I’ve never been a big science fiction head – except for the super-stylized (Blade Runner, Space Odyssey) or the super-camp (Barbarella). But now I can add to that list, the super-sociological. “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula Le Guin was written in the 1970s. It is set on a frozen ice-planet called Winter which is home to a race of aliens closely related to humans except that they are all born as assexual hermaphrodites and once a month, in response to a hormone cycle, they express a gender and become sexually charged. One month they could be female and the next, male.
Le Guin described the book as a “thought experiment”. What would society be like with no gender divisions? No men and no women, no oppressed and no oppressor – and for twenty eight days of each month, no sex?
All of this is thrown into sharp relief by the arrival of the Envoy, an alien (human) ambassador who has come to invite Gethen to join an interplanetary league. The locals are both horrified and fascinated by “the Pervert”, with his shocking permanent gender and presumed constant horniness.
It is a really fascinating book, painting a vivid picture of a world both incredible similar and bizarrely different from our own.