about the estrangement effect. Think of the glasses that you put on at a 3D movie. Those special glasses have one lens showing you one thing and the other lens showing you another thing, slightly different. And your brain puts together a 3D view from these.

So one lens of science fiction is a real attempt to imagine a possible future. The other lens is a metaphor for the way things are right now. What you get when the two coalesce is a vision of historical time, cast into the future. Like a trajectory of deep time.

Bookmarked Edtech sci-fi (code acts in education)

Here’s a list the lovely people on Twitter suggested of edtech sci-fi texts, TV, and film. Three were even suggestions of existing compilations of edtech sci-fi: a 2015 piece by Audrey Watters on Education in Science Fiction, a collection by Stephen Heppell, and an entry on Education in SF at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Check those out too. I’ve alphabetized the list but nothing more. Some people added short descriptions, which I’ve paraphrased, and others links, which you’ll have to mine the replies to find, I’m afraid.

Ben Williamson collects together a collection of science fiction texts which depict education. It would be interesting to have a reader collating excerpts from each that could be used as a provocation to “engage with the complex social, political, economic and and environmental crises of our time.”
Liked Asimov’s Empire, Asimov’s Wall | Public Books,Asimov’s Empire, Asimov’s Wall (Public Books)

Isaac Asimov loved large numbers. He was born a century ago this month, and when he died, in 1992, he was both the most famous science fiction writer in the world and perhaps the most prolific author in American history. He kept close track of his publications, most of which were nonfiction, and confessed that he was generous when it came to including borderline cases, such as anthologies, in his total of nearly five hundred books: “We all want to be known for something, and I was beginning to see that there would be a good chance that if for nothing else, I would be known for the vast number of books I would publish.”

In the end, however, another number might turn out to be equally meaningful. Over the course of many decades, Asimov groped or engaged in other forms of unwanted touching with countless women, often at conventions, but also privately and in the workplace

Bookmarked How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real (The New Yorker)

Midway through his career, the inventor of “cyberspace” turned his attention to a strange new world: the present.

Joshua Rothman speaks with William Gibson about science fiction, his new novel Agency and the present. This lengthy profile provides an insight into the mind of the writer.

Marginalia

Gibson doesn’t have a name for his method; he knows only that it isn’t about prediction. It proceeds, instead, from a deep engagement with the present.

Most science fiction takes place in a world in which “the future” has definitively arrived; the locomotive filmed by the Lumière brothers has finally burst through the screen. But in “Neuromancer” there was only a continuous arrival—an ongoing, alarming present. “Things aren’t different. Things are things,” an A.I. reports, after achieving a new level of consciousness. “You can’t let the little pricks generation-gap you,” one protagonist tells another, after an unnerving encounter with a teen-ager. In its uncertain sense of temporality—are we living in the future, or not?—“Neuromancer” was science fiction for the modern age. The novel’s influence has increased with time, establishing Gibson as an authority on the world to come.

Gibson’s strategy of extreme presentness reflects his belief that the current moment is itself science-fictional.

“The future is already here,” he has said. “It’s just not very evenly distributed.”The further Gibson developed his present-tense sci-fi, the more mysterious and resonant his novels became.

Gibson has a bemused, gentle, curious vibe. He is not a dystopian writer; he aims to see change in a flat, even light. “Every so often—and I bet a lot of people do this but don’t mention it—I have an experience unique in my life, of going, ‘This is so bad—could this possibly be real?’ ” he said, laughing. “Because it really looks very dire. If we were merely looking at the possible collapse of democracy in the United States of America—that’s pretty fucked. But if we’re looking at the collapse of democracy in the United States of America within the context of our failure to do anything that means shit about global warming over the next decade . . . I don’t know.”

Some speculative writers are architects: they build orderly worlds. But Gibson has a collagist’s mind. He has depicted himself as “burrowing from surface to previously unconnected surface.”

His plots are Tetris-like, their components snapping together at the last possible moment until the space of the novel is filled.

Liked Inside the archives — and mind — of sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick (Los Angeles Times)

Kaleidoscopic? Yes. Brain-bending? Without question. At the same time, where are we now if not in the world Dick made, a world of social media and virtual reality, screens and simulacra and avatars? Fake news, revisionist histories, internet hoaxes and deepfake videos: Ours is a society defined by its own artifice, which is what Dick was trying to tell us all along.

Liked Cory Doctorow’s ‘Radicalized’ reveals our dystopian technological future in four tales (latimes.com)

Science fiction author Cory Doctorow talks about “Radicalized,” his new collection of novellas that take on political and social themes relevant now.

Marginalia

I have nothing but respect for Charlie, but this stuff doesn’t bother me in the way it bothers him. I think of [sci fi] as a reflective literature, not a predictive one. Moreover, I think the themes of the novellas in this book are sadly evergreen, even if the particulars change.

Read Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Quotes

Communist Party

Not entrapeneourahip, post-scarcity

“We’re not going to entrepreneur our way out of anything. This isn’t entrepreneurship.” “Anti-entrepreneurship’s been tried, too — slacking doesn’t get you anywhere.” “We’re not anti-entrepreneur either. We’re not entrepreneurial in the way that baseball isn’t tic-tac-toe. We’re playing a different game.” “What’s that?” “Post-scarcity,” said with near-religious solemnity.

