I read this remarkable landmark sci-fi novel all over again immediately after I finished it, which is exceedingly rare for me. I simply wasn’t satisfied with my first reading, which happened in short bursts separated by long periods of time; this is a kind of richly detailed and imaginative book that’s best appreciated by immersing yourself into it for a while.
Science fiction is a perfect medium for exploring “what if” scenarios, and the thought experiment in The Left Hand of Darkness goes like this: what would a human society look like if people had no fixed gender, and male/female dualism didn’t exist?
I’ve always been fascinated by what if scenarios in fiction, and the one explored by this Norwegian author is devastatingly simple: what would happen to the human society if the bees went extinct? Spread across almost 250 years and three stories, all involving bees to some degree, Lunde’s book finishes with a tentative note of optimism but not before taking the reader on a dark ride of dashed hopes and bleak prospects for our world.
Other than a cautionary tale, the major thread of the novel is the bond between parents and children, the joy and heartbreak it brings, and the different legacies we leave behind. While Lunde doesn’t experiment with style to the degree of, say, Cloud Atlas, the novel is a mix of historical, modern and speculative fiction, only spelling out the direct connections between the three narratives at the very end.
I love me a good dystopia and I enjoyed this futuristic satire despite the slightly jarring shifts in tone, especially towards the end when it seemingly abandons all restraint and dives into (still very entertaining) surreal silliness.