Genre classifies movies, novels, music and literature with similar style in the same category. Genre acts as a navigation tool to guide the audience and readers to select literature according to their preference. The most common genre of the 21st century is the science fiction genre. It is a genre that has its roots in the 19th century where the new inventions of the century made the audience curious about the upcoming future and technology. An excellent example of the prominent genre of science fiction is the Hugo and Nebula award winning novel, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K.
Le Guin. The novel tells the story of a human being named Genly Ai who travels to a different planet named Gethen in order to fulfill a mission. During his landing on the planet Gethen, he discovers an unconventional world. The novel illustrates alternate setting, androgyny and scientific technology in profusion throughout the novel, which assort the novel in the science fiction genre. The setting of the novels that categorize under the science fiction genre is either set in the past or the future, though the time can be set in the present.
The “manipulation of time has been one of the most frequently used [themes]” (Galens) in the cience fiction genre. The setting of the literature that displays the present time will usually be set in a place unknown to the mankind. The setting can be the future earth, a different planet, galaxy or dimension. The author tends to make the setting unknown and imaginative which makes the story appear out of human speculation. The choice of “setting can introduce potential constraints” (Galens) in the plot line which works against the main character.
The setting is supposed to trigger feelings of isolation, danger and conformity. The novel Left Hand of Darkness demonstrates an alternate etting throughout with great profusion. The setting of the novel is a planet outside of the known galaxy called Gethen. Gethen is completely covered in ice with a scarcely habitable temperature. The weather of Gethen has become the reason for the death of many Gethenian citizens. While describing the setting Genly Ai says “I [am] alone, with a stranger, inside the walks of a dark place, in a strange snow-changed city, in the heart of the Ice Age of an alien world” (17).
Genly Ai considers the planet mundane as he feels isolated because of the barriers ice is creating for him. Gethen can have “a further decrease of 8% in the solar radiation.. [which] would bring the walls creeping together; [and] there would be no men, no land; only ice” (211). The main character has to come across many snow covered mountains and glaciers which prove to be a travelling obstacle as it delays Genly Ai’s mission. The well acknowledged element of genre specific to science fiction genre is that it often displays characters or ‘aliens’ that are uncommon or non-existent in the real world.
These characters tend to have physical, biological and ethical differences beyond the conventional human knowledge. The haracter can be from the future of humanity or from a different planet. They can be a life form originated from a different place and under circumstances that are not similar to the Earth. These aliens tend to have different living conditions, survival mechanisms and breeding techniques compared to that of a human. The estranged characters portrayed in The Left Hand of Darkness are the androgynous citizens of Gethen.
Androgyny means to have characteristics and qualities of both males and females. During Genly Ai’s visit to Gethen, he realized “cultural shock was nothing compared to the biological shock [he] uffered as a human male among human beings who were, five- sixths of the time, hermaphroditic neuters” (48). The Gethenians are able to go through a five day period known as kemmering, where the hormonal changes in their bodies might temporarily give them either male or female reproductive organs. These bodily changes allow the citizens to either impregnate someone or get pregnant.
The ability to change sex is not possible on Earth, and no such known being posses this quality. Genly Ai’s “reliance on sexual identity as a basis for forming relations of trust with another human offers no guidance on Gethen, only onfusion and distrust” (Macdonald). Genly Ai tries to befriend the people based on the gender roles and stereotypes he is used to on Earth, but due to ethical and biological differences in Gethnians, he feels alienated. The people on Gethen are used to living in the extreme cold temperature and consider the weather on Earth to be inordinately hot for survival.
The science fiction genre is known to place a great emphasis on laws of physics and astronomy. The narration may go beyond the scientifically proven laws of physics. There can be a presence of partially fictitious laws of science. Objects such as time machines, spaceships and other advanced technological gadgets and vehicles are usually used to advance the plot line. On the bases of “Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, Science Fiction writers have created a host of spaceships capable of traveling near the speed of light” (Galens).
The technology used in the science fiction novel may be capable of breaking the barrier of time and defy the natural laws of aging. A science fiction novel gives the readers detailed explanation of the technology prominent to the plot line of the story. The writers of cience fiction novels “seek out new scientific and technical developments in order to prognosticate freely the techno-social changes that will shock the readers’ sense of cultural propriety and expand their consciousness” (Britannica).
The knowledge of the technologies described in the novel leads to anticipation in the readers. The technology has a great significance in the novel as the protagonist travels to a different planet through means of a spaceship. The spaceship has the ability to travel nearly at light speed with potential to “time-jump between worlds” (35). There s a difference in the time gap of planet Earth and planet Gethen. If Genly Ai spends a few minutes of his space ship; it would account for thirty-four years in Gethen.
Since Genly Ai is an alien on the planet Gethen, the king of Gethen named Estraven, questions Ai’s spaceship as a means of clarifying some doubts. When Ai explains the technology of his space ship to Estraven, he says “What it does, sir, is produce message at any two points simultaneously. Anywhere. One point has to be fixed, on a planet of a certain mass, but the other end is portable. That’s this end. I’ve set coordinates for the Prime World, Hain. A NAFAL ship takes 67 years to go between Gethen and Hain” (37).
There are no current spaceships in existence that have the ability to travel at the speed of light or communicate between two planets that are many light years apart. Therefore, Genly Ai’s space is a prospective advanced scientific technology. Conclusively, the novel The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin marks its spot in the science fiction category due to the accumulation of elements such as problematic setting on a foreign planet, epicenism, and revolutionary technology that has yet to be discovered.