Play on ‘party’ associated with Communist Party

“What about ‘communist’?” “What about it?” “That’s a label with a lot of history. You could be communists.” She waved her beard at him. "Communist party . That doesn’t make us ‘communists’ any more than throwing a birthday party makes us ‘birthdayists.’ Communism is an interesting

Meta, a drug for the status quo

“Meta,” she said. “Or something like it.” He’d heard of it. It gave you ironic distance — a very now kind of high. Conspiracy people thought it was too zeitgeisty to be a coincidence, claimed it was spread to soften the population for its miserable lot. In his day — eight years before — the scourge had been called “Now,” something they gave to source-code auditors and drone pilots to give them robotic focus. He’d eaten a shit-ton of it while working on zepps. It made him feel like a happy android. The conspiracy people had said the same thing about Now that they said about Meta. End of the day, anything that made you discount objective reality and assign a premium to some kind of internal mental state was going to be both pro-survival and pro-status-quo.

Putting on a mask to prevent detection

“Seth, masks!” Hubert, Etc shook his friend. There had been a good reason for Seth to carry both of their masks, but he couldn’t remember it. Seth sat up with his eyebrows raised and a smirk on his face. Tucking chin to chest, Hubert, Etc swarmed over Seth and roughly turned out his pockets. He slapped his mask to his face and felt the fabric adhere in bunches and whorls as his breath teased it out and the oils in his skin were wicked through its weave. He did Seth. “You don’t need to do this,” Seth said. “Right,” said Hubert, Etc. “It’s out of the goodness of my heart.” “You’re worried they’ll walk my social graph and find you in the one-hop/high-intensity zone.” Seth’s smile, glowing in the darkness of his face, was infuriatingly calm. It vanished behind the mask. That was the stupid Meta. “You’d be screwed then. They’ll run your data going back years, dude, until they find something. They always find something. They’ll put the screws to you, threaten you with every horrible unless you turn narc. Room 101 all the way, baby –”

Jacob Redwater’s surveillance

“My father spies on me,” Natalie said. “That’s why he’s here.” Jacob shrugged. “It could be worse. It’s not like I have your phone tapped. It’s just public sources.”

You All Meet in a Tavern

Ledger

The menu evolved through the day, depending on the feedstocks visitors brought. Limpopo nibbled around the edges, moving from one red light to the next, till they went green, developing a kind of sixth sense about the next red zone, logging more than her share of work units. If there had been a leaderboard for the B&B that day, she’d have been embarrassingly off the charts. She pretended as hard as she could that her friends weren’t noticing her bustling activity. The gift economy was not supposed to be a karmic ledger with your good deeds down one column and the ways you’d benefited from others down the other. The point of walkaways was living for abundance, and in abundance, why worry if you were putting in as much as you took out? But freeloaders were freeloaders, and there was no shortage of assholes who’d take all the best stuff or ruin things through thoughtlessness. People noticed. Assholes didn’t get invited to parties. No one went out of their way to look out for them. Even without a ledger, there was still a ledger, and Limpopo wanted to bank some good wishes and karma just in case.

Theory versus practice

In a gift economy, you gave without keeping score, because keeping score implied an expectation of reward. If you’re doing something for reward, it’s an investment, not a gift. In theory, Limpopo agreed. In practice, it was so easy to keep score, the leaderboard was so satisfying that she couldn’t help herself. She wasn’t proud of this.

That’s what walkaway is …

In a gift economy, you gave without keeping score, because keeping score implied an expectation of reward. If you’re doing something for reward, it’s an investment, not a gift. In theory, Limpopo agreed. In practice, it was so easy to keep score, the leaderboard was so satisfying that she couldn’t help herself. She wasn’t proud of this.

Being Generous

“Out here, we’re supposed to treat generosity as the ground state. The weird, gross, selfish feeling is a warning we’re being dicks. We’re not supposed to forgive people for being selfish. We’re not supposed to expect other people to forgive us for being selfish. It’s not generous to do nice things in the hopes of getting stuff back. It’s hard not to fall into that pattern, because bribery works.”

Being a walkaway is …

Limpopo surveyed the boys’ baskets, trimmed to more modest proportions. She nodded. “This discussion usually gets to parenting and friendship. Those are the places where everyone agrees that being generous is right. Your chore list is to ensure that everything gets done. The kid who spends her time watching her sisters to make sure they have the same number of chores is either getting screwed, or is screwed up. It sounds corny, but being a walkaway is ultimately about treating everyone as family.”

Limpopo on statistics and C

“I don’t look at stats. Which is the point. I couldn’t write the whole thing on my own, and if I could, I wouldn’t want to, because this place would suck if it was just a contest to see who could add the most lines of code or bricks to the structure. That’s a race to build the world’s heaviest airplane. What does knowing that one person has more commits than others tell you? That you should work harder? That you’re stupid? That you’re slow? Who gives a shit? The most commits in our codebase come from history – everyone who wrote the libraries and debugged and optimized and patched them. The most commits on this building come from everyone who processed the raw materials, figured out how to process the raw materials, harvested the feedstock, and –”

Limpopo on not being like an Ayn Rand novel

We can live like it’s the first days of a better world, not like it’s the first pages of an Ayn Rand novel. Have this place, but you can’t have us. We withdraw our company."

Limpopo on his:

“That feeling of happiness and intensity you get? Did you ever wonder whether it was something we were meant to experience more than fleetingly? Take orgasms. If you had an orgasm that didn’t stop, it’d be brutal. There’d be a sense in which it was technically amazing, but the experience would be terrible. Take happiness now, that feeling of having arrived, having perfected your world for a moment – could you imagine if it went on? Why would you ever get off your ass? I think we’re only equipped to experience happiness for an instant, because all our ancestors who could experience it for longer blissed out until they starved to death, or got eaten by a tiger.”

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Rethink what it means to be alive

The local Dis didn’t know about her instance-sister in Jacob Redwater’s bolt-hole, but that Dis left Gretyl with a letter to other Dis instances, encrypted with a key protected by the private pass-phrase Dis had used in life. The local Dis accepted the file, decrypted it, thought about it for a computerish eyeblink. “This is crazy.”

Freedom and cognitive liberty

“Don’t worry, when we simulate you, we’ll ensure you’re in a state that’s comfortable with the idea. Ha-ha-only-serious. It’s like Meta, being like this. Sometimes I dial back and watch the lookaheads, see how close I am to the edge of full panic. It’s interesting to tweak that shit in realtime. You haven’t known freedom until you’ve experienced cognitive liberty, the right to choose your state of mind.”

Zottas do suveliwnce to themselves

Zottas do surveillance to themselves. It’s not done to them. You could build a house like this with no sensors, retro, with strings running along the walls to tinkle bells in the servants’ quarters. You could line the walls with copper mesh and make it a radio-free fortress.

Natalie faced with the challenge of what to do when walking away is not an option.

This woman wasn’t her enemy, she just had a job. Natalie didn’t care. She swung a wild roundhouse the woman easily sidestepped. Had she smiled a little? It was weird to be here, silent except for breathing, her father’s muttering from the bedroom. Wordless intimacy. She swung again. Again. If she’d had a gun, she’d have shot the woman, her father, herself. What does a walkaway do when she can’t walk away?

Helping people is the best world.

She [Limpopo] bridged in Etcetera. “Jimmy, you’ve come a long way since we met, but you’re still coming along, if you don’t mind my saying. I came back to help you because helping people is what you do, whether or not they’re in your thing, because that’s the best world to live in.”

On being an idealist:

“First days of a better nation,” Jimmy said. “If you could see them now, what would you say to them?” His feet crunched irregularly through the snow. Limpopo could tell that he was stung by what she’d said. “If they were trying to kill me, I’d say don’t shoot. I’m an idealist, not a kamikaze.” “Fair point. What if you had them at a table?” “I wouldn’t say anything. I’d offer them dinner. Or I’d just go about doing what I do. I’m an idealist, not a preacher.”

Clothes printed old:

All the clothing had a printer-fresh smell, still offgassing pigment-infusions. When she looked closely, she saw the dirt and the gray and even the faded ROOTS letters all printed on, the dirt betraying itself with minute compression artifacts. These clothes had been printed to look like they weren’t brand new.

Normal and resistance:

Epilogue: Even Better Nation

You’d be amazed at how quickly you get over it. Normal is hard to resist. Everything becomes default, no matter how new."

Interviews

The B&N Podcast: Cory Doctorow and Will Schwalbe

Cory Doctorow suggests the differences between disaster and dystopia is often defined by what people do when things breakdown. And things always breakdown. He defines Walkaway as ‘techno realism’, where the particulars maybe wrong, but the shape of the future is right. Having said this he points out that the future is always contingent. Reflecting on predictive novels, Doctorow suggests that the thing you get from a book is an authors fears and aspirations, while a reader’s bookshelf tells you which of these resonated with them. In the end he argues rather than being optimistic or pessimistic, he would describe himself (and with that his novels) as hopeful.

Netzpolitik-Podcast 160 mit Cory Doctorow: Dystopie kann doch jeder

Cory Doctorow at the Wheeler Centre

Another discussion, including a reading from chapter two.

Reviews

In ‘Walkaway,’ A Blueprint For A New, Weird (But Better) World

Jason Sheehan on NPR

His novels read less like speculation than prediction — a hardcore nerd’s careful read on technology and biology and entropy, impeccably sourced and, in their own way, as real and present and hopeful as the augury of a Bizarro World Cassandra with carpal tunnel and grease under her nails.

It’s the story of a utopia in progress, as messy as every new thing ever is, told in the form of people talking to each other, arguing with each other and working together to solve problems. It’s all about the deep, disturbing, recognizable weirdness of the future that must come from the present we have already made for ourselves, trying to figure out what went wrong and what comes next.

The economics of Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